Amid heightened racial tensions in Canada and the United States over ongoing anti-black racism and police brutality, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he supports the democratic right to peacefully protest, but won’t be taking part.
“I’ve always believed that peace and love and understanding have to replace discord and violence and racism, so I’ll continue to say that,” Pallister said at a news conference on Tuesday morning.
On Friday at 6 p.m., members of Winnipeg’s black community plan to host a peaceful protest called Justice 4 Black Live at the Manitoba Legislature. Pallister says he will be there “in spirit,” but not physically.
“As a senior with asthma, I’ll be observing social distancing recommendations given to me by my physician and by Dr. [Brent] Roussin,” the province’s chief public health officer, he said.
WATCH | Pallister talks about Black Lives Matter movement:
At a news conference later Tuesday, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said he hadn’t received an invitation to the rally, but would consider going if one was proffered.
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said he would also consider attending if he was invited.
“I would certainly consider standing with them, I just don’t want to impose myself,” Smyth said.
Bowman joined Smyth and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane to speak about racism in the city at the Tuesday afternoon news conference, and to tell Winnipeggers they’re willing to hear concerns.
“Racism is real. It occurs here in Winnipeg. It occurs in Manitoba,” said Bowman.
The Winnipeg rally is being held in solidarity with events elsewhere and to draw awareness to racism and police brutality against black people here, organizers say.
Rallies and protests have taken place across North America following the death of George Floyd, 46, on May 25. He died after he was held down by police officers, one of whom had his knee pressed against Floyd’s neck.
The four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd have been fired and the officer who pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Pallister says other representatives from the province will be at the rally, properly distanced from others.
Pallister encouraged Manitobans to stand up against racism that’s happening in the U.S.
“I will encourage all who feel strongly about this issue to use the opportunity to safely demonstrate their support for people of colour. Black lives matter. All lives matter of course, but in this instance, on the heels of what’s happening in the United States and what has been happening too frequently there, we all have a responsibility.”
Although many protests have been peaceful, some have become violent, with a police station set on fire in Minneapolis, and accusations of brutality by police, who have used force to take control of streets.
Pallister says he doesn’t support violence or destruction of property in protests.
“As reprehensible as the racist actions are, the overreaction and the violence chosen by some, by I think a significant minority of protesters in parts of the United States and Canada, is not something I can support and not something any of us should support.”
The premier said before university he’d never met a person of colour and had limited conversations with Indigenous people.
“I began to change as a person because of those personal reactions through the friendships that I had,” he said.
“No one deserves to be treated as less because of their colour or their creed or their ethnicity.”
Police ‘not perfect’: Smyth
Police forces across Canada and the U.S. continue to face backlash for brutality against Indigenous people and people of colour.
Smyth says Winnipeg police are working to deal with those issues, and officers receive ethical, cultural and unconscious bias training, and learn to de-escalate violent situations.
“We are not perfect.… When our conduct is questionable, we are accountable,” Smyth said.
“From my perspective as a police service, it’s important that we hear their perspective and that we listen.”
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