Hundreds of West Island residents converged on Valois Park in Pointe-Claire Sunday to take a knee and speak out against racism.
The event came a week after residents called out municipal officials for not doing enough to denounce racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., on May 25.
“They hadn’t done anything,” protest co-organizer Kathleen McAdams said. “They hadn’t put up a statement on the webpage. They hadn’t done anything to acknowledge the movement.”
Residents were also disgusted that a racial epithet was painted on a container behind the Complexe Pointe-Claire strip mall a week ago.
For Pamela Newton, who is white and who attended the protest with her children, it was a responsibility to speak out.
“Because people have rose-coloured glasses on the West Island,” she said.
“They think everything is OK in their backyard when it’s not.”
Newton is also supporting her friend Tanya Paris and her family, who is Black.
“It’s not fair that people look at her differently because of her skin colour,” she said, standing beside her friend. “We bleed the same!”
“Nobody should be treated differently because of the colour of their skin, whether they wear a cross around their neck or a headpiece,” Paris said. “We have to start looking at each other as people.”
Other members of the Black communities at the rally say the event should force some introspection to confront racism in the West Island and other places.
“I don’t think we should find any comfort in saying that, you know, that it’s better here than (elsewhere),” said Pierrefonds resident Helen Baptiste, who attended the rally with her husband Dexter Maynard. “We have our issues here and they need to be addressed.”
Still, she said she is hopeful because of the diversity of the crowd.
“A broad spectrum of people who are here and saying, ‘Yeah, we are facing very uncomfortable truths’.”
She and others say the gathering is just the beginning of a conversation and an opportunity for groups to learn from each other.
“I’m not gonna lie,” co-organizer Allison Saunders told the crowd during her speech, “it’s gonna be hard, it’s gonna be uncomfortable, there’s gonna be tears. My city councillor and I already shed some of those tears in a difficult conversation.”
In the end, she hopes the dialogue will help to change attitudes for the better.
Others said they were encouraged by the recent gestures by some municipalities. By Friday, at least three West Island municipalities made public declarations in support of diversity and Pointe-Claire began to display #Blacklivesmatter on the city’s electronic billboards.