There was a moment during Sunday’s march against racism and police brutality that could have gotten violent.
Protesters and police in full riot gear were getting closer, standing face to face.
Thousands hit Montreal streets on Sunday to speak out in turn against racism, systemic discrimination and police brutality, in an event sparked by the death of a Black man, George Floyd, who died in police custody on May 25 after a white Minneapolis cop was shown on camera kneeling on Floyd’s neck.
Just as tempers began to flare, protest organizer and member of the Black Coalition New Generation Anastasia Marcelin stepped in.
“I wanted that day to go off without a hitch,” she said. “I didn’t want us to be criticized. I didn’t even want to see one broken bottle in the street.”
Marcelin, who is Black, says she was determined to keep things peaceful.
As she stood between police and demonstrators, she turned and addressed the protesters.
“Montreal has never had a Black police chief,” she said. “It’s time for change. Go to school, get into this field.
As Marcelin tried to defuse the situation, Montreal photographer, David Gogan, captured it all through his lens.
He snapped photo after photo, showing Marcelin trying to calm everyone down.
“There were two female protesters who were visibly upset,” said Gogan. “Before she arrived, they were yelling at the cops, screaming, they were right in the front.
“She just took them, she embraced them, and she just gave them love, even though they met her with anger.”
Montreal’s police chief Sylvain Caron had an offer to attend the rally rescinded on Saturday after organizers explained some participants and groups were opposed to his presence.
The force said on its social media page it respected that decision and noted officers would be present to keep tabs on the march.
Montreal Police announced the end of the protest on Sunday afternoon and described it as peaceful. But remaining protesters were met with tear gas bombs in the city’s Old Port hours after the demontration was declared over.
Demonstrators called out Quebec Premier François Legault for his belief the province doesn’t have a systemic racism problem.
On Tuesday, Marcelin and Gogan met for the first time.
She thanked him for capturing the moment and sharing the story.
“I’m happy that there’s someone else to tell this story,” said Marcelin. “And I’m happy it’s not someone from my community ― that’s even more important to me.”
―With files from Canadian Press