Hundreds of students at around ten colleges walked out of class in solidarity on Monday, expressing their anger at the lack of justice for Brown and the other young people of color killed in police shootings.
Two weeks after Michael Brown, who was to begin his first year at Vatterott College this fall, was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson as he was walking down the street with a friend, a coalition of racial justice activists and community organizers across the country coordinated a nationwide student walkout, dubbed on Twitter as the #HandsUpWalkOut day of action.
Organizations including the Dream Defenders and the Organization for Black Struggle, along with groups that have formed in the two weeks since protests started in Ferguson, sent out calls via Twitter and severalnewly created websites, asking students to walk out of class Monday, which also happened to be the day of Brown’s funeral, and gather in a central campus location.
The response was huge, and hundreds of students at around ten colleges on Monday walked out of class in solidarity. “We knew immediately that we needed to organize something on our campus,” said Reuben Riggs, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, who along with students from St. Louis University organized one of the most successful walkout events.
“Many of us identify with Mike Brown, whether they’re young Black men or trans people of color,” Riggs told Rewire, noting that many students are targeted and subjected to the same system of oppression that was used to justify Mike Brown’s killing.
Around 300 students and faculty attended the St. Louis walkout, and though they held signs expressing their anger at the lack of justice for Mike Brown and the other young people of color killed in police shootings, the students were silent as they gathered on campus on their first day of classes.
Brown’s father, who attended the funeral of his 18-year-old son that morning, asked that participants turn whatever protest they had planned into a silent vigil or peaceful gathering.
“We march in silence in memory of Mike Brown, and through our silence, we speak our minds in the fight for local and global justice,” said student organizers in a press release on behalf of St. Louis and Washington universities.
At a smaller event 900 miles away, the students at Syracuse University in New York ended their walkout with a community discussion about race and systemic violence. Meeting in the university’s chapel, Syracuse students discussed how the criminalization of youth of color affects access to education. “We talked about how young kids, in preschool or elementary school are getting sent home and expelled in a way that sends a message that kids don’t belong in schools,” said Emelia Armstead, a senior public relations major at Syracuse, who organized the event on her campus along with the school’s Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP), a student organization that seeks to increase educational opportunities for underserved youth. Participants at both schools had the sense that students can and should play a role in shaping the debate on police violence and racism in the United States. The St. Louis press release speaks to this:
As students from Washington University and St. Louis University, we seek to amplify not only our voices but also the voices of our community in the call for justice for Mike Brown. […] By gathering, we memorialize yet another unjust killing of a young black man and make clear our stance that students everywhere must act. We are engaging the issues of our day by stepping away from our computer screens and textbooks and transforming our thoughts into action. Today, we pay respect to the many lives extinguished by unnecessary police violence. Tomorrow, we will continue in the fight for justice and work to reaffirm the value of every single human life.
“Ferguson is Syracuse and Los Angeles. As much as it might be easier to act like this is a St. Louis problem, it’s not. It’s a US problem and it’s everywhere,” said Armstead.
Here are more images from #HandsUpWalkOut events today, taken by Twitter users:
As I walked the streets of Toronto last month, it occurred to me that Pride Week had become something of a national holiday there, where rainbow flags and the Maple Leaf banners flying in honor of Canada Day on July 1 were equally ubiquitous. For the first time in my many years visiting the city—the place where I myself came out—the juxtaposition of Pride and the anniversary of Confederation felt appropriate and natural.
For some, however, this crescendo of inclusive celebration was threatened by the Black Lives Matter Toronto (BLMTO) protest at the city’s Pride March, often nicknamed PrideTO. The group’s 30-minute, parade-stopping sit-in has since come in for predictable condemnation. The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente dubbed BLMTO “bullies,” sniffed that its tactics and concerns belonged to the United States, and asked why it didn’t care about Black-on-Black crime in Canada. The Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy, meanwhile, called BLMTO “Nobody Else Matters,” also saying it “bullied” Pride’s organizers and suggesting we all focus on the real object of exclusion within the LGBTQ community: gay members of the recently ousted Conservative Party.
