Concerns have been mounting over the ‘Justice for George Floyd & All Police Racism Victims protest set to occur on Saturday, Jun. 6, 2020 in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
The primary concern many have voiced about the event is that the organizers invited Kingston Police to formally attend, and to speak during the protest. Over the course of a couple of days, a lot of the confusion and concern about this evolved as follows.
One of the main demands of the Black Lives Matter Movement has been to defund the police due to the high percentage of police brutality against Black people in the United States and Canada. One of the main criticisms of the Justice for George Floyd & All Police Racism Victims protest taking place in Kingston, which is organized by 19-year-olds Casey Heffernan and Hawani Brooks, is that the Kingston Police Force will be present at the event and have been invited to speak.
“George Floyd has brought many together to hold vigils and demonstrations to show solidarity with those who suffer from racist behaviours, and we acknowledge your right to bring these important issues to the forefront respectfully and peacefully,” said Chief of Police Antje McNeely in a statement prior to the Black Lives Matter vigil held on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020. “We will be there to support you in your efforts to promote healthy dialogue and keep everyone safe.”
After this statement was made, Heffernan spoke with the police and invited them to speak at the protest. In response to this invitation, a Facebook event called ‘No police at our protests!‘ was created by Katarokwi Solidarity. That counter-protest will take place at the same time and location (12 to 1:30 p.m. in Confederation Park).
“When the police go up to speak, we will chant. We will recite the names of the countless BIPOC lives cut brutally short by Canadian law enforcement. We will silence them the same way they have silenced us for generations,” said a statement written on their Facebook page for the event.
Brooks then said they will only be able to tell at the protest how the police will truly behave.
“You’ll see the root of a person through their actions,” he said. “In past times, me and my friends have been racially profiled by Kingston police. We’ll see what their true intentions are by the protests that their words are genuine because a lot of times people do say that they use this as an opportunity to exercise their power.”
However, when approached by Kingstonist for comment on whether they’d be formally attending and/or speaking, Kingston Police explained they will not be doing either.
“While we are aware of the planned event on June 6 at Confederation Park Kingston Police will not be formally involved, will not be an active participant, nor will we be speaking at the demonstration,” said Sgt. Steve Koopman of Kingston Police. “This was never our intent and there was some apparent miscommunication by one of the organizers when a liaison officer reached out earlier in the week to discuss public safety and COVID-19 concerns.”
Koopman went on to explain the concerns police have regarding the event are mainly regarding the health and well-being of the attendees and community during the current pandemic.
“Kingston Police respect the right of the public to lawfully assemble and peacefully demonstrate. Saying that, we are living in unique times and must urge caution and provide a reminder that a global pandemic is still active and at the recommendation of KFL&A Public Health and the Government of Ontario is that participating in such public gatherings not only places the attendees at risk of infection, but also exacerbates spreading the disease to the rest of the Kingston population and further,” he said.
“We have had discussion with the organizers to advise them of this concern, but to also provide recommendations to mitigate harm to the health and well-being of all who attend. While we will attempt to minimize our presence at the event, we have a duty to monitor and to be prepared to respond to ensure the safety of both the attendees and the greater community.”
Finally, Koopman candidly addressed the larger issue at hand.
“We will respect the organizers’ most recent request to not participate in the event, even though that was never our wish or intent to insert ourselves in the conversation at this sensitive time. We do not want to encroach upon the space of those whose voices need to be heard when discussing the topic of anti-Black racism, the murder of George Floyd, and the deaths of other people of colour in police custody,” he expressed.
“At the proper time, we hope to listen to vested community members’ feelings and recommendations on how Kingston Police can be a constructive part of a tangible solution to combat racism in all its forms.”
In order to answer the questions floating around about this event, Kingstonist sat down with organizers Casey Heffernan and Hawani Brooks, and found out all we could so our readers can be informed.
Who is organizing it?
