Caribbean community members hold rally, demanding anti-racism education within police, schools, workplaces

Protesters marched through downtown Toronto streets on Saturday, calling for enhanced racism education within police forces and workplaces, organizations and schools. 

Racism doesn't only thrive within the police force, organizer Akil Heywood says

Members of Remember the 400 helped organize a rally outside Toronto's city hall on Saturday, where protesters called for enhanced education around racism as well as police reform. (Angelina King/CBC )

After attending numerous anti-Black racism rallies in Toronto in recent months, Akil Heywood says he noticed one thing missing from the events: an absence of the Caribbean community. 

"I know the numbers of the Caribbean community that we have in the GTA," said Heywood, who is the leader of the band Atlantic Mas at the Toronto's Caribbean Carnival, previously called Caribana.

Bands refer to groups that design, create and sell the vibrant costumes seen in the carnival's annual parade, which has been cancelled this year due to COVID-19. 

So in absence of an event that would make the community's presence known, Heywood set about organizing a rally, calling for enhanced racism education within police forces and workplaces. 

Akil Heywood says he wanted to make the voice of Toronto's Caribbean community heard amid protests and rallies calling for an end to anti-Black racism. (Angelina King/CBC)

"We need accountability," Heywood said. 

"We live in a very multicultural city ... this conversation is something that needs to be had." 

That rally took place on Saturday around 11 a.m., when protesters congregated on Queen Street in front of Toronto City Hall and marched along a big loop through downtown streets, making their way to University Avenue then going north to Bloor Street, east to Yonge Street, and then heading back to their original meeting point.

Denise Defreitas, who attended Saturday's rally, holds a sign showing the names of some of the young Black men and women who have died at the hands of police. (Angelina King )

Caribbean community has long history of resistance 

The Caribbean community, Heywood says, has a long history of protest, resistance, and social movements.

Popular Caribbean music genres — including soca, calypso, and reggae — have elements of social and political resistance embedded in their song lyrics.

Caribbean music, including soca, calypso and reggae, was played throughout Saturday's event. (Angelina King/CBC)

And that music was playing throughout Saturday's rally. 

"The history of that music is in protest, whether it be protest against current politics, whether it be protest against violence," Heywood said. 

"Some of that music gives a lot of people healing." 

'Racism thrives not only on the police force'

Heywood said participants of Saturday's event are demanding concrete steps when it comes to dismantling anti-Black racism. 

While people have called for a cut to the Toronto police budget — a motion that was put forward, and rejected, during a city council meeting — protesters at Saturday's event say racism isn't an issue that solely needs to be tackled within the force. 

They're also calling for enhanced anti-racism education within organizations, governments, schools and workplaces, as well as within the Toronto Police Service. 

Protesters marched along downtown Toronto streets on Saturday afternoon. (Angelina King/CBC)

Those educational conversations, he said, should also take place within people's homes who aren't Black. 

"Racism thrives not only on the police force, but it thrives in corporate offices, it thrives at work — it thrives all over," Heywood said. 

Tyrone Swaray agrees. 

"I wouldn't say defending the police is the correct solution," said Swaray, who represents Remember the 400, the non-profit organization that helped organize Saturday's rally, as well as previous rallies of its own

"There are some times when we do need them and we understand why police were set up in the first place," he said. 

Tyrone Swaray represents Remember the 400, a non-profit organization 'aimed at helping our community tackle the systemic racism within our country.' (Angelina King/CBC)

He's instead calling for "some kind of reformation" within police structures in order to get rid of deep-rooted racism. 

"It's not hidden, everyone knows what's been happening to our people," Swaray said. 

"Seeing a police officer's knee on a Black man's neck has really touched a lot of people," he added, referring to George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May. 

Swaray said there needs to be a "complete overhaul" within forces, so people can begin to trust officers again. 

"We understand that there are good police officers out there, but we want to eradicate the bad ones." 

Remember the 400 has also launched an online petition calling for August to officially be recognized as "Freedom Month," in recognition of significant historical events concerning slavery that have taken place during the month. 

The petition has garnered more than 1,650 signatures. 

With files from Angelina King