Black Lives Matter activists take list of demands to Hamilton agencies

Hamilton Black Lives Matter activists read lists of demands in front of local institutions Tuesday in reaction to what they say is systemic racism that creates inequality — and not just in the U.S.

Rallies are happening around the world after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis

Sarah Jama was one of the activists who read a list of demands in front of Hamilton institutions on Tuesday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton Black Lives Matter activists read lists of demands in front of local institutions Tuesday in reaction to what they say is systemic racism that creates inequality — and not just in the U.S.

The group of more than 20 activists, who broadcast their appearances on the Black Lives Matter — Toronto Twitter account, says it wants the city to defund Hamilton Police Service (HPS) and use the money toward initiatives such as food security, affordable housing and anti-racism initiatives.

They also want police to stop ticketing and surveilling people who are homeless, to protect people counter-protesting the yellow vest group that has held weekend gatherings at city hall, to remove police from schools, and for the province to give municipalities oversight of police services, among other issues.

"This isn't just a reaction to a single issue. This is a reaction to a whole system of violence," said the group, which appeared in front of HPS headquarters, Hamilton city hall, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, McMaster University and the office of Andrea Horwath, Hamilton Centre MPP and Official Opposition leader. "This isn't just happening in the States, it's happening here too.

A man holds up his fist while hundreds of demonstrators march in Washington, DC., on June 2 to protest against police brutality and the death of George Floyd. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

"We are here because police continue to murder Black and Indigenous people. We are here because state-sanctioned anti-Blackness continues to be a threat. Because Black and Indigenous people are not safe in cities, including the city of Hamilton."

It wasn't the first show of solidarity in Hamilton following the death of George Floyd, who an independent autopsy shows was asphyxiated. Video shows a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the handcuffed man's neck until he stopped breathing. His death set off protests that have spread to multiple countries.

In Canada, rallies have also focused on Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who died after falling 24 storeys from a balcony after a closed-door interaction with police. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating.

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Hamilton's Afro Canadian Caribbean Association, via president Evelyn Myrie, released a statement Tuesday condemning "the most recent blatant acts of racism and racially motivated police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, along with the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Atlanta."

"We are acutely aware that racism does not stop the border," the statement said. Racism is "a daily reality faced here in Hamilton. The recent hate crime report by the Hamilton Police Service stated that Black Hamiltonians were targeted in 34 of the 38 racial incidents."

"We are disheartened by the unrelenting attacks and killing of Blacks and the weaponization of Black bodies both in Canada and the United States of America."

Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who also chairs the police services board, mentioned the rallies during his twice-weekly COVID-19 media briefings.

"Black Lives Matter is certainly worthy of discussion today," he said. 

"Every single person in Hamilton, no matter who you love, no matter what faith you practise, no matter your skin colour or where you come from, deserves to live and prosper in a safe and caring community … There is no room for racism in Hamilton, no room for intolerance, no room for hate."

Hamilton activists wore masks on Tuesday and remained distant from each other. A weekend demonstration at Gore Park, which had different organizers, was more crowded.

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's medical officer of health, says she does worry about COVID-19 spreading at crowded rallies.

"It's such a difficult situation," she said. "Of course, we all have the right to protest. Of course, these are issues that are going to bring forth a lot of passion, a lot of concern, and people are going to want to express that. 

"It is a time, though, when we have to be careful how we do those things. Following through on that advice is important."

Matthew Green, a Hamilton Centre NDP MP who was the city's first black councillor, co-authored a May 31 statement by his party.

"We need to take a serious look at all our institutions and the systems we have in place to prevent further segregation of all marginalized people," it said. "We need to do the difficult work to ensure this hatred is not allowed to continue." 

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Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca