At 20 years old, Jayda Hope is already familiar with the heart-wrenching feeling of watching the death of another black person through her phone screen. She says it’s impossible to detach from, impossible to numb.
"Every single time we see a black person who is killed by the police, or assaulted by the police, it’s like that is literally our brother or sister that it’s happening to. Our heart is breaking," the black Winnipegger said Monday.
Hope is organizing a peaceful rally to be held Friday in solidarity with those who have flooded streets in cities across the United States (and increasingly Canada) to protest acts of police violence against black people. The recent protests were triggered after George Floyd died during an arrest by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25. (An autopsy commissioned for Floyd's family found he died of asphyxiation.)
There was a noticeable vacuum of action locally, Hope said, which spurred her and 10 other black Winnipeggers to come together to try and get momentum behind an event. They are not a formal organization, but are using the name Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg. The event is set for 6 p.m. Friday outside the provincial legislature.
"(It's) allowing black people to have a space to mourn and grieve, and have their feelings be validated and feel support from allies; feel like their issues matter, they matter, their lives matter — not just when they’re dead and on the news," Hope said.
In early 2019, Winnipeg’s black community and supporters came out to protest the death of Machuar Madut, a 43-year-old South Sudanese man, who died after being shot by a city police officer during a mental health crisis intervention. The Independent Investigation Unit of Manitoba, which looks into cases of serious injury involving law enforcement, found Madut’s death to be "reasonable, necessary, justified, and unavoidable."
More recently, Winnipeg Police Service officers were involved in three separate incidents in a 10-day period that led to the shooting deaths of Indigenous people.
Eishia