There is a lot to learn from this Torontonian incident, particularly around managing polite liberal racism—an especially important civics lesson in light of the past month’s tragedies in the United States. Privileging the voices of white LGBTQ Canadians who claim racism is not a part of Canada’s history or present means ignoring the struggles of hundreds of thousands, many of whom are LGTBQ themselves.
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Pride has always been a thoroughly political affair. It is, thus, hardly an “inappropriate time and place” for such a protest. It began as, and remains, a public forum for the unapologetic airing of our political concerns as a community in all its diversity. We may have reached a new phase of acceptance—the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau at Pride was a beautiful milestone in both Canadian and LGBTQ history—but Pride as a civic holiday must not obscure the challenges that remain. It is not a coincidence that the majority of transgender people murdered worldwide by the hundreds every year are Black and Latina, and that many of them are sex workers. That is part of the reality that BLMTO was responding to—the fact that racism amplifies homophobia and transphobia. In so doing, it was not just speaking for Black people, as many falsely contended, but advocating for queer and trans people of many ethnicities.
Even so, one parade-goer told the Globe and Mail: “It’s not about them. It’s gay pride, not black pride.” The very fact that Black LGBTQ people are asked to “choose” validates BLMTO’s complaint about Pride’s anti-Blackness, suggesting a culture where Black people will be thinly tolerated so long as they do not actually talk about or organize around being Black.
Indeed, BLMTO’s much-criticized list of demands seems not to have been read, much less understood. While drawing attention to the Black Lives Matter collective, it also advocated for South Asian LGBTQ people and those in First Nations communities, whose sense of not-entirely-belonging at an increasingly apolitical PrideTO it shares.
In each paint-by-numbers editorial, there was lip service paid to the “concerns” BLMTO has about Canadian police forces and racial discrimination, but the inconvenience of a briefly immobilized parade generated more coverage. Throughout, there has been a sense that Black Lives Matter didn’t belong in Canada, that the nation is somehow immune to racist law enforcement and, in fact, racism in general.
Yet to listen to the accounts of Black Canadians, the reality is rather different.
Janaya Khan, one of the co-founders of BLMTO, recently spoke to Canadian national magazine MacLean’s about the activist’s views on structural racism in the country. As a native of Toronto, they were able to speak quite forthrightly about growing up with racism in the city—up to and including being “carded” (a Canadian version of stop-and-frisk, wherein officers have the right to demand ID from random citizens) at Pride itself. And last year in Toronto Life, journalist and writer Desmond Cole talked about his experiences being raised throughout Ontario. He told a story of a traffic stop, none too different from the sort that killed Philando Castile earlier this month, after a passenger in his father’s car, Sana, had tossed a tissue out the window onto the highway. The officer made the young man walk back onto the highway and pick it up.
Cole wrote, “After Sana returned, the officer let us go. We drove off, overcome with silence until my father finally exploded. ‘You realize everyone in this car is Black, right?’ he thundered at Sana. ‘Yes, Uncle,’ Sana whispered, his head down and shoulders slumped. That afternoon, my imposing father and cocky cousin had trembled in fear over a discarded Kleenex.”
This story, of narrowly escaping the wrath of a white officer on the side of a motorway, could have come from any state in the Union. While Canada has many things to be proud of, it cannot claim that scouring racism from within its borders is among them. Those of us who have lived and worked within the country have an obligation to believe people like Cole and Khan when they describe what life has been like for them—and to do something about it rather than wring our hands in denial.
We should hardly be surprised that the United States and Canada, with parallel histories of violent colonial usurpation of Native land, should be plagued by many of the same racist diseases. There are many that Canada has shared with its southern neighbor—Canada had a number of anti-Chinese exclusion laws in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and it too had Japanese internment camps during the Second World War—but other racisms are distinctly homegrown.
