Organizers of Halifax anti-racism demonstration reflect on what has changed one year later

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Demonstrators took a knee on Spring Garden Road in Halifax last June to protest the death of George Floyd. The unarmed Black man was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last May. (Brian Daly/CBC - image credit)
Demonstrators took a knee on Spring Garden Road in Halifax last June to protest the death of George Floyd. The unarmed Black man was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last May. (Brian Daly/CBC - image credit)

The organizers of a demonstration against anti-Black racism and police violence that drew thousands of people to downtown Halifax last June say not much has changed in the past year but they're encouraged that people are continuing the conversation.

"People are starting to wake up and realize that racism is alive and well here in Canada," Sharisha Benedict, one of the organizers, told CBC's Information Morning Halifax on Tuesday.

Tuesday marks the first anniversary of the "Take a Knee to Make a Stand" rally, which drew nearly 4,000 people to Spring Garden Road in Halifax last year.

Demonstrators knelt on the pavement for eight minutes and 46 seconds, representing the time a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd.

Sharisha Benedict organized the demonstration with her friend, Catherine Wright. She says not much has changed in the past year, but she's pleased that people are still talking about anti-Black racism and how it affects the community.
Sharisha Benedict organized the demonstration with her friend, Catherine Wright. She says not much has changed in the past year, but she's pleased that people are still talking about anti-Black racism and how it affects the community. (Sharisha Benedict)

The unarmed Black man's death ignited swift anger and action as people in the U.S and Canada called for an end to police brutality and racism.

In April, nearly a year after Floyd's death, Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter. The former police officer is now awaiting sentencing.

Catherine Wright, who organized the demonstration with Benedict, said Chauvin's conviction was "a great day for a lot of the Black community."

"Our protest was mostly for George Floyd so to see that it actually resulted in a positive outcome was pretty cool," Wright said.

Catherine Wright and Benedict address the crowd on Spring Garden Road during the demonstration last June.
Catherine Wright and Benedict address the crowd on Spring Garden Road during the demonstration last June.(Brian Daly/CBC)

However, she said more needs to be done for others who have been unjustly treated and even killed by police.

"[Chauvin's conviction is] really the only justice that has been served in the last year and there's lots of names ... of people who were killed by police so I'd like to see more justice for them and their families," she said.

Benedict said in the year since the rally, people have continued the conversation and are starting to call out racism when they see it.

High-profile incidents in Nova Scotia include an arrest by the Halifax Regional Police that left a Black woman, Santina Rao, with a broken wrist, concussion and bruising last year. Charges against Rao were later dropped.

And last July, a Black woman from Dartmouth, N.S., spoke out after she was allegedly racially profiled by Halifax Regional Police officers when she was surrounded by five or six police vehicles with their flashing lights on, without giving her a valid explanation.

Since then, Kayla Borden has encouraged others to speak out about their experiences with police.

Just a few months after that incident, former premier Stephen McNeil apologized for systemic racism in the justice system that has marginalized Indigenous and Black Nova Scotians.

"A lot of people now are not [accepting] it any more," Benedict said. "They're actually seeing it. They're actually voicing their opinions and they're coming together to stand with us."

Local activists including El Jones (centre) spoke to a crowd of demonstrators outside Park Lane Mall on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, June 1, 2020.
Local activists including El Jones (centre) spoke to a crowd of demonstrators outside Park Lane Mall on Spring Garden Road in Halifax, June 1, 2020.(Mark Crosby/CBC)

She said she witnessed this when the Halifax demonstration inspired similar gatherings across Nova Scotia last summer.

A Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil was held outside Halifax city hall only a few days later, and rallies were also held in Africville, Shelburne, Dartmouth, Truro, Amherst and Kentville.

"The rallies that followed after, they were unapologetic about anything that they were saying," Benedict said.

"They were brave. They were fearless … and I hope they continue to keep going with what they're doing and I'm right there to back them up."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

<cite>(CBC)</cite>
(CBC)

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