Toronto residents gathered downtown on Thursday night to remember the victims of the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y. and to call for action against anti-Black hate.
Speakers at the vigil in Nathan Phillips Square urged all three levels of governments to take the issue of hate seriously. The vigil was organized by 21 Black-led organizations.
Ten people were killed and three others were wounded in the shooting at a Buffalo supermarket in a predominantly Black neighbourhood on Saturday. All but two of the 13 people shot were Black.
“As Canadians, oftentimes we can feel complacent and say, ‘Oh, that’s something that happened across the border, it’s not our problem.’ But we know this is also a homegrown issue,” Alica Hall, vigil organizer and executive director of the Nia Centre for the Arts, said before the event.
“We know that culture, that rhetoric that exists online also has real consequences in person. We wanted to create space for the community to heal, grieve and ultimately to ensure our elected officials understand this is a major issue.”
Kim Moore, a resident who attended the vigil, said she came with her friend Derek Bailey because she felt it was important to show support. The shooting was horrible, but not entirely surprising, she added.
“This is not acceptable. This is not normal. This is not rational,” she said.
Payton Gendron, 18, is accused of killing all 10 people. On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge that covers all 10 deaths. Authorities in Buffalo, meanwhile, are continuing to investigate the possibility of hate crime and terrorism charges.
Coun. Michael Thompson, who is Black and is one of the city’s deputy mayors, said the mass shooting in Buffalo has harmed many people.
“I’m sad to be here, quite frankly, because this is a very difficult time certainly for our neighbours in Buffalo. This is also a very difficult time for you and I and all of us,” he said.
Thompson said it’s important to understand there is a movement to encourage hate but governments have to take action to combat it. As well, good people must speak out against evil and evil is in our midst, he said.
“We know that it can happen to us here despite our shared belief in tolerance and diversity,” he said. “While we stand her to mourn with those who lost loved ones and friends in Buffalo, we must, in fact, also deepen our resolve to uncover and eliminate racism in all of its forms.
“We must never let hatred and evil go unchallenged.”
‘Racism doesn’t respect borders,’ mayor says
Mayor John Tory said Buffalo has close ties with Toronto and it is important to honour the lives lost. He said he has reached out to Buffalo’s mayor to say this city stands in solidarity.
“We’re here tonight because racism doesn’t respect borders,” Tory told the crowd. “I think that your presence here shows the depth of our grief over the Buffalo tragedy.”
Tory said anti-Black racism and rhetoric leads to tragedies such as the one in Buffalo.
“It often starts with words,” he said. “I often say that when these kinds of things happen that you have to stand up, you have to speak up, you have to show up, you have to act.”
A moment of silence was held for the victims.
Organizers call for measures to address hate
Earlier, in a news release on Thursday, the 21 organizations that staged the vigil made the following demands:
- That all levels of government work with Black communities to ensure that concrete measures, such as tackling hate speech and radicalization online, are incorporated in the National Action Plan on Combating Hate.
- That every provincial and territorial government establish an Anti-Black Racism Directorate/Office/Secretariat if one does not already exist.
- That the federal government ensure it works with Black communities to build on the gains of the UN Decade For People of African Descent as a permanent forum in accordance with the decision of the United Nations.
- That all levels of government expand the Supporting Black Communities Initiative program to support community organizations assisting victims of anti-Black hate.
- That the federal government continue to support the Mental Health of Black Canadians Fund with a focus on addressing racial trauma.
- That the federal justice minister and attorney general accelerate and work closely with Black Canadian communities in the development of the Black Canadians Justice Strategy
- That the Federation of Canadian Municipalities encourage its members to develop plans to combat anti-Black racism and hate in municipalities, similar to the work of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit.
“We must look for and erase all explicit and implicit racism in our societies — wherever it exists, whether it’s in our judicial systems, our educational systems, or in everyday life,” the organizations said in the release.
“While we urge elected officials, business leaders, community leaders, and supporters to take quick action, we also recognize that this is a moment for the community to reflect, address our trauma, console one another, and hopefully heal.”
Hall said the vigil was intended to be a “signal of resistance” that Toronto will not accept and tolerate hate in its own communities.