Casey Heffernan is a white, 19 year-old man who studies Business Management with a minor in economics at Trent University in Peterborough. Hawani Brooks, is a Black 19-year-old man who is starting college in the fall. They have been friends for seven years after meeting at soccer. Although Heffernan’s name is the organizer on Facebook, according to him and Brooks, he has been speaking with Brooks and their other friends to address what they want and need.
Why are they organizing it?
CH: “I did not know there was a vigil going on [earlier in the week] to be completely honest until someone put it into the group chat. I just figured there would be nothing going on and I knew that, in order to have change happen, something big has to happen, and I wanted to be a part of that movement and I wanted to help my friends and family. I was scrolling through Facebook and Kingston is where most of my friends of colour live and I know how hard it can be for them sometimes and the hate they take. I just wanted to be sure that I stand up with them and not against them. I want to do everything I can to help.”
HB: “To add on to what Casey said, I didn’t know there was a vigil either. When he first reached out to me I could only see good intentions to what he was trying to start. From the very first message he asked me and other People of Colour if we could help him with the wording and the beginning of all of this because he doesn’t want to offend anyone. People have been wondering why a white person is doing this, getting attacks and things and we’ve just been reassuring him that it is for a collective good cause. When people aren’t getting heard there needs to be an upheaval, a revolution, especially in a predominantly white place like Kingston.”
What are they calling for from the action?
CH: “We want to live in a world where anyone can be with anyone without any issues. We want to eliminate oppression that has been created. As for everyone in the community, it takes a whole community to fix the issue.”
HB: “For most people of colour, first and foremost we are trying to do this peacefully and not instigate violence. We are trying to bring general collective awareness. There is a problem, there has been a reaction and now we’re trying to find methods to go past it. The things that are happening are too outdated and when things are outdated, new things have to come into place to replace it. Being a Black person I can 100 per cent say that we need more white people on our side. There’s no point in hate. Only love can diffuse it. Only peace can beat war. We’re just trying to march for awareness. For example, people address my white friends in public and ignore me, when I’m alone at night people move away from me because I have dreads and I am Black, when I’m writing people are surprised that I write well. Privileged white people mean well for the most part but they are naive. That excuse can only work for so long. There are so many resources at our fingertips to eliminate those factors.”
Are there any petitions or fundraisers they are supporting?
CH: “I have been looking into adding a link to one of the charities that are for this cause to the Facebook page but unfortunately it wouldn’t allow me to upload the links so I’m going to keep looking into it and see what I can do there. But I feel wrong handling everyone’s money if I were to collect it at the protest if something does happen to it. But the resources are there. If anyone is willing to go online and donate, I’m sure everyone would happily appreciate it.”
Who will be speaking at the event?
According to a statement made by Heffernan on the Facebook page, any one is able to speak if they desire as long as no hate is being spread.
“We all unanimously agreed that when this question came up that those who wish to talk may, with that being said; comments and speech shared is not to be negatory (sic) or rude,” the statement read.
Safety precautions for COVID-19:
In the same status, it was pointed out that all participants must be wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and “if needed, masks will be provided to the best of our abilities.”
“Social distancing rules NEED to be followed as each individual not following said rules are subject to fines from law enforcement,” the statement also read.
Organizers also mentioned that in order to ensure social distancing, they have moved the event from the original location at the Leon’s Centre to Confederation Park.
Kingstonist reached out to the Black Luck Collective, the organizers of the first Black Lives Matter vigil held this week here in Kingston, but did not receive response at time of press. Kingstonist also reached out to Katarokwi Solidarity, who indicated they did not want to speak to the media.
With files from Tori Stafford.
Jemma Dooreleyers is a Kingstonian who is about to enter her fourth year at Ryerson School of Journalism. She has been a contributor for the Kingstonist in the past and is excited to be a full-time intern. She has written for a number of student publications such as the Ryersonian, Kaleidoscope, the Eyeopener, Her Campus and the White Wall Review. This year, she was the Arts Editor for Ryerson Folio, a general interest magazine. She is currently back in Kingston for the time being, social distancing with her mom, a dog, and two cats.