Toronto Ferguson indictment protests focus on healing, awareness instead of violence

Photo: Victor Ferreira

The streets of Ferguson, Missouri burned for the second consecutive night after a grand jury ruled that officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted for lethally shooting unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

About 2,000 people gathered to protest the decision in Toronto, across the street from the U.S. consulate, but the only flames on the streets came from vigil candles.

There was no looting, no tear gas to disperse crowds, no police cruisers set aflame. There was only chanting, reflection, and prayer. And that's exactly what the organizers of the event wanted.

Toronto protesters of all races gathered, brandishing hand-made signs focusing on the importance of black lives and putting a stop to police brutality, while chanting in unison about their disagreement with the Ferguson decision.

Chants of "Black lives matter," and "Black people, united, will never be defeated" broke out as speakers began by demanding the arrest of Wilson, the release of all those incarcerated in Ferguson in connection to Monday's protests, and that all levels of Canadian government acknowledge what they said was an excessive use of police force in Ferguson as a human rights issue.

But speakers wanted the audience to know that these arrests, alleged racial profiling and police violence targeting the black community isn't only happening in the U.S. There have been plenty of Michael Browns in Toronto as well.

"If we're just trying to make this a United States issue, we're very blind to the fact that we're losing lives out here," Alexandria Williams, one of the organizers, told Yahoo Canada News.

Williams, whose father was a member of the Black Panther Party, a nationalist organization that focused on black rights in the U.S., said she lost her brother "to police brutality" four years ago.

"This isn’t a one-off thing, we all know somebody who has gone through this," Williams said. "I think that’s the point. We’re tired."

La Tanya Grant, the cousin of Jermaine Carby, a 33-year-old man who was shot and killed by Peel Regional Police during a traffic stop in September, appealed to the crowd to not forget her cousin.

Eyewitnesses described Carby slowly walking towards officers, with his arms outstretched, before being shot. Video shows the officers shouting for Carby to drop a knife, but neither the images or the eyewitnesses saw a weapon in his hands. Grant told the protesters her family still doesn't know why Carby was pulled over, and that they are waiting for the name of the officer who shot him to be released.

"In the case of [Wilson] we have a non-indictment, but in the case of Jermaine Carby we actually still have a trial to look to and the opportunity to put pressure on our justice system," Lena Peters, the protest leader, said.

Peters said she and the organizers began to think about a protest last week when the rumours of a non-indictment for Wilson began to spread. When the Ferguson decision was announced, Peters and a handful of others called an emergency meeting and worked through the night to make the necessary preparations.

[ Related: Thousands hold vigil in Toronto for slain Ferguson black teenager ]

One night was all that was needed to spread the word through social media about the planned protest as a Facebook event page created by online forum Black Lives Matter quickly attracted the attention of more than 4,000 people who said they would attend.

"When it's urgent for us, we show up and we're able to support each other," Peters said.

In an emotional display of solidarity, that's what the protesters did.

Near the end of the evening, speakers asked those in attendance to place a hand on the shoulder of the person standing beside them and to tell them: "I've got your back."

 The experience was meant to serve as a period of healing, as was the moment of silence that followed where protesters remembered loved ones they lost to alleged police brutality.

Arden Maalik stood near the speakers, holding up a sign reading: "Before I die, I want to..." with the answers such as "be free" and "be loved" scribbled across.

Arden Maalik poses with his sign at the Ferguson protest in Toronto.
Photo: Victor Ferreira

Maalik said it was these moments of healing that truly inspired him throughout the night.

"It shows we can change, we can transform, and we can move forward as a people despite our differences."