Black. Lives. Matter.
These three words best describe a global community’s feelings of hurt, heartbreak, and frustration in response to the recent police-involved and unnecessary deaths of black people in Canada and in the United States.
Regis Korchinski-Paquet was a 29 year old black woman from Toronto who died on May 27, 2020. Toronto Police responded to a domestic incident where they observed a woman on the balcony of the 24th floor. A short time later, Korchinski-Paquet fell and died on the scene.
George Floyd was a 46 year old black man from Minneapolis who died on May 25, 2020. While handcuffed and lying face down, Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd was already unresponsive for 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time. ‘I can’t breathe’ were Floyd’s last words. They were reminiscent of Eric Garner’s last words, a black man who died in 2014, when NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in a chokehold during an attempted arrest. Garner repeated these words 11 times while lying face down on the sidewalk.
Breonna Taylor was a 26 year old black woman and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). She was killed on March 13, 2020 during a botched raid in her home in Louisville, Kentucky. Breonna was shot at least eight times while asleep. Police were in search of a suspect related to a drug investigation who was already in custody.
Ahmaud Arbery was a 25 year old black man who was killed on February 23, 2020 in Brunswick near Glynn County, Georgia. He was pursued by Travis and Gregory McMichael, two armed white civilians, on a Sunday afternoon while he was doing what he loved – jogging. Gregory, the senior McMichael, used to work for the Glynn County Police Department. The accused were arrested 74 days after Arbery’s death and it was predominantly because the video of his death went viral and community members from across the United States condemned the incident.
This is what racism in 2020 looks like.
The protests in Canada, the United States, and Europe have demonstrated a strong commitment from people of all races and backgrounds to speak out against systemic racism. It is a well-known fact that Black communities in particular, are subjected to higher rates of scrutiny and incarceration by the criminal justice system. The very system that is supposed to serve and protect has continuously failed racialized citizens.
“I am deeply saddened that in 2020, racism and injustice towards the Black community continues to look like this with unnecessary lives being lost” said OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “I support the peaceful protests because people understandably want to be heard and they deserve answers. Strong leaders are those who are willing to sit down, listen and engage in difficult conversations because that is the only way for meaningful change to happen” he added.
In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how Black communities are disproportionately affected on many socio-economic levels. For instance, they are more likely to have lower paying, precarious jobs which are easily subject to layoffs. They are also more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses and have higher uninsured rates which limits their access to healthcare. And finally, they are more likely to live in substandard housing or are homeless which makes them more susceptible to infectious diseases.
Living in poverty also makes it difficult to abide by social distancing measures. Many low income families have to rely on one another to help make ends meet. Many have to go to work even in the absence of any health and safety measures. They also have no choice but to pool together resources like sharing cars and living spaces.
Moreover, Black parents have to sit with their children and explain to them that they may be stopped, arrested or even shot because of their skin colour.
“These are the realities for Black people living in North America today” said Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU’s Coalition of Racialized Workers. “Fixing the underlying conditions of systemic racism, all of which date back to when Black people were first brought here as slaves, is the reason for these protests” he added.
To be ‘shocked’ is not enough. To be ‘wowed’ is not a sign of solidarity. To be ‘complacent’ is not acceptable. But more importantly, to remain silent is a condonation that basic injustice and basic discrimination towards Black people does not exist. It is time to put an end to this unfair treatment because Black lives matter.