Hundreds of people turned out to pressure the city for more action against racism at a Black Lives Matter protest at Vancouver City Hall on Friday.
Organizers said the rally was about demanding justice and accountability, and standing in solidarity against white supremacy.
It came as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd, and amid a dispute between Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart and the city’s police chief about the presence of systemic racism in policing.
Azuke Neuka-Agwu, one of the event’s organizers, said the city has not done enough since demands from the Vancouver BLM chapter last June around defunding police, addressing systemic racism and redressing historic wrongs against the city’s Black community.
“Even though the mayor recently chose to step down as (spokesperson for the Vancouver Police Board) and let someone else take it over, we’re just not seeing enough progress, and COVID has provided so many distractions that people are just crashing form one spectacle to the next, without realizing all these things are connected,” he said.
Neuka-Agwu drew a link between anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism and anti-Indigenous racism and the rising number of hate crimes in Canada.
“The origin of the Canadian state, from clearing the land moving, the people out to residential schools, all of that is connected,” he said, pointing to the recent discovery of the remains of hundreds of people at the sites of former Indian residential schools.
The recent wrongful handcuffing of an Indigenous grandfather and his 12-year old granddaughter and a retired Black B.C. Supreme Court judge in separate incidents were recent examples of systemic racism at work, he said.
“We are gashing to put pressure on the city to remind people that yeah, there are a lot of other things going on but this is still happening.”
On Thursday, anti-racism advocate Markiel Simpson addressed the police board, calling for Chief Adam Palmer’s resignation, amid the latter’s refusal to acknowledge the presence of systemic racing in policing.
Later in the board meeting, Deputy Chief Steve Rai announced a review of VPD policies and procedures to ensure “systemic biases” were not embedded in the organization.
Sekoya Baker, who is Afro-Indigenous and a member of the Squamish and Tla’amin First Nations, said he was at the protest to remind the public that racism is not just something that happens in other countries.
“Even if we live in Canada and Vancouver, there’s still a lot that’s swept under the rug and not paid attention to. We’re here to make a statement,” Baker said.
“We need more allies, we need every person of colour to come together to let it be known, Indigenous lives matter, Black lives matter, stop Asian hate, everything.
His brother, Sekawnee Baker, said the priority was raising awareness.
“It’s very important to me because I’m Afro-Indigenous. On both sides of my culture we’ve suffered some racism,” he said.
“Being Black growing up here in Vancouver, I’ve faced some struggles. Being Native growing up here in Vancouver I’ve also faced some struggles.”
Following speeches, demonstrators planned to march over the Cambie Street Bridge before ending at Emery Barnes Park for music and to hear from more speakers.