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For 15 days, the Black Lives Matter Toronto chapter camped outside the Toronto police headquarters, demonstrating against systematic anti-Black racism and demanding an inquest to the death of Andrew Loku at the hands of police.
The demonstration took for a violent turn when the police attempted to forcefully control peaceful protestors.
In solidarity with Toronto, a group of activists have organized a Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter. On Sunday April 17, Black Lives Matter Vancouver held their first event, "Black Lives Matter Vancouver: Visibility and Solidarity."
Hundreds of people gathered together at the footsteps of the Vancouver Art Gallery to show their support. The crowd's chanting boomed through the streets.
"All black lives matter! Black queer lives matter! Black trans lives matter!"
The event featured performances and speeches from Black artists and activists such as Cicely-Belle Blain, Vanessa Richards, Danica Jelene, Donna Mayhem, Angela Marie MacDougal, Haddas Asfaw, Holly Bishu, Mwango Moragia, Youeal Abera, and the band, Amy, Tissene & Ohi.
Many of the artists and activists spoke on the need for Black visibility and representation in Vancouver, their own personal experiences with anti-Black racism and violence, and on Vancouver's history of erasing Black communities. Poet, Holly Bishu spoke on her own lived experiences being a Black girl in Vancouver.
"I am a Black girl. I have brown skin. I have brown eyes. And I grew up in white spaces. All of my life I have felt just how strongly I don't fit in. The media has not helped -- appropriating my features but demonizing me. I live in a city where Black people are 0.5 per cent of the population. That is half of one per cent. I am an extreme minority. And I have spent my life being explicitly told that white is the standard that I must strive to attain while realizing that I never could."
First Nations activists Lisa Monchalin, Chief Rock, Audrey Siegel, and JB the First Lady also performed and gave speeches. "We stand here in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. This is really important to us as Indigenous peoples and we thank you," said Monchalin.
Attendees, Beverly Ho and Rachel Bullock were among the allies of colour who were present to support Black Lives Matter Vancouver. "I'm here to support our Black brothers and sisters because I think people of colour need to stand in solidarity," said Ho.
"It's really important for the Asian community to callout racism within our own community," added Bullock. "It's really important that regardless of our position, we recognize the spaces where we hold anti-Black racism and where it's still part of the system and move and challenge it."
Executive Director of the Battered Women's Support Services, Angela Marie MacDougall took to the microphone at the front of the crowd to explain that understanding "Black Lives Matter in Vancouver is to understand visibility and invisibility."
"If we want to understand Black lives in Vancouver, we need to understand the extent to which the city of Vancouver rendered us invisible -- by policy, through up rooting our people, by literally putting a highway through our neighborhood that was thriving. We have been struggling ever since to create a political voice for ourselves. Vancouver is unique to the extent to which black people have been displaced and rendered invisible," continued MacDougall.
Some people have questioned the need for a coalition and event addressing anti-Black racism in Vancouver. Black Lives Matter Vancouver co-founder, Cicely-Belle Blain, however, affirms that such events are much needed. "I think a lot of people feel that because there aren't a lot of Black people in Vancouver it's far removed from Blackness and Black Lives Matter movements but that is completely erasing the history of Black communities," said Blain.
"There is so much history of Black people in Vancouver, there were freed slaves who came from the U.S., and came to live here on this land, and started amazing communities but then they were completely wiped out by the building of the Georgia Viaduct. The whole community was completely destroyed so it's really important to remember those histories, and also to 'visibilize' the Black folks that do live here, and also stand in solidarity with Black communities everywhere."
Follow Black Lives Matter Vancouver chapter on Facebook.
Find more photographs from the event at https://flic.kr/s/aHskyvZ2tC
Lenee Son is a freelance multimedia journalist living in metro Vancouver. Follow her on twitter: @leneeson