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North Preston marchers demand justice, community investment through defunding police

Community organizers Steven Benton (centre) and Marcus Owen (left) lead a Black Lives Matter march through North Preston, N.S. on Aug. 1, 2020.
Community organizers Steven Benton (centre) and Marcus Owen (left) lead a Black Lives Matter march through North Preston, N.S. on Aug. 1, 2020. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

About a hundred people marched through the streets of North Preston on Saturday demanding justice and community investment after more than a century of systemic racism endured in Nova Scotia.

It’s the latest in a series of demonstrations held in solidarity with Black Lives Matter in the province, taking place as a world reckoning on racism saturates news headlines around the world.

North Preston is the oldest and largest indigenous Black community in Canada and has a long history of stigmatizing and discriminatory treatment from police, media and politicians.

Through megaphones, calls of “No justice, no peace,” underscored the marchers’ demands to defund the police, invest in the growth and success of the community, and give Africville land back to its original owners and their descendants.

READ MORE: N.S. Senator pushes for Emancipation Day to be nationally recognized

“They bulldozed over our homes and our church and we never received justice,” Africville survivor Eddie Carvery told Global News.

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“I’m saying to the public today, if there is such thing as justice, you better go back to Africville, revisit what happened to us in Africville, then maybe we can work on change.”

Africville is the African Nova Scotian community that was razed by the Halifax Regional Municipality in the 1960s, as part of what has been described as an “urban renewal” project.

But many years later, most of its elders and seniors have not received reparation, and provincial efforts help the residents of five African Nova Scotian communities get clear title to their land have fallen far behind.

READ MORE: Queer & Trans Black, Indigenous, People of Colour ensure their voices heard during Halifax Pride

“Isolation is a key component of destruction,” said community elder Denise Allen. “You were put out here, so far away from everything, and then just left and abandoned.

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“Through local growth planning, we would look at the fabric of this local area, its jurisdiction, its location and the community’s vision for the evolution of their community for future growth.”

The rally was organized by the Descendants of African Americans Living in Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Black Wall Street and the North Preston Action Committee. Those groups and their supporters are asking the governments to defund the police — particularly the RCMP — and reinvest those dollars in communities like North Preston.

READ MORE: ‘Justice for Regis’ — Hundreds turn out in Halifax for solidarity march against racism

“The needle has moved, but we haven’t moved it the way we need to move it,” said Steven Benton, interim CEO of Nova Scotia Black Wall Street. “We need reform and we’re going to tap into those budgets.

“We need community development — the only thing the community owns is the church right now… For our children, this has to stop.”

The rally took place on Aug. 1 — Emancipation Day — which celebrates the abolition of slavery across the British Empire. In Canada, it is only officially recognized in Ontario, despite calls for recognition nationwide.

Police chief addressed protesters’ calls for police reform
Police chief addressed protesters’ calls for police reform

READ MORE: Hundreds turn up for anti-racism rally in Spryfield — ‘The system is bleeding’

Organizers told Global News they will keep on marching until they see substantive action to invest in communities, repair relationships and address the systemic racism of existing governance models.

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“I don’t want to frighten or intimidate anybody,” said Carvery. “But if we have to, we can create civil unrest — such things as closing down our bridge, closing down our container field.

“We don’t want to do that, we want them to come clean and give Africville back… We deserve it. We were the ones who built this city.”