Islanders turned out for a peaceful rally on Wednesday afternoon to protest the recent deaths of men and women with dark skin in the United States and Canada and to demonstrate that those lives do matter.
The quiet demonstration at the edge of Centennial Park was organized by 15-year-old Sophie Coopman, who splits her time between Sidney and Salt Spring. Coopman sent an email out to people she knew the day before and her dad’s fiancée Michelle Grant also posted a call online. Around 100 islanders and friends came out to support the cause.
“I don’t know most of these people, which is amazing,” Coopman said during the event. “And I’m very happy to see that people actually care.”
The teenager said she was motivated to act after hearing about George Floyd’s death on the radio, an experience that caused her to break down for several hours. The 46-year-old Black man died in Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes while three other officers stood by.
For Coopman, it was a shocking reminder of pervasive racial injustice.
“I’ve read about this in books and I’ve heard my grandmother and my mother tell stories about this and terrible things happening to them because their skin is dark,” she said. “I thought, ‘I can’t understand why this is happening and I can’t understand why people aren’t reacting.’ So hopefully by doing this, we can make some sort of change, make people understand and make people see this is actually happening, it isn’t a thing of the past.”
People who joined the demonstration were similarly motivated to show up and take a stand against acts of violence and discrimination even if they hadn’t been personally affected.
“I’m from Jamaica. I’m from a different, more sheltered place,” said Paul Goodlet, who heard about the demonstration from Sophie’s father Steve Coopman. “I haven’t ever experienced injustice like I’ve seen people experience in America; I have relatives in the United States and it does affect them a lot.”
“I’ve been in such a loving place in Canada. You don’t really see it much, but I think it’s up to us to show compassion and support . . . I think it’s up to me to show what a good life we can have when everyone just lives together,” Goodlet added.
Sharon Williamson said she came out for the event because she thinks what’s happened to black people and Canada’s First Nations is terrible.
“And it’s time that people stood up and made themselves heard,” Williamson said.
Protests against racism and police brutality aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement and other solidarity rallies have been taking place across the United States and Canada since an initial protest was held in Minneapolis the day after Floyd was killed. Demonstrations continued through the weekend.
All four officers were fired from the Minneapolis police force. Derek Chauvin was charged on May 26 with manslaughter, which was upgraded to a second-degree murder charge on June 3. The three other officers involved were also charged that day with aiding and abetting the act.