Black activists continue fight for racial justice 1 year after George Floyd's death

One year after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., Black activists in Ottawa are toiling to remind Canadians to do more to fight racial injustice and police abuse of power, not just in the capital but across the country.

Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police officer sparked global movement

Alicia-Marie LeJour is co-chair of the Black Diaspora Coalition in Ottawa. She says support for BIPOC communities in the wake of George Floyd's death has to be more than "performative." (Submitted by Alicia-Marie LeJour)

This story is part of a CBC News exploration of systemic racism, including anti-Black racism, and the promises for change made last summer.  

One year after the killing of George Floyd, Black activists in Ottawa are toiling to remind Canadians to do more to fight racial injustice and police abuse of power — not just in the capital, but across the country.

"George Floyd's death is just one anniversary that we cross," said Alicia-Marie LeJour of the Black Diaspora Coalition in Ottawa. "One officer has been convicted ... this is merely accountability. Justice for us [as Black people] is not to have to experience [police brutality] again."

Floyd died after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Chauvin was convicted of second and third-degree murder, along with manslaughter, in April and will be sentenced next month.

Floyd's death sparked global outrage and led to mass protests against police brutality, including one on Parliament Hill where the Prime Minister took a knee. LeJour is concerned that, despite the thousands who showed up, much of the support was only "performative."

Protestors marched through the streets of Ottawa during an anti-racism protest less than two weeks after George Floyd's death in June 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"I feel like very important conversations are beginning to happen, but I see an increase in performative activists. That's folks showing up after a sensationalized event, like the death of George Floyd. People posting their black squares on social media, and claiming to be an ally — then silence."

She said Canadians need to protest against the deaths of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) in police interactions on this side of the border.

"Canadians are good at hiding our dirty laundry and sweeping our problems under the rug," she said. "When someone says that doesn't happen here — it's a silencing tactic and it's dangerous."

Calls for racial justice in Ottawa

Just five months after Floyd's death, Anthony Aust, 23, fell from a high-rise apartment building following an Ottawa police no-knock raid. Two weeks later, an Ottawa police constable was acquitted of manslaughter in the fatal 2016 arrest of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi. 

The Black Diaspora Coalition is planning a demonstration on June 6, calling on allies to do more to support calls for racial justice.

Over the past year, there have been small victories in the battle against police abuse of power. 

Despite the acquittal of Constable Daniel Montsion, the City of Ottawa quickly settled a lawsuit launched by the Abdi family. Under public pressure, and after a Fifth Estate investigation, the Ottawa Police Service  banned the temporary use of no-knock raids in March, however, just five days later police entered the home of a Black family without adequately announcing their presence. 

'The wind is in our sails'

Despite slow progress, activists say the tragedy surrounding George Floyd's death has helped galvanize the movement to defund police.

"Each year the police force asks for millions of dollars. Instead of giving them millions, because their own stats show crime doesn't go down, we should put the money into social services," said Robin Browne, co-founder of 613/819 Black Hub Noir.

He said by reducing the Ottawa police budget, the money can go toward the creation of a non-police alternative for responding to mental health calls instead.

Robin Browne of 613/819 Black Hub Ottawa says defunding Ottawa Police can start with diverting funds to community groups to respond to mental health calls without police involvement. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

According to Chief Peter Sloly, the force is consulting with the community to come up with a strategy that improves police response to people in mental distress, but the process could take up to three years.

"This is a stall tactic. That's unnecessary and unacceptable when people are dying," said Browne. 

The 613/819 Black Hub plans to release its own plan detailing a 911 mental health response involving medics and social workers within the next two weeks, he said, but added activists have to maximize public support for change and continue pushing back against police resistance.

"The wind is in our sails right now," he said. "But it's like pushing a boulder up a hill. If you let go, that boulder is going to come down."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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