Confederation Park was the gathering place for hundreds of Kingstonians on the afternoon of Saturday, Jun. 6 2020 for the second large-scale rally this week in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to denounce racism.
At noon, the rally opened with statements from the organizers, speaking to an audience of about a hundred, but as the event progressed, the crowd’s size continued to grow.
The organization of this particular rally was not without controversy, as local group Katarokwi Solidarity voiced concern over the initial intents of rally organizers to invite a representative from the Kingston Police Force to formally address the crowd. However, following retraction of this plan by the organizers, and confirmation that there would not be an address from the police, Katarokwi Solidarity expressed appreciation and support for the shift.
On their Facebook event page, Katarokwi Solidarity wrote, “We appreciate their efforts in addressing the concerns of BIPOC members of our community. Organizing is difficult and messy. There is a lot of pressure to do things perfectly and it’s can be hard to respond to feedback in a timely manner. Despite these setbacks, we hope that people will still come out and support them on Saturday. Let this be a learning moment that influences future anti-racist organizing here in Kingston.”
Issues related to policing were a prevalent theme in the words spoken by presenters and later by audience commenters, and were reflected on numerous signs calling for greater police accountability in society at large. We spoke with a group of attendees who noted that this was an area of concern that compelled them to come to the rally. One attendee who identified herself as Cassie, held a poster with a quote by Malcolm X. “I’m here because we need justice,” she said. “Police are able to do things with no repercussions, and we want justice to apply to them too.”
Her friend Rana agreed. “The police officers who stand by and let their coworkers get away with violence also need to be accountable for their part as well.”
The rally began with addresses from several speakers. After this, organizers read aloud a list of names, stating, “This list is the names compiled by the Ontario Human Rights Council, their timeline of racial discrimination and racial profiling of black persons by the Toronto Police Service, and Desmond Cole’s recent article ‘Remembering Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour killed by Canadian police’.” With each name, the crowd was led to chant, “we want justice”.
Some of the speakers during the rally noted that while these are broader issues in North America and around the world, the Kingston community specifically also has a culture of racism. When organizers opened the floor up to comments and statements from any attendees, numerous BIPOC individuals shared their own experiences of racism in Kingston, and their pleas for change in the attitudes and actions of their white neighbours.
At one point, a white man stepped forward to speak at the same time as a black woman, and when he took the megaphone and said that it was his turn to talk now, a number of people in the crowd called out loudly for him to let the woman speak instead. There were cheers when he eventually stepped back and passed her the megaphone. “Thank you so much for the support and the love that we need in this world, because it’s unfathomable that this is still happening,” she said. “It’s not rocket science! Love one another! That’s it, that’s all!”
As more attendees stepped forward to share their comments, eventually the organizers stepped in to note a change of plans. “We’re not going to continue with the march that we had planned, because we think that the voices of the community are more important.”
“Black Lives Matter” was written on many signs, and the widespread movement was often referenced by speakers. One attendee who took the megaphone said, “I hope that we can come together even after today as well. Because Black Lives Matter, but they matter every day!”
In her conversation with us, Cassie also noted her support for the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s a really good movement. It’s not to say all lives don’t matter, it’s just that black lives haven’t mattered and they should matter. They’ve been treated really poorly, and we all need equality.”