Peaceful Toronto protest for Michael Brown stirs racial controversy

On Nov. 25 hundreds of protesters gathered outside the U.S. Consulate in Toronto to protest the U.S grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who fatally shot black teen Michael Brown.

Officer Darren Wilson, who is caucasian, walked away free of any charges despite killing Brown in broad daylight on Aug. 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Since news broke of the Wilson verdict, thousands of angry civilians have taken to the streets of Ferguson to protest their disgust and outrage over what many are calling an unjust sentence.

In Toronto, those who disagreed with the verdict in Ferguson braved the bitter cold on Tuesday night rallying that “black lives do matter.” However, what was supposed to be a peaceful rally was criticized for being ‘segregational’ towards non-blacks.

On a Facebook page for the event, an organizer named Bilan Arte asked that non-blacks “refrain from taking up space in all ways possible.’ The host went on to remind protesters that ‘you are there in support of black folks, so you should never be at the centre of anything.”

This message created some tension, but protesters maintain that this request was never about racial segregation. Kenrick Phillip attended Tuesday’s protest with his brother, sister and cousins. He was there to stand in solidarity against the verdict in the Mike Brown case and in similar cases.

“I heard one of the organizers tell some of the non-black allies to move back while I was there. The group became offended and said it was rude since there were there to show their support. Was it a bit rude? Yes, it wasn’t the nicest thing to say but it wasn’t said with malice,” Kenrick said. “The rally was to show support to a youth who was slaughtered and to help prevent it from happening again…the underlying message was that the justice system needs to be changed.”

A.J. Estridge also attended the protest and expressed that while some non-protesters viewed the event as an act of segregation, the protest had a positive underlying message.

“The protest, from what I experienced was actually a very friendly, welcoming environment, contrary to what the local news networks might have you believe,” Estridge said. “While it was led by black people, it was definitely well-attended by all demographics. Everyone was there for the cause… strangers huddled together for warmth. It was a positive space.”

Despite those who felt offended by the mandate, those who attended the protest, black or allies, respected the request for blacks to have priority while speaking.

“I feel like the organizers may have been a tad overzealous in their wording of how the protest was meant to be,” Estridge said. “The way it was worded could have been a little gentler towards the allies.”

Tuesday’s protest was successful in spreading the word that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and to show that from Ferguson, Missouri to Toronto, the public wants to see a change in the way that police officials interact with blacks and minorities.