THUNDER BAY - Omer Osman believes with so many voices around the world and here in Thunder Bay calling for justice, his children and grandchildren will not have to face the same struggles of the current generation and those that came before.
“We the youth realize that we need to do something about this,” he said. “It is our kids that are going to be affected. We have been affected, our parents have been affected, and our grandparents have been affected. I just hope my kids and my grandkids will never be affected by something like this.”
Thousands of local voices joined a growing global outcry for justice and change during a Black Lives Matter protest in the city of Thunder Bay on Friday.
More than 2,000 people gathered at Waverley Park to protest police brutality and injustice facing black people and Indigenous people.
“It means a lot that a lot of people are out here in attendance supporting the Black Lives community,” said Pitia Modi, who was one of several youth who organized the protest.
“It actually shows people want to see change here, they want to see a difference. I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of donations we’ve received from people just wanting to help out and do something in order to make this change happen.”
Protestors marched around the park in memory of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. The death of Floyd has sparked protests and marches across the world of people calling for an end to injustice.
“We have to keep going. Be consistent,” Modi said. “And just basically keep spreading awareness to the community and watch the change happen as we continue to do that.”
People of all backgrounds and ages participated in the protest. Laina Akervall, 16, said she wanted to be part of this movement to support her friends who have struggled due to brutality and mistreatment just because of the colour of their skin.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s 2020. We have to come out here and support everybody. I hope all of these riots and all of these protests will make enough noise to make enough change.”
Many Indigenous people also participated in the protest. Ann Magiskan said Indigenous people in Canada have been mistreated since first contact with Europeans and it continues to this day.
“Indigenous people across Canada have been fighting a battle for people to understand who we are and understand our history in Canada,” she said. “This has been done in numerous different ways and that conversation can’t stop happening. All lives matter.”
“This is a huge issue of racism that has been ongoing for a very long time. It’s time to start talking about it. I think it has to be done respectfully.”
One of the messages dominating the protests involves the actions of police and police brutality.
Thunder Bay Police Service chief Sylvie Hauth was in attendance during the demonstration and she said it is important the local service shows its support to all people in the community.
“It’s very difficult times and a very tragic incident in the states,” she said. “It’s important that I am here to not only listen, but offer my support to everybody that is here.”
Hauth added that racism has no place in the community, in law enforcement, or any institution in the city of Thunder Bay.
“I’ve always said I’m here to listen. I’m here to be transparent,” Hauth said. “I’m here to be accountable to the people of Thunder Bay. I want people to be able to rebuild that trust and that you are able to come to us as a policing agency and work with us so we can make those changes happen.”
Modi said he was pleased to see members of the Thunder Bay Police Service in attendance, but there needs to be more than just words, there needs to be action to create real change.
“It’s good to acknowledge that the main reason for this protest is police profiling and brutality and what is being done in this city to not only black people but also Indigenous youth,” he said. “It shows that they are caring. But we’d like to see where the next step goes from this.”
The protest in Thunder Bay was peaceful, people wore masks, and physical distancing was practiced in most instances, though as the crowd grew it became more difficult.
Modi said he and other organizers of the protest will look at the possibility of holding future events because the conversation and the actions cannot stop now.
“We did not expect to see this large a number, especially in a place like Thunder Bay, but it shows people are committed to this,” he said.
And all those who participated in the protest believe this is the start of something new, something different, a catalyst for change so future generations will not have to cry out in the street for justice.
“My only hope that it will make change happen,” Magiskan said. “Not only again for myself and my grandchildren and my adult children, but for all people. It has to change because we are all human.”