This past weekend saw the biggest protest I have ever covered in the City of Cornwall.
For the first time in my memory, hundreds of people converged on our downtown, and marched through it as a part of a peaceful demonstration in honour of George Floyd and against racial discrimination.
I’m writing this column today to address certain comments that I have seen on social media, or that I witnessed during the protest.
First, I saw comments asking why such demonstration are happening in Cornwall. George Floyd was an American black man, who was killed by an American police officer in Minneapolis, MN.
The reason why there was this solidarity protest here in Cornwall is because the things that lead to George Floyd’s death happen here too.
It is not an easy thing to face or talk about but, casual discrimination as described by the event organizers Bethany Brown and Annissa Mohammed happen here, in Cornwall. Brown and Mohammed described how derogatory comments had been made to them throughout their lives about the colour of their skin.
Brown explained how she has lived in Cornwall since she was six-years-old and how she was told she was “dirty” because of the colour of her skin, or that being with a black girl was on some white guy’s bucket list.
No one deserves to be treated like that in Cornwall, the United States, or anywhere else.
There are some who will say “it’s just a joke, get a sense of humour. Can’t we joke about anything anymore?” I like jokes, but society is changing, and it is rightfully recognizing that “jokes” that make someone feel lesser about things that are in no way a deficit and are in no way within their control are not funny.
Statements like the ones that Brown described at the protest on Saturday, have a real impact, a negative one. Those statements make people of colour feel lesser, and they are meant to, and they do not have a place in society anymore and they never should have.
Those who say that Cornwall does not have a racial problem or that racist acts do not happen in Cornwall should talk to people of colour like Brown and Mohammed. Like Brown said on Saturday, “If you think racism doesn’t exist here, it is because you have been privileged enough not to have to deal with it.”
As I participated in the march on Saturday, I saw at least one sign in a window stating, “All Lives Matter”. This “well duh,” statement has been co-opted by anti-Black Lives Matter demonstrators, and there is simple reasoning behind why Black Lives Matter is being made a focus over “All Lives Matter”.
Do “All Lives Matter?” Yes. Are all lives experiencing the same discrimination as black lives? No. If you see a person on the street with a broken leg who is asking for your support and your response is “well, what about my legs?” Then that is where the problem lies.
Discrimination against one part of society lessens and hurts all of society, and I stood with Black Lives Matter on Saturday because there is a part of our community that is experiencing discrimination and it must stop.
Demonstrating against discrimination against people of colour does not harm or take away any rights or privileges from anyone else. Rights and equality are not a zero-sum game. Together, we should work to uplift, support and fight for change for all of us.
Diversity is strength. Never in my life have I ever been made fun of or faced any sort of restriction because of the colour of my skin and it is my belief that no one should face such discrimination.
Another comment I saw on social media warned that this peaceful demonstration would turn into rioting and looting as we have seen is the United States. In Cornwall, this of course, did not happen.
For the most part, the looters that we are seeing on our TVs during demonstrations in the United States are not there to support a cause, they are there to create and profit off of chaos. Do not think for a moment that the demonstrators and the looters are the same group, they are not.
A comment was made recently that the looters are as bad as the man who killed George Floyd. Looting is awful, it should not happen, but the theft and destruction of property is in no way comparable to the theft and destruction of a life.
I want to applaud the leadership of our local Cornwall Police Service, who themselves participated in the demonstration on Saturday and peacefully escorted the marchers along their route.
Our Police Chief Danny Aikman, our Deputy Chief Shawna Spowart, and other police officers took a knee with the demonstrators on Saturday and worked with them in the organization of this event. This show of solidarity is the correct response to a peaceful demonstration asking for change.
Finally, I have seen comments that this event and others like it will lead to a spike in COVID-19 infections. While I can’t say with 100 per cent certainty that it won’t lead to new infections, I can say this, the organizers of this demonstration in Cornwall worked hard and went to lengths to ensure the safety of all who attended.
The organizers of Saturday’s demonstration consulted with the Health Unit about the safest way to execute the event, and masks were mandatory for all participants. Free masks were handed out including by our Mayor, Bernadette Clement.
Readers, what do you think of Saturday’s demonstration? Email your Letter to the Editor to firstname.lastname@example.org