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Peaceful Picton protest endorses anti-racism amid Black Lives Matter movement

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
For close to three hours Friday night, Picton Main Street transformed into a sea of people and a non-stop barrage of horn-honking from passing vehicles.

The Black Lives Matter demonstration was a peaceful protest that saw Main Street lined with people from one end to the other, as far as the town hill to the east, and Sobey’s plaza to the west. The idea was to line the street: to find a spot and stay there, not to march or chant, but to protest silently where you stood.

The local demonstration was inspired by the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, which was video recorded, as well as other deaths involving police, such as Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto, and Chantel Moore in New Brunswick.

County resident and event organizer, Judith Burfoot

County resident and event organizer, Judith Burfoot runs a non-profit organization focusing on BIPOC/POC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour/People of Colour) and anti-racism. ‘All Welcome Here’ (AWH) was founded in 2019.

Burfoot saw the need for rural people of colour to have a space to connect and network. The group focuses on linking people of colour in the rural community of Prince Edward County in order to provide support, social connectedness and business assistance.

The AWH Facebook page indicates about five per cent of Prince Edward County’s population is made up of people of colour (per 2016 Census).

“I am angry and I am tired; I am so deeply unbearably, familiarly saddened by what’s been happening here and in the US,” said Burfoot at the opening of the demonstration.

Everyone was invited to attend to support the anti-racism cause in the County, including businesses, where participants were mostly young people and included families with children.

Organizers asked attendees to wear black, to wear a face mask and to bring signs, where the vast majority of the very large crowd did exactly that.

“I am furious that more black men and women are murdered by the police; I am phenomenally tired of white people calling the police on us for existing. Tired of having to memorialize names,” continued Burfoot.

She says she does feel hopeful, but also scared.

“Scared that it’s only wishful thinking, but this time things feel different. This time, the ground swell is titanic; it’s not just us marching alone, again, it’s everyone in support,” she said. “It is happening in small towns and rural communities like ours, it is happening in 19 countries around the world, and it is the largest civil rights movement our world has ever seen. Let that sink in.”

Organizers asked physical distancing limits be respected by marking large Xs on the sidewalk with chalk, indicating where people should stand. And while the chalk became obscured with the considerable number of people in attendance, people were generally respectful.

The COVID-19 global pandemic, and a provincial state of emergency in effect until at least June 30, means gatherings of five or more people are prohibited.

“It is black people, unhesitatingly, bravely going once again into danger to protest, to fight for our rights and freedoms,” said Burfoot. “It is other communities of colour standing beside us in powerful unwavering solidarity: marching, donating, educating themselves and others, helping.”

“Here’s white people consciously and actively giving their privilege to demand justice and change, laying their bodies on the ground in partnership, challenging and pushing each other,” she said.

While the demonstration was meant as a silent protest, and it was, the constant throng of car horns disturbed the quiet, but seemed a welcome and necessary part of the process.

It seemed the bigger the vehicle, the louder the sound, with the loudest and most prolonged noise coming from a water haulage tanker, much to the delight of those standing in close proximity.

Rallies, demonstrations, marches and protests held in many major cities in the United States have spread across the world, including Australia and France. As momentum builds and people unite in the anti-racism movement, Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Halifax and Edmonton have seen similar marches for change in recent days, as well as in many small communities from coast to coast to coast.

While the Prince Edward County Ontario Provincial Police were asked to attend due to the large numbers expected, their presence was minimal and discreet, with only one vehicle and one officer observed.

The demonstration’s most powerful moment came at 6:30 p.m., one hour after the official start, when people were asked to lay on the ground for eight minutes 46 seconds – the approximate length of time George Floyd, 46, died after an officer knelt on his neck.

In an astonishing act of unity, everyone quietly laid down on the sidewalk; signs and placards put aside for those minutes. It didn’t go unnoticed that at that very moment, the bright late-day sun had slipped behind a big dark cloud for a few minutes.

While most people used the sidewalk to lay down, a few rested at the road edge, others bridging the curb where some chose to lay face down, others, face up.

The silence from hundreds of people lying completely still along the entire length of Main Street, along with the darkened sky, made an eerie, emotional and powerful sight.

“This cannot be the end. It cannot be enough to say that I went to a demo in Picton, so it’s all good,” said Burfoot. “This is just the jumping off point where you continue the work you have been doing, or maybe where you are just getting started.”

Burfoot asked for people to do three things:

First, support black people directly.

“Support our businesses, work to support our large black migrant community here in Prince Edward County. Donate to black-led organizations, welcome us as neighbours and friends and visitors.”

Educate yourself.

“Google, read, challenge yourself: face your biases and explode them. Spread that knowledge to all of your friends and neighbours, challenge them when they say and do racist things,” added Burfoot. “Stand up for us and speak against racism at work, online, at the hunting camp, at girl’s’ night, at the family dinner table.”

“Never be silent again, not ever,” she said. “Please do not let this be the end.”

 

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  1. Barbie says:

    If it was your son or daughter that was killed or a family member of yours, I’m sure you would be thinking differently. They were physically distanced, and all wearing masks, you are more at risk when you go to the grocery store, hardware, wal mart or wherever.
    I have black children and with the experiences we have had as a family this was necessary and took too long to happen.

  2. Chuck says:

    Alberta states anyone taking part in these protests should be tested immediateley for Covid.

  3. Dennis Fox says:

    I have to admit that I wasn’t there in body. From the photos, it appears that people were doing a pretty good job of social distancing. As good a job as anyone would see in the aisles of our grocery stores – in fact better.

  4. Rod Holloway says:

    Black lives matter !

  5. angela says:

    You’re right, Gary. It is disappointing to see photos of so many people lining the sidewalks after all of the precautions we have taken in recent weeks. Was it really necessary?

  6. Person who was there says:

    We were physically distanced. See how everyone is 2m apart? If you see a group, they came from the same household. And everyone had a mask on. It was very pandemic-respectful

  7. Gary says:

    The failure to physical distance during a pandemic is very disappointing.

  8. Marc says:

    Great protest, run responsibly by community-minded people. Bravo!

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