Over the past week, the situation in the United States has reached a fever pitch, resulting in rallies and peaceful protests across America and around the world.
The rallies began after the death of George Floyd, a black man from Minneapolis, Minnesota who died of asphyxiation, according to an independent coroner’s report, after former police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck during an arrest. The event resulted in the renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Here in Kingston, plans are in place for two separate vigils, one organized by the Black Luck Collective beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020 in McBurney Park, and the other organized by resident Casey Heffernan to take place on Saturday, Jun. 6, 2020 beginning at 12 p.m. at the Leon’s Centre.
In response, Mayor Bryan Paterson issued a public statement on Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020, and also called for the lowering of the flags on City Hall.
“In light of tonight’s anti-racism vigil, I’ve asked that the city’s flags be lowered. Like you, I’m deeply troubled by what happened to George Floyd, and frustrated by continued acts of discrimination and hatred. I want to state clearly and firmly that racism has no place in our community,” Paterson said in a statement on social media.
“Today we mourn the lives that have been lost and we take a stand against hatred. But let’s not let this moment, these actions, our shared anger at recent examples of brutality and injustice divide us, but rather bring us closer together to work for change.”
Kingston Police also issued a statement ahead of the vigils, voicing both support of the vigils and denouncing racism and discrimination in the Kingston community.
“On behalf of all members of the Kingston Police, we would like to reassure our community that we are here to serve and protect all citizens in our beautiful city and we value the rich partnerships and relationships we have developed with you over the years. We are proud to have been your police service since 1841, and we will continue to earn your respect, trust, and confidence in policing by adhering to our values: Respect, Integrity, Professionalism, Partnership, Leadership, and Excellence,” the statement reads.
“Time and again in our world we see violent and racist behaviours, both overt and subtle, demonstrated towards persons of colour and Indigenous peoples by those who hold power and privilege, including some in law enforcement. These behaviours have no place in our society; they are not condoned in our community; and they have no place in law enforcement.”
The statement from Kingston Police, signed by Chief Antje McNeely, Deputy Chief Christopher Scott, Inspector Brian Begbie, Inspector Daniel Mastin, Inspector Carolyn Rice, and Cameron Gough, President of the Kingston Police Association, continues as follows:
“The Kingston Police are committed to being part of a culture of change. We stand united and in solidarity with our community and those experiencing racism and discrimination in all its ugly forms. It is important for us to listen to and learn from your experiences; addressing our own biases and privilege through meaningful and honest dialogue will continue to be part of our continual learning within our organization and will help ensure that we have a workplace that embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion. This principle encompasses not only gender and cultural diversity but also diversity of thought and a culture of acceptance.
“The death of 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. We will be there to support you in your efforts to promote healthy dialogue and to keep everyone safe. During these unprecedented times, I am reminded that we are a caring community with strength in leadership throughout KFL&A. We are all in this together, and we must have respect for all as we walk side by side into the future.”
However, the night before the first vigil is to take place, anti-police-themed graffiti was discovered in Confederation Park in downtown Kingston. Although accompanied by graffiti sending messages of remembrance for Floyd and others whose lives were lost as the result of racism or alleged police brutality, as well as general Black Lives Matter messaging (“BLM,” “Did their lives mean nothing?!” etc.), the graffiti also included dark messaging aimed at police, such as “Blue Lives Murder” and “All cops are bastards.” The term ‘blue lives’ refers to police officers, and the graffiti was ironically illuminated in blue, as Kingston City Hall is washed in blue light every Tuesday in support of frontline healthcare workers.
Sgt. Steve Koopman of Kingston Police addressed the graffiti with both openness and understanding.
“Kingston Police is aware of the graffiti. Our members are dedicated to the Kingston community, ensuring the safety and security of all its citizens, protecting and empathizing with victims, collaborating with and listening to community partners, and continuing to train, educate and improve ourselves for the demands that come with a constantly changing society,” he said.
“Saying that, knowing the history of law enforcement has been problematic at times, especially for vulnerable members of the population, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and more, we are cognizant of the anger and frustrations of some of these groups and their allies. While we may disagree with some of the messaging, we understand they are entitled to their opinions and feelings,” Koopman continued.
“In the context of what is occurring internationally regarding people of colour dying in police custody, anti-police words and phrases cannot be compared to the tragic loss of lives that has occurred and the struggle to ensure this does not continue. Our members will continue to be professional and serve the citizens of Kingston inclusive of ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”
Mayor Paterson also responded to the graffiti by voicing support for Kingston Police, as well as for all those rallying against racism at this time.
“It’s so important that we come together as a community and take a stand against all forms of racism and discrimination,” Paterson said. “In light of recent examples of police brutality, I appreciate the continued commitment from Kingston Police and Chief McNeely to be a part of a culture of change, to listen, to confront wrong behaviours and to ensure our local law enforcement has the trust of everyone in our city.” For more information on the vigil being held today, Tuesday, Jun. 2, 2020, click here. For information on the vigil being held on Saturday, Jun. 6, 2020, click here.