Ottawa

Black community left with tears, exhaustion after death of George Floyd

Members of Ottawa's black community say the death of the 46-year-old underneath the knee of a Minneapolis police officer left them shaken, but not surprised.

46-year-old's death brings attention to everyday experience

Hundreds of protesters gather in Manhattan’s Foley Square on May 29, 2020, to protest the recent death of George Floyd, who died after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck in Minneapolis. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Tuesday afternoon, Cawo Abdi took her two children down to the site where George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis for a peaceful protest.

The 46-year-old Floyd died the previous day with police officer Derek Chauvin's knee pressed into his neck — gasping for air and repeatedly groaning, "Please, I can't breathe." 

A crowd of bystanders shouted at police to release him.

Abdi, a Somali-Canadian sociologist from Ottawa, wanted to show her children what had happened in their home state and make clear the history of racism that accompanied Floyd's death. 

'I wanted them to understand'

"I thought it was very, very important for them to go to that site and be aware of what's happened," Abdi, a professor at the University of Minnesota, told CBC News.

"I wanted them to understand the institutional racism that's very deeply embedded in this society. I do not want them to fear police, but I want them to be aware of who they are in their bodies: that they will be judged, not necessarily by their character, but by their skin colour."

Floyd's death, which was filmed by onlookers, has sparked protests, sometimes violent, across the United States. 

Chauvin was dismissed from the police department with three fellow officers the day after the fatal encounter. After a night of violent protest that included the burning of a police station, he was arrested on Friday and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

"It's about time," said Abdi about the arrest. "I think it is very, very important both for trying to calm the community, but also for reigniting trust in the system." 

CBC News' Adrian Harewood, right, interviewed Cawo Abdi, left, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, about the aftermath of George Floyd's death. (CBC Ottawa News at Six)

'We're literally on 24/7'

Ottawa resident Tyler Boyce told CBC Radio's All In A Day Friday that he felt an overwhelming sense of grief and anger when he heard the news about Floyd's death.

He wasn't surprised, however.  

"It's almost like the constant portrayal of black death in the media and experiences of victimization seem to be more and more ubiquitous," Boyce said.

"After I initially digested it, my initial reaction was tears," added Kevin Bourne, the Ottawa-based editor of Shifter Magazine, which publishes extensively about the black community in Canada.

That anger was sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man, while in police custody. We're talking to two black men in Ottawa about how they are processing all that is playing out in the United States. 8:53

Bourne said while black men and women share the same struggle, black men can never let their guard down. 

"I don't think people understand how tiring it is to be a black man," Bourne said. "We're literally on 24/7 — when you're in the store, when you're at work. We have to be on our best behaviour at all times."

Both Bourne and Boyce agree that the constant barrage of news about black men being killed has left them exhausted. 

But despite the fatigue, Boyce said black men come from a long lineage of activism, and a tradition of making their right to be treated as equals heard. 

Explaining death hard for parents

"Does it become tiring? Of course. Does it weigh us down? Of course," he said.

"But it comes with the responsibility of paving a way forward, so our children, so our siblings won't have to live in a world where they're constantly seen as a threat and could have their life taken away from them on any given day." 

For Abdi, the last few days in Minneapolis have been shocking and horrifying, and she said explaining the brutality of Floyd's death is a struggle for parents. 

But in the age of social media, she added, it's impossible to shield her children from what had occurred.

That's why she took her children to the street where Floyd died: not to traumatize or alienate them, but to hopefully educate them about the world they live in.   

"Which they have every right to be part of, to participate, to excel and thrive," Abdi said.

With files from All In A Day and Adrian Harewood

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