Nova Scotia

Organizers of Halifax anti-racism demonstration inspired by turnout

Organizers of a rally against anti-black racism and police violence that drew thousands of people to downtown Halifax earlier this week say they're overwhelmed by the message that was sent on Monday night.

'I feel like that's what we needed,' says organizer Sharisha Benedict

Thousands of people flooded the street on Monday. (Brian Daly/CBC)

Organizers of a demonstration against anti-black racism and police violence that drew thousands of people to downtown Halifax earlier this week say they're overwhelmed by the response.

At first, the two people behind the event didn't plan to bring a speaker system, expecting they'd be able to communicate with the crowd, but it quickly grew and has now inspired similar events across the province.

Police estimate nearly 4,000 people flooded Spring Garden Road on Monday.

Demonstrators knelt on the pavement for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd. The unarmed black man's death has ignited swift anger and action as people in the U.S and Canada call for an end to police brutality and racism.

"I feel like the police need to sit down and have serious conversations within themselves about what's happening and what really needs to be changed because they've heard us. I know they have and they need to take it seriously," Sharisha Benedict told CBC's Information Morning on Wednesday.

Sharisha Benedict organized the demonstration with her friend, Catherine Wright, on Monday, but neither expected so many people to attend. (Sharisha Benedict)

The 27-year-old from Halifax, reflected on her own experiences with racism as she knelt during a moment of silence on Monday that was followed by chants of "I can't breathe."

"I just knew that with this moment, people can hear these stories and people can really listen and I feel like that's what we needed," she said.

Many prominent black Nova Scotian activists addressed the crowd at the demonstration on Monday, including DeRico Symonds, who helped to organize rallies last year against police street checks that government data showed has disproportionately targeted black residents.

Catherine Wright and Benedict address the crowd on Spring Garden Road during the demonstration. (Brian Daly/CBC)

At one point, the crowd parted so longtime activist Lynn Jones could walk to the front and speak.

Eighteen-year-old Catherine Wright, who organized the demonstration with Benedict, said she was glad to see people of different races and ages show up in solidarity.

"That was truly amazing because, you know, I come from a mixed family too. So it's great to see everyone supporting everyone," she said. "People just assume that black is just a colour, and to me it's not because, like, my black doesn't show through my skin, but it doesn't mean that I'm not black."

Protesters are detained by police officers in Minneapolis on May 31, 2020. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

While the majority of protests in response to Floyd's death have been peaceful, parts of some protests have turned violent.

"I'm really proud of the people of Halifax that this stayed peaceful, because that was the main thing I was worried about," Wright said.

Where do we go from here?

The Halifax demonstration inspired a similar gathering that will be held in Chéticamp, N.S., on Thursday night.

A rally was also held recently in Wolfville, N.S.

Social worker Robert Wright told CBC's Maritime Noon on Wednesday that the horrific video of Floyd's death may have ignited the latest protests, but that it's just one example of the violence black people experience both in Canada and the U.S.

He said for things to finally change, everyone needs to take part.

"You cannot say that you are an anti-racist or that you are a person who is an ally to black and Indigenous people unless you have an active program of participation in resistance," he said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning and Maritime Noon