As hundreds marched down University Avenue in a rally to show solidarity for the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, supporters held signs, exchanged stories, and chanted.
“No justice, no peace! No racist police!”
“If I’m free to go, just tell me so!”
Their voices echoed off office buildings and hotels, and people on adjacent sidewalks stopped and stared. The marchers, young and old, were groups of friends, families, colleagues, and people who came on their own. While those at the front were predominantly black, people of various backgrounds were present as they marched towards the U.S. Consulate.
There to be heard, marchers took their outrage to American soil, all the while reminding people that here in Toronto, they were hurting too.
Organized by the Black Lives Matter Toronto Coalition, the rally started at Toronto Police Headquarters on College Street. It was held to show solidarity with those protesting in Baltimore, and across the U.S., after 25-year-old Freddie Gray died following a spinal cord injury sustained while in police custody in Baltimore. Some wore T-shirts that bore his name, along with the names of other recent high-profile victims of police violence, like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Rekia Boyd.
But many activists said that police brutality and racial profiling are a prevalent issue in Canada as well.
“When it comes to Canada and the United States, there’s always a push to make it seem like Canada is inherently more peaceful and inherently less violent, but I don’t think that’s actually the case,” said Lena Peters, a 23-year-old co-organizer of the march. “I don’t think police brutality looks all that different north of the border.”
On the steps of 40 College Street, La Tanya Grant spoke about her cousin Jermaine Carby, who was shot dead by Peel police during a traffic stop in September 2014.
“My cousin came out of the car to ask why he was pulled over and they shot him four times,” Grant told the crowd. The investigation into the matter is ongoing.
In addition to deaths in police custody, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders’ support of carding came up often. Desmond Cole, a Torontoist staff writer and community activist, was met with cheers before he addressed the rally.
“They have told us, new police chief Mark Saunders told us, that carding was neccessary to do their jobs,” Cole said, gesturing at the police headquarters building behind him.
“That means the police are telling us, in order to do their jobs, they need to stop and question people who are suspected, in their own words, of no crime. Is that the police’s job?”
“I always feel like so much of the political manoeuvring that happens in cities like Toronto are about maintaining white supremacy and racism, while making sure there are enough faces of colour to make it not seem like it’s actually happening,” she said.
The protest featured calls for continued activism and change on the issue as some chanted, “Move beyond the protest!”
For many, it was already beyond the protest. It was their lives. At the sit-in, a woman in a grey cardigan stood near the back, watching activists give speeches in front of the consulate. When asked by Torontoist why she was there, she said, “I lost my son.”