By Olivia Greaves, June 22 2020—
Thousands turned out to attend the Black Lives Matter vigil held at Calgary’s Olympic Plaza on June 6, organized by Black Lives Matter YYC and Calgary Against Police Brutality. It represented ongoing outrage concerning George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, and mirrored other protests emerging around the world in the wake of his murder. Attendees were encouraged to wear black, and held signs reading, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘I Can’t Breathe!’ and ‘No Justice, No Peace. No Racist Police!’ Those in attendance were told to respect social distancing guidelines by standing two meters apart, and teams were present to ensure social distancing was maintained, while providing medical aid, masks and hand sanitizer.
The vigil consisted of speakers presenting their stories and personal experiences with racism in Canada at large, and here in Calgary. First was a heartfelt acknowledgement to the traditional First Nations and Metis territories where the city is situated, and a declaration that, “in resistance to white supremacy we stand in solidarity with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Because we are not free, until we are all free.” The event’s MC, Adora Nwofor, began by urging white attendees to be respectful and keep the safety of racialized participants as the utmost priority. The Calgary Police were urged not to participate because, “one cop participating, kneeling and chanting for pictures will not create the change we need.”
Adora then described her experiences of racial oppression growing up in Calgary and led a chant that echoed throughout the plaza: “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” amid the car-honks of supportive passersby.
The next speaker held a moment of silence for victims of police brutality and said she was proud to be Black. She detailed inequalities in sentencing for black people, described the beauty of Black art and “beautiful melanin skin,” and urged people to have important conversations with their families about racism. She made notable remarks like: “Canada is not innocent,” “This is a Black movement,” and “Instead of fighting it, listen to the voices crying for help.”
Next, Godfred Addai said he believed in the power of this generation to change things for the better, and expressed anger at his own personal encounter with the Calgary police six years ago.
“Police violence does exist in Calgary, and it needs to end,” he said. He also promoted his upcoming documentary on the subject, airing July 11, and urged people to watch it and learn for themselves.
The next speakers were students from the University of Calgary. They pointed to the need for “race-based data” pertaining to inequalities and social injustices in Canadian society to be shared with the public, and described how the government of Canada has already developed “gender-based data.” Race-based data would be easy to compile, but nothing has been done. They concluded by stating that “ignorance leads to hate crimes, and we cannot hide behind ignorance in 2020. We deserve better. We deserve justice. We deserve change!”
A moving address was given by Ebony, a deaf Black woman from Washington D.C., with the aid of an ASL translator. She described how she is a proud, tough, deaf, Black woman, and communicated the need for inclusion of ASL people and people of varying abilities in social movements, signing that, “I can be part of what you are doing. I don’t want to be separate.” She brought up being afraid of the day when people forget this movement, signing that, “Black people will still be here. Black people will still feel anger and be afraid. After we leave here, we have to continue, we have to push through, we have to scream. We have to get this done and make this change!”
Following Ebony’s address, several speakers read out the names of victims of police brutality in the United States and Canada. Those in attendance said the names back, until at least 50 names had been called out, and 50 stories had been told. People then held up their phone lights in memory of them, in a moment of silence.
The final speaker’s name was Ava. She passed out pamphlets with information about Black businesses and food in Calgary, and left everyone with the following remarks.
“The violence that we’ve seen everyday, must this continue?” to which there was a resounding, “No!”
“The cruelty that we see everyday?”
“And, do you know what’s worse than cruelty? Indifference.”
She described how Canadian society still likes to sweep racism under the rug, citing “Canadian niceties and propriety” as the ultimate culprit in all of this.
“Well, propriety be damned!” she declared. “We’re going to say what needs to be said.”