Black Lives Matter Tent City Ends on a Hopeful Note
Two week protest ends in a meeting with the premier.
After 15 days of camping outside police headquarters in the rain, sleet and snow, Black Lives Matter protesters marked the end of their two-week vigil with a face-to-face meeting with Premier Kathleen Wynne and a jubilant dance party outside of Queen’s Park.
“At this point, I’m feeling good. I feel like we’ve had a very small victory here. I’m hoping that its actually a sincere victory and not smoke and mirrors,” says organizer Alexandria Williams, one of the co-founders of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.
Behind her, dozens of people smiled and danced to Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar in the provincial legislature parking lot, where they’d marched in procession from their camp at police headquarters on College Street.
Moments before, Wynne, flanked by police officers, came out to talk to the gathered protesters. Standing alongside Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur, Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi and Culture Minister Michael Coteau, the premier vowed to review police oversight bodies and address anti-black racism in the province.
“I think its a small victory that she actually faced us finally. But it’s sad we had to go to this extent for her to even acknowledge us,” Williams said.
The protest and subsequent tent city began after news broke that the officer who shot and killed Andrew Loku would not face charges or be named. Dozens descended on Nathan Phillips Square to demand justice for Loku and other black Torontonians who have died at the hands of police.
Their demands included revealing the name of the police officer who killed Loku, an overhaul of the Special Investigations Unit that oversees the use of force by police, and an end to police carding.
Officers dismantled the protesters’ makeshift camp at Police headquarters, extinguished fires built by Indigenous allies to keep protesters warm, and allegedly clashed violently with a group of people that included children and the elderly.
“I came in after I saw that on my news feed. I thought, ‘Oh hell no, you don’t get to do that,'” said Gloria Swain.
But they persisted, and that camp quickly became a community. Swain says she was out each morning with breakfast for the protesters.
“I’m like the Auntie,” she said with a smile.
Raven Wings has been at the camp since Day 1, empowered by a desire for justice and a strong sense of community.
“It’s an open space to come and to eat and to chill and to get warm. There’s been singing and there’s been dancing. We wanted to do it differently, too, because we’ve done rallies and actions and we really wanted to invite people into a conversation and community building,” Wings said.
“So we have Indigenous folks who are here in support, Sikhs who are herein support, Muslims in support. It’s been so awesome. Old people, young people, everybody. That’s what this space has brought together.”
That sense of community is what kept the tent city going strong for so long, says Williams, and it’s what gave her the strength to keep going.
“I’ve never felt a love like this before. I’ve never felt a type of love where I could get past the exhaustion, past the sickness … past the violence, past the trauma and still be here,” she said.
“I love the fact that we’ve created a space where kids were welcome, where people could create art, where we could create a community. That’s what’s keeping me going. I want to make sure they’re safe and they can have the lives they deserve.”
This article initially stated that police dismantled tents and extinguished fires at city hall, but it was at police headquarters. Torontoist regrets the error.