Thousands of people gathered in downtown Vancouver Friday for a demonstration to condemn racism in the name of George Floyd.
The rally began at 4 p.m. at the Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza with speakers and a moment of silence for the victims of racial violence.
Vancouver police estimated the crowd to be between 5,000 and 10,000 people at its peak.
VPD said toward the end of the rally, there were instigators who got involved with the protesters which resulted in two being arrested for assault.
A witness who identified herself as “BB” told Global News the incident shaped up after the crowd singled out several people they believed were associated with an alt-right website.
The witness said the crowd began chanting slogans at the individuals, prompting police to move in to separate the groups.
We have a voice
“We want to show that Vancouver has a Black community and we have a voice,” organizer Helen Proskow told Global News.
Organizers on scene stressed that the event is meant as a peaceful protest. Other volunteers on site could be seen distributing hand sanitizer and free non-medical masks in a bid to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Jacob Callender-Prasad, one of the rally’s key organizers, told Global News he faced racism growing up in Canada.
“I used to have kids put pencils in my hair. I used to have kids call me ‘African booty scratcher’ and call me a monkey, and try and play Monkey in the Middle with me,” he said.
“I’d have kids ask me if they can use different words to describe who I was. I didn’t even realize there were so many different ways to describe the n-word.”
Virgil Hill, one of the people who turned out to Friday’s rally, said the show of solidarity was important, but that B.C. has a long and difficult road ahead of it to truly address systemic racism.
“The action plan has to be something along the lines of police reform, education is one of the areas where it starts, it’s the whole system which is built in a certain way, and its hard to pivot from that,” he said.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart issued a statement Friday afternoon acknowledging the “fear, pain, anger and outrage many of our neighbours are feeling today and every day.”
“I want to make one thing clear: racism is not a problem that ‘other’ places deal with,” wrote Stewart.
“Racism is a Canadian problem. It is a problem here in Vancouver. Racism is alive and it is systemic.”
This marks the second demonstration in Vancouver after a peaceful protest on Sunday at the art gallery.
Smaller rallies were also planned Friday in Cloverdale and Prince George.
A number of downtown Vancouver businesses have boarded up their windows as a precaution after the violence at some rallies in the United States.
People are being asked to remain peaceful and to wear a face mask if they can’t physically distance from each other.
“I am absolutely hopeful any of the demonstrations that are supporting the issues of Black Lives Matter, and other issues of racism in British Columbia and around the world, will be peaceful and focus on the issues at hand,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said Wednesday.
“If there are those that try to assert themselves in what has, by and large, been peaceful protest of course that is where we need to take action. Law enforcement will be prepared to do that.”