Thousands gather in peaceful protest at Manitoba Legislature to demand Justice 4 Black Lives

By | June 5, 2020

When Carla Deroy opened the doors to her cosmetics company, The Beauty Box by Sheriff, in 2018, she received a call from someone who said, “This isn’t the Beauty Box — this the N—er Box.”

After hanging up, Deroy walked to the door and saw a truck parked outside the business, before watching it drive across the street to an empty parking lot, facing the business. It was about 7 p.m. She was alone.

“I was petrified,” she said. “I ended up closing the store early, and we changed our hours and made sure we always staffed more than one person.

“We didn’t make a wave about it, because people don’t listen anyhow. So it’s almost pointless for us to say anything.”

Deroy and her three daughters were among the thousands of people who showed up to the Manitoba legislative grounds Friday evening for Justice 4 Black Lives, a rally demanding justice for black people, and sweeping changes to policing and the administration of justice.

The rally was one of many taking place across Canada and the United States following the killing of George Floyd, who died when a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd screaming multiple times, “I can’t breathe.”

Carla Deroy, right, spoke about the racism she and her family has experienced as business owners in Winnipeg. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Amanda Sheriff, Deroy’s daughter, carried a sign that read, “Stop the black-lash #wecantbreathe!” 

“We’re against this. Everything that’s going on,” said Sheriff. “We’re just fed up with always feeling like second-class citizens — and we’re Canadian citizens, it’s enough.”

For things to change, Sheriff feels the voices of black people must be heard, she told CBC News. But while Friday’s rally will partially help with that, she says it isn’t enough.

“If you are so pro-black life, then support black businesses, support the black community, try to pitch in when you’re seeing something being unjust,” she said.

Thousands of people attend the Justice 4 Black Lives rally at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara echoed the sentiment.

“To be an ally, you must action your allyship and your commitment to our community in everything that you do, every single day,” Asagwara said from a podium at Justice 4 Black Lives.

“You must do that because racism doesn’t rest.”

In September 2019, Asagwara, a black, queer, gender non-conformist, was among the first three black MLAs ever to be elected to the legislature in Manitoba.

On Friday, they told the crowd assembled at the Manitoba legislative grounds that witnessing violence against black people, such as the killing of George Floyd, leaves the Union Station MLA unable to sleep.

“I know that we’re all here today because enough is enough is enough,” Asagwara said. “We should never have to rally like this again.”

They urged those in attendance to carry the energy of Friday with themselves every day, in everything they do.

Lao Kosgei is a young black man from Kenya in Africa, where he’s witnessed racialized violence. But that does not mean he is desensitized to it.

NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara speaks at the Justice 4 Black Lives rally in front of the Manitoba legislative building Friday. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Kosgei watched the videos of George Floyd’s arrest, but couldn’t finish them all the way through, he said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see one of your brothers killed in broad daylight and nobody can say anything,” said Kosgei.

“It’s heartbreaking to some of us, especially to our community and especially to all of us who would like to live in this community as one big family.

“It’s time for society to realize that we need to live together as one big community,” he said. “This is the time for that. This is the time for change.”

Korgei added that he really appreciated so many people coming to support the cause, such as the Neufelds — a family of Hutterites who live about 50 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg in Steinbach.

The drive in was a rare move by the family, they said. But they felt they had to because of the “unjust” murder of a black man by a white authority figure.

Racialized violence “isn’t right,” said father Jacob Neufeld. “Black people have the same rights as the white people have… We’re all human beings.”

Petition demands police defunding, abolition

The organizers of Justice 4 Black Lives released an online petition shortly before Friday’s rally with a list of demands directed at city and provincial leaders.

Top among them is the defunding and abolition of the Winnipeg Police Service, including the cadet program, along with prosecuting and condemning the actions of some Winnipeg police officers.

“No reform can come from these colonial practices,” the petition says. “The system must be rebuilt and include marginalized voices in the process in order to protect all BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Colour] to this city’s full capability.”

The group believes many local communities and grassroots organizations could take over the legal responsibilities of police, if the city took money out of the WPS budget and invested it with those groups.

The petition asks for the city to consult black and Indigenous organizers and activists, as well as the anti-police group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, to create a plan that will reform the police service.

Among the demands expressed by rally organizers was the abolition and defunding of the Winnipeg Police Service. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Marsha Simmons attended Justice 4 Black Lives because her son’s father, Rodney Brooks, was shot in the back of the head in 2005 by a man who is now serving a sentence for another homicide.

Simmons believes Winnipeg police did not give their best effort in the investigation.

“When his mother came into the office to speak to the investigators, they literally threw his file on the floor like it was garbage,” she said.

“We’re here today because [Rodney’s] life matters to us and we don’t want to forget him, and we want Winnipeg police to be held accountable.”

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