By Alex Downham and Aidan Hamelin
Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) executives helped organize an anti-racist protest Tuesday following the Ferguson grand jury’s verdict not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen.
“The protest was an amazing opportunity to bring together members of the black communities and allies to step forward in solidarity,” RSU President Rajean Hoilett said.
Hoilett and RSU Vice-President of Equity Pascale Diverlus are both part of Black Lives Matter, an “informal coalition” combating racism. Diverlus hosted and spoke to over 3,000 protesters alongside anti-racist activist Lena Peters and three other speakers.
“Folks showed up to show solidarity and to let the Brown family know that we’re fighting the same battle,” Diverlus said. “[Mike Brown] could have been any one of us, so we need this trend to end.”
Organizer Lena Peters, like many at the protest, was also angered by the grand jury’s decision, but said she would use that anger to make a difference. She, quoting Maya Angelo, said “anger is like fire, it burns clean.”
“I am here because at least nine people thought the shooting of an unarmed black teen wasn’t worth a trial,” Peters said, “anti-black racism is its own problem.”
Protesters demanded the demilitarization of police, financial support for victims and families affected by police violence and an end to racial profiling.
Ali said that activists should and will not tolerate police violence. “Darren Wilson is on notice. Every member of the Toronto police is on notice. Stephen Harper is on notice.”
Protestors were asked by organizers to wear all black and many carried signs with statements such as “Being black is not a weapon,” and “Fuck the police.”
Hoilett said he thinks Ryerson should get more involved with the anti-racist activism both on and off-campus.
“Considering our location and the diversity of our students, I think it’s important to know that some students are implicated by police brutality and anti-black violence,” Hoilett said.
A moment of silence was held to honour African-Americans who have been killed by police. Protestors began chanting “black lives matter,” a slogan popularized to discuss racial imbalance in the US.
Toronto’s demonstration mirrored those happening in Boston and Seattle, with the exception of the massive police presence that has become the norm at most anti-black violence protests.
Toronto police officer Jim Browne monitored the demonstration, and agreed racism was an issue in the US.
“At one time I thought the only black president I was going to see was on 24,” Browne said. “I still have hope.”