Northern B.C. protest held in response to death of George Floyd and local deaths in police custody

Dozens of people came together in the northern B.C. village of Burns Lake on Monday to join the protest movement sparked in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. 

'I want these cops to stop abusing our people, and black people,' says aunt of Everett Patrick

Dan George, Cheryl Casimer and Darlene Patrick at the Burns Lake protest in response to the death of George Floyd. (Submitted by Darlene Patrick)

Dozens of people came together in the northern B.C. village of Burns Lake on Monday to join the protest movement sparked in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. 

Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for minutes, even after he stopped moving. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Organizer Cheryl Casimer said in many ways, it was her Dad who inspired her to set up the event. While she worries about him showing up at protests in Seattle (at age 77), at the same time she thought if he's showing up then she should do something, too. 

She said the idea behind the protest was "to help release that sense of helplessness and as well as release a bit of that anger." 

It also created a space for people to express their personal grief and anger about community members who have died in police custody. 

Casimer said she self-identifies as Ktunaxa before anything else, but she's also a black woman. She has family in the U.S. who she worries about. She worries about the safety of her nephews and her son and her grandson. 

In her view, the widespread protests in response to George Floyd's death is an indication of how fed up people are. 

"People are tired and they're angry. They're tired of not knowing if they're going to go outside and get shot and killed," she said. 

"You just can't continue to live that way, every day, with this level of uncertainty and fear and knowing it could happen to you just because you're black."

Casimer said it was a powerful moment to see people protest at the RCMP detachment in Burns Lake. She said police were supportive of their protest and said that several officers stayed outside and listened to what speakers had to say. 

Different histories, similar experiences

Casimer said most of the people who came out to the rally in Burns Lake were First Nations. 

She said while black and Indigenous people have different histories, both groups face disproportionate amounts of violence at the hands of police and both are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

In a news release on Tuesday, B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee wrote "Police forces in Canada and the United States have a long history of being instrumental in enforcing colonial law and order to eradicate Indigenous peoples, and control people of colour, and other minorities." 

A CBC investigation in 2018 into deadly use of force by police found, after accounting for the ethnic composition of the Canadian population, black and Indigenous people "are overwhelmingly over-represented" in deadly police encounters. 

In Burns Lake, violent encounters between First Nations people and police were top of mind at the protest on Monday, like the death of 35-year-old Dale Culver, a Gitxsan/Wet'suwet'en man who died shortly after being arrested by the Prince George RCMP in 2017. 

An undated photo of Dale Culver, a father of three, who died in police custody in 2017. (Provided)

B.C.'s police watchdog organization announced last week it had forwarded charge recommendations to the Crown, related to use of force and obstruction of justice against five police officers. 

In April, Everett Patrick died in police custody after being arrested in Prince George. He was 42, a father, and a member of the Lake Babine Nation. 

His family is suspicious about the injuries that led to his death and is still waiting for answers about what happened. 

"I was really happy that Cheryl Casimer phoned me two days ago about this protesting because I really wanted to mention what happened to my nephew," said Darlene Patrick, Everett Patrick's aunt.

B.C.'s Independent Investigations Office is working on the file and said it can't say much about the investigation at this time. 

Darlene Patrick said with what happened to her nephew, it's been especially hard to watch news coverage of George Floyd's death. 

Everett Patrick's mother Sandra holds up a sign at the Burns Lake protest on Monday. (Darlene Patrick)

"What we see on TV is very disturbing and very sad to see somebody die in broad daylight in front of a lot of people," she said. 

"I want these cops to stop abusing our people, and black people." 

'There needs to be systemic change' 

Casimer said the Highway of Tears was also on people's minds at the protest, as was the recent case won by a Wet'suwet'en elder against the RCMP in the nearby town of Smithers. A  judge ruled she was "falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted, and battered" by an RCMP officer during an incident in 2014.

Casimer said the conversations at the protest served as yet another reminder that change is needed to the criminal justice system and the child welfare system. 

"There's just too much injustice in this world and there needs to be systemic change to address this racism," she said. 

Some of that anti-racism work needs to happen in Indigenous communities, too, she said. Casimer said throughout her life she's experienced anti-black racism from white people and also in her own community. 

"I think that First Nations people need to think about how we were impacted and how horrible that's been on us throughout our history, and the black people have a similar history," she said.

"We need to make sure we stand up and speak out when it comes to black people, just as we do when we see it happening to us."