Thousands of people have gathered in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Sunday afternoon for a peaceful protest against police violence and white supremacy, following days of protests across the U.S. over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minneapolis.
Vancouver police at the event told CBC News the crowd had swelled to an estimated 3,500 by 6 p.m. PT and all surrounding streets are closed to traffic.
Many of the demonstrators are wearing face masks, holding signs and chanting “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.”
At one point, the only sound was the wind as the crowd raised their fists in the air and held a moment of silence.
Floyd died May 25 after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into his neck until he stopped breathing.
Vancouver police now estimate around 3,500 people have gathered around the art gallery. Speakers continue to share stories of oppression. All surrounding streets have been closed <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcnewsbc?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcnewsbc</a> <a href=”https://t.co/sKVO2KEcwO”>pic.twitter.com/sKVO2KEcwO</a>
The event was expected to include speeches and a candlelight vigil for Floyd and Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Toronto woman who apparently fell to her death from a balcony on Wednesday, said one of the organizers, Jacob Callender-Prasad, before the rally.
It’s an opportunity for the local black community to share their own experiences, show solidarity with protesters in the U.S. and acknowledge Canada’s own troubles with racism, he added.
While protests in the U.S. have descended into violence, with looting in cities from New York to Seattle and police firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, Callender-Prasad said public safety is a top priority for Vancouver’s demonstration.
“We hope to keep this just peaceful … so we can unite on an issue that is important to everybody,” he said on Sunday.
“This is not the time to damage, this is not the time to riot, this is not the time to be disrespectful to the community and the people around us. This is the time to show that we are peaceful.”
Organizers will be encouraging physical distancing and handing out masks, gloves and hand sanitizer, said Callender-Prasad, who added he is not affiliated with any specific group.
Anyone who feels sick was asked to stay home.
The Vancouver chapter of Black Lives Matter said it would not be participating in this protest.
“We do not feel that we can ensure the safety of our community in public protest at this time,” the group said in a Facebook post.
“Furthermore, the family of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, has asked that no protest be held in their daughter’s name. We will respect that. Right now, our priority and concern is keeping Black people safe and promoting some rest.”
Standing room only at the Vancouver Art Gallery for the George Floyd protest <a href=”https://twitter.com/cbcnewsbc?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@cbcnewsbc</a> <a href=”https://t.co/9HERYJKI8r”>pic.twitter.com/9HERYJKI8r</a>
Demonstrators marched through the Downtown Eastside on Saturday night to protest Floyd’s killing. It ended after a few hours with no arrests.
Prior to the event, the Vancouver Police Department said it was aware of the protest planned.
“Our primary purpose is to protect the safety of the protestors, the public and the police,” Sgt. Aaron Roed said in an email.
“We respect peaceful protests and during public demonstrations, police response is proportionate to the activities observed.”