After hundreds of people marched through the streets of Toronto in protest of anti-racism and the death of George Floyd, residents ended the day at Nathan Phillips Square to hold a rally and a candlelight vigil.
“I wanted everyone to come down here and, from their heart, to speak what they want to say,” Addis Wara told Global News before the vigil Friday evening.
For Wara, she said the issue of anti-Black racism is “very personal.” At 13 years old, she recalled her and her father being pulled over by a police officer. Wara said they were told the tail light wasn’t working.
“He told my dad to come out of the car and started searching him for absolutely no reason. Right there and then I thought something is wrong. All the way home I was crying,” she said.
“He sat me down and explained to be everything.
“I just feel like I’m not a threat to anybody. My skin is the same as your’s and everybody else’s, but just more darker.”
The protests in Toronto and all across North America came after a video showed a white Minneapolis officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd, on May 25 for nearly nine minutes even as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. He died on the sidewalk.
Protesters said Floyd’s death marks the latest in several instances of negative police encounters.
Chief Mark Saunders and other uniformed officers met a group of protesters, then removed his hat and took a solidarity knee at a downtown intersection near Toronto police headquarters.
“We see you and we are listening,” Saunders, who is Black, tweeted after the meeting.
“We have to all stay in this together to make change.”
Michael Ranger addressed those gathered at Nathan Phillips Square Friday evening. He said he wanted to come out to show support, be with people to show love and work to stop racism.
“My heart allowed me to come out and say what was on my mind,” Ranger told Global News.
“We all have to share this planet, so we’re all just trying to live together and at the end of the day and nobody should be judged — no matter what — because of the pigment of their skin.”
“Life can be taken at any moment and you’ll never know when it’s taken from you, and once you just start to live life and appreciate things and try to do things for others and try to do things for yourself to build a better characteristic.”
Like others, Ranger said when it comes to police, he feels a sense of nervousness.
“When I hear a fire truck go off, I’m OK. When I hear a police siren go off, I’m worried … When you have the title of protect and serve, it doesn’t feel like that when it comes to the sirens coming on,” he said.
“As a Black individual like myself, I really don’t want to walk around feeling cautious.”
Mobashira Sharif, who said she is an ally of the Black community, came to show her support. She said she wanted to demonstrate unity.
“We ended off here to show our support towards the Black community, and equality for all — LGBTQ, everybody. We all deserve to feel peaceful and to feel safe in our own city and in our own community,” Sharif told Global News.
“It was the tipping point … Unfortunately what happened to George happens on a daily basis.”
She said the Black community needs to be heard and that racism needs to end.
“We live in 2020. We should be able to accept and love each other the way we are, and who we are, and how we are,” Sharif said.
“Our children and our children’s children will speak about this, so we got to make sure we pave the way for the next generation.”
— With files from The Canadian Press