The Quebecois sovereignty movement, for instance, veered into anti-Semitic fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. In later years, despite tacking to the left, it retained something of a xenophobic character because of its implicit vision of an independent Quebec dominated by white francophones who could trace their ancestry back to France. In a blind fury after narrowly losing the 1995 referendum on Quebecois independence, Premier Jacques Parizeau, the then-leader of the independence movement, infamously blamed “money and ethnic votes” for the loss. More recently, the provincial sovereigntist party, the Parti Quebecois, tried to impose a “Values Charter” on the province aimed at criminalizing the wearing of hijab and niqab in certain public spaces and functions. Ask Black francophones if they feel welcome in the province and you’ll get mixed answers at best, often related to racist policing from Quebec’s forces.
Speaking of policing and the character of public safety institutions, matters remain stark.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ and Native Ontario corrections officers have routinely complained of poisonous workplace environments; a recent survey found anti-Muslim attitudes prevail among a majority of Ontarians.
Especially poignant for me as a Latina who loves Canada is the case of former Vancouver firefighter Luis Gonzales. Gonzales, who is of Salvadoran descent, is now filing a human rights complaint against Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services for what he deemed a racist work environment that included anti-Black racism, like shining a fire engine floodlight on Black women in the street and joking about how one still couldn’t see them.
One could go on; the disparate nature of these abuses points to the intersectional character of prejudice in Canada, something that BLM Toronto was quite explicit about in its protest. While anti-Black racism is distinct, the coalition perspective envisaged by Black Lives Matter, which builds community with LGBTQ, Muslim, South Asian, and First Nations groups, reflects an understanding of Canadian racism that is quite intelligible to U.S. observers.
It is here that we should return again to Margaret Wente’s slyly nationalistic claim that BLMTO is a foreign import, insensitive to progressive Canadian reality. In this, as in so many other areas, we must dispense with the use of Canadian civic liberalism as a shield against criticism; the nation got this far because of sometimes intemperate, often loud protest. Protests against anti-LGBTQ police brutality in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, set the stage for a Toronto where the CN Tower would be lit up in rainbow colors. And any number of Native rights actions in Canada have forced the nation to recognize both its colonial history and the racism of the present; from Idle No More and the Oka Crisis to the 2014 VIA Rail blockade, that movement is alive and well. Indeed, the blockade was part of a long movement to make the government acknowledge that thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women constituted a crisis.
If we must wrap ourselves in the Maple Leaf flag, then let us at least acknowledge that peaceful protest is a very Canadian thing indeed, instead of redoubling racist insults by insinuating that Black Lives Matter is somehow foreign or that institutional racism is confined to the United States. Canada has achieved little of worth by merely chanting “but we’re not as bad as the United States!” like a mantra.
Far from being a movement in search of a crisis, Black Lives Matter and its intersectional analysis is just as well-suited to Canada as it is to the United States. In the end, it is not, per the national anthem, God who keeps this land “glorious and free,” but its people.
A scholarship fund that actress, writer, and producer Issa Rae started for the five children of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man killed Tuesday by Baton Rouge police, has raised more than $400,000within its first day online—doubling its original $200,000 goal.
Rae, the award-winning creator of the online hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, started the GoFundMe page Wednesday amid widespread outrage over Baton Rouge police repeatedly shooting Sterling as he was being held on the ground. The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the killing, which was captured on at least two cell phone cameras.
At a widely publicizedpress conference following Sterling’s death, his teenage son sobbed, calling out, “Daddy!”
“If you feel helpless,” Rae wrote on the GoFundMe page, “but want to play a small part in easing the burden of #AltonSterling’s family, consider donating to this scholarship fund for his 15-year-old son (and his other kids).”
Police have killed 136 Black people in 2016, according to the Guardian, which tracks police shootings. Its records indicate that Sterling was the seventh Black person killed by police in Louisiana this year.
Rae later tweeted that supporters had donated $200,000 within the first nine hours of the fundraiser.
Rae said all funds would go to Sterling’s family. By Thursday afternoon, almost 14,500 individuals had contributed to the online fundraiser.
The day after Sterling’s death, Minnesota police shot another Black man, 32-year-old Philando Castile, during a traffic stop, an incident captured on Castile’s girlfriend’s cell phone and that is now under investigation. Reports indicate the officer shot Castile at least four times as he was pulling out his wallet to show his identification.