“We were overwhelmed,” said Christine Stapper, one of the June 5 event organizers. Stapper and Tina Collins created the Love Russell Ontario page on Facebook to provide a forum for homebound Russell residents to share things of interest while they wait out the COVID-19 pandemic. The two then realized their FB page could do even more, like show support for all the protest marches and other events taking place in the United States, in the wake of the May 25 murder of George Floyd of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The 46-year-old black man was arrested, handcuffed, and forced to lie face down in the street. A white police officer, Derek Chauvin, then knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes while his fellow officers stood and watched. Floyd died of suffocation. All four Minneapolis police officers now face charges.
Since then throughout the United States there have been demonstrations, both peaceful and otherwise, protesting the incident as the latest example of blatant racism in America. Demonstrations are also taking place in other countries, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and also to highlight similar problems with racism.
“We both had talked about going to the Ottawa march this weekend,” said Stapper. “Then we thought we should be doing a demonstration in our own home town.”
They posted their Walk in Solidarity notice June 2, inviting anyone interested to meet in the afternoon June 5 at the Russell Arena parking lot. Both were surprised at the size of the response they got.
“We thought we’d get 40, maybe 50 people to show up, if we were lucky,” Stapper said. “The bylaw officers that day estimated over 300 people as they monitored people using the crosswalk.”
When the FB page registered almost 200 people planning to attend, Stapper and Collins contacted the municipal bylaw office, which confirmed bylaw officers and also the OPP would attend to help with crowd control and also show the support of the municipality and the police for the demonstrators.
The event began round 3 p.m. with a welcome to all participants, followed by a reading out loud of a list of more than 40 people in Canada and the U.S. who died, were injured, or otherwise harassed because of their skin colour. After a minute of silence in respect of those and others who have suffered from racism, participants set out along Concession Street to Castor Street and back to the arena. Social distancing and other pandemic public health guidelines were followed.
“I would say 99 per cent of people were wearing masks,” Stapper said. “Everyone felt safe, and we were able to show our love and solidarity with people of colour everywhere.”