TORONTO — In a crowd hundreds strong, Angelica Martin chanted “Black lives matter” because she’s fed up with being discriminated against because of her race.
A Black grocery store cashier, Martin, 20, said even when it’s busy, few line up at her till. She’s had people make ignorant comments about her skin colour.
The recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of police, and of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto with police on scene, spurred her to join the March For Change Friday, despite her parents’ warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic and possible violence.
“Something needs to change,” Martin said. “I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but this is a step along the way. I felt like I had to come.”
With sweat running down masked faces, clad in shirts that read “I can’t breathe” — the last words spoken by Floyd as a police officer knelt on his neck — the protesters chanted “Silence is violence” through downtown. Police on bicycles patrolled the route.
The march was organized to raise awareness peacefully about systemic racism and police brutality and killings, said organizer Delsin Aventus.
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders briefly joined the demonstration. He and other officers knelt alongside them — a sign of solidarity with the movement.
“This is about getting better. Right now they’re healing,” Saunders told reporters. “That healing has to be done but after that healing there has to be action.
“We all have to lean in a little bit harder. Mistakes have been made.”
At a similar demonstration in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also took a knee.
Protesters shouted “stand up to Trump,” referring to Trudeau’s reluctance this week to comment on U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the military to crack down on anti-Black racism demonstrators.
In Toronto, J.R. Foster, 53, hoisted a sign above his head that listed dozens of names of Black people who he said were killed by police in Canada and the U.S.
“They need to know what happens in the States, happens here. Racism is right here. I’ve experienced it.”
When Foster was 18 years old, he said he was pulled over by Toronto police. They carded him, searching his car and recording his name.
“I thought it was normal procedure,” Foster said. “But as you get older you realize it’s racial profiling.”
Foster said he’s experienced countless instances of racism, and more than 20 years later, a lot of work must still be done to end discrimination.
“I’m marching on behalf of all the people who have been killed by police,” Foster said. “It could’ve been me.”
At city hall, protesters gathered in a wide circle, chanting over and over again “I can’t breathe.”
Leading the chant was a man who gave his artist name, Ashton Forever. For most of his life, he said he’s been quiet about his identity as a mixed-race Canadian and the racism he’s experienced.
“But coming up as a young Black man, a Black artist, as someone who stands for humanity, it’s important for me to come up here and stand up for what’s right, to be a voice,” he said.
“I’ve had enough of the pain.”
This story has been updated to include coverage of the protest in Ottawa.
Earlier on HuffPost: