Eight minutes and 46 seconds may not feel like a long period of time during the usual day. But, as Prince Albert’s Diana Wooden says, it feels like forever when you’re crouched on one knee with your fist up, imagining the minutes leading up to George Floyd’s death.
Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, Minn., died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. The incident on May 25 has sparked outrage across the world on racism and police brutality.
Wooden and Michael Gray couldn’t sit back anymore, so they decided to organize a peaceful demonstration for the cause in Prince Albert.
Wearing all black, holding signs that read ‘Black lives matter,’ ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘no justice, no peace,’ to name a few, the group started in the Art Hauser Centre and drove to City Hall.
“As George Floyd laid dying with a knee to his neck, he uttered what many Black people have been saying for years: ‘We can’t breathe.’ Those were his last words, ‘I can’t breathe,’” said Wooden.
“The image of the officer’s knee on his neck is symbolic of the knee that has been on all Black people’s necks for over 400 years. That knee signifies oppression; that knee is a symbol of injustice, intolerance, inequality in the workplace, lack of equal opportunity for Blacks in many sectors of society.”
Gray stepped up to the microphone, describing himself as “a proud Black man” from Jamaica.
He said people have been asking if racism happens in Prince Albert.
“My answer is yes. It’s here. It may not be as bad as in the United States, but it’s here in very subtle ways,” he said, such as children getting teased at school or being followed around in a department store.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Gray as the crowd began cheering.
“When I look here today, I don’t see the Black race; I don’t see the Aboriginal race; I don’t see the white race—I see human race.”
Mayor Greg Dionne also spoke at the demonstration. He said the rally made him proud and asked everyone to give themselves a round of applause for speaking out against injustice.
“Our system is not just broken at the lower level. Our courts are broken; our parole system is broken; our prison system is broken,” said Dionne.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I know quite a few politicians today and leaders in our forces that are not afraid to tackle that problem and that’s why rallies like today are so important.”
Participants shared a moment of silence not just in memory of George Floyd, but for all of the Black people before him who have been killed.
This includes Ahmaud Aubery, who was fatally shot in February of this year while on a jog in Georgia.
Police Chief Jon Bergen was joined by several other officers at the demonstration. They, too, knelt on one knee and put their hats to their hearts in silence.
“We know we need to stand up against racism and we need to be gentle with the trust that our public has in us. We’ve observed a tragedy with the death of George Floyd and we expect accountability for the police actions and the police inactions,” said Bergen.
He continued to say that everyone, regardless of the colour of their skin, deserves to feel safe. While there’s many times he’s proud to say he’s a police officer, arrests such as Floyd’s don’t make him proud.
“The message I see is clear. There will be no more silence and no more tolerance for abusive trust and abusive authority. We are accountable to you and the world is standing united of what is right and standing against the tragic wrong that ended Mr. George Floyd’s life.”
Wooden gave masks to those who didn’t have one. She also asked everyone to stand within their own households and separate from others.
While she didn’t want to increase the risk of COVID-19, Wooden said they were fighting something bigger.
“Racism and intolerance needs to be rooted out and it needs to be replaced with love, compassion, understanding. You need to hear us when we say ‘Black lives matter’ and not follow that statement up with a ‘but’ because I am not saying that only Black lives matter. I am saying that for hundreds of years, our lives did not matter and we did not have a voice,” said Wooden.
“We are tired of having the colour of our skin used as a weapon against us instead of being seen as just another human being.”