Saturday’s demonstration began at 4 pm local time, closing off College Street between Bay and Yonge, as speeches, songs, and dances were held outside Toronto Police Headquarters.
The crowd at “Blackout Against Police Brutality” protest shouted: “Black lives, they matter, Hey!”
“We’re going to be here for as long as the community wants to be here,” said Alexandria Williams, a co-founder of Black Live Matters’ (BLM) Toronto branch. “The purpose of this is to make sure that we have intersections of different communities coming together to work in solidarity to combat anti-blackness.”
Saturday’s demonstration comes following a week of protests against anti-Black racism in Toronto, which began with a sit-in on Saturday, March 19, under the banner #BLMTOtentcity. The protest is part of the larger BLM campaign, which originated in the US.
The latest wave of public outrage came after the city’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which is charged with investigating incidents in which police injure or kill civilians, decided not to indict or even name the officer involved in the deadly shooting of 45-year-old Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku in a Toronto apartment building last year.
The activists aim to bring attention to the issue, alleging that black citizens’ lives are viewed as “dispensable” by Toronto Police Services.
On Monday night, the sit-in was attacked by police officers, who extinguished protesters’ campfires and dismantled their tents. There were reports of officers violently assaulting some demonstrators as well.
The move did not discourage the crowd, however, as #BLMTOTentCity continued to gain popularity on social media.
Meanwhile, other solidarity demonstrations were held across Canada, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.
Saturday’s rally was attended by a diverse group of people. Black Lives Matter activists from the US even made the trip up north to join the Torontonians.
“It only makes sense that Black Lives Matter activists from the United States would join us,” said Sandy Hudson, a co-founder of BLM’s Toronto branch. “The legacy of anti-Blackness in colonialism has always been shared by African people across the diaspora, regardless of contemporary borders that encourage us to believe otherwise. We have to recognize this and show up for one another in our resistance efforts.”
The campaign has also received strong support from over 100 prominent artists and community leaders, who signed an open letter expressing their concern over anti-Black racism and police violence.
“Artists and activists, often one in the same, have been fighting together here for many decades,” said visual artist and community activist Syrus Marcus Ware. “And this work continues today! The BLMTOTentCity has been a beautiful creative space of collective resistance.”
Voices from the campaign are beginning to be heard, as three Toronto city councilors have called on the province to make sure that police services and investigations are fair and transparent.
A motion drafted by the officials states: “Black Lives Matter, community outreach workers and mental health agencies have all been speaking out and telling us that people are not being treated justly.”