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Hamilton anti-racism advocates call for local action to combat anti-Black racism

Protesters kneeling during a rally against police violence in downtown Hamilton. Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton’s anti-racism advocates say the protests against police violence in the United States should be sparking conversations about how to combat hate on a local level.

A large protest took over downtown Hamilton on Monday afternoon, as hundreds of people filled Gore Park and chanted the names of Black people who have died during violent interactions with police.

Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said police violence against Black people is not a new occurrence, nor is it unique to the U.S.

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“Most people tend to look south of the border, and not at the issues that are happening here in Hamilton and in Canada,” said Damptey, referencing the recent death of a Black woman during an interaction with Toronto Police. “Police brutality [is] also a reality in Canada. And most people don’t think it’s an issue.”

He pointed to a number of issues specific to Hamilton, including the city ranking number one for police-reported hate crimes in Canada, far-right protests and violence in the city hall forecourt, the city’s employment of a man who once led a white supremacist organization, and the group of violent protesters that attacked festival-goers at Hamilton Pride last June.

READ MORE: Researcher ‘shocked’ at city take-over of Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre

“When we say that city hall and our elected officials also create the environment to have all these ideas, these are the examples that we are talking about,” said Damptey. “These are the examples of how our city really creates an environment of racist behaviour and ideology.”

Damptey isn’t alone in calling out local examples of racism.

Michael St. Jean, co-organizer of Monday’s protest in Gore Park, said anti-Black racism is in “clear sight” in Hamilton, where he was born and raised.

“It happens every day, it happens all the time, it happens to everyone,” said St. Jean, referring to racism in the city.

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In a statement addressing anti-Black racism following the death of George Floyd, the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association (ACCA) said local elected officials must address racism in Hamilton specifically.

“We are acutely aware that racism does not stop the border,” the statement reads. “In fact, anti-Black bias is a daily reality faced here in Hamilton. The recent hate crime report by the Hamilton Police Service stated that Black Hamiltonians were targeted in 34 of the 38 racial incidents.”

Speaking on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show, ACCA President Evelyn Myrie said protests are erupting in multiple communities – including Hamilton and other Canadian cities – because the justice system is uneven across the board.

“It’s almost a sin to be Black,” said Myrie. “In terms of what’s happening … not only in America, but also globally and in Canada.”

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“Everyone is in pain. It’s frustrating. And it’s not just the incident in Minnesota. It’s a combination of issues over the years. Over the last few years, the police brutality of Black men is unbearable. Unbearable.”

When asked how the widespread protests and calls for change might come to an end, Myrie’s answer was straightforward:

“When justice is seen and is being served.”

Calls for justice have come from a variety of voices over the past eight days, including Hamilton’s younger residents.

Several young activists took over the Twitter account of Toronto’s Black Lives Matter chapter on Tuesday, broadcasting live streams that included a series of demands and calls to action from different locations across the city, including Hamilton city hall, McMaster University, and the Hamilton Police central headquarters.

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Their demands included diverting police funding toward anti-poverty and housing initiatives, freeing prisoners from the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre, overhauling the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), and removing police-appointed school resource officers from Hamilton schools.

The ACCA is also calling for justice, with its statement demanding that the SIU conduct a “transparent and complete investigation” into the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

READ MORE: Surveillance video secured in Regis Korchinski-Paquet death investigation: Ontario’s police watchdog

Damptey said those who are white and are now aware of race-related violence from police officers must do more than show up for one protest or change their profile pictures on social media in order to combat racism.

“If there’s racist behaviour in our public schools, we need people to show up. If there’s racist behaviour at McMaster, at Mohawk, at Redeemer, we need people to show up.”

“If we rely on saying that … ‘in Canada, this doesn’t happen’, then we are really deceiving ourselves.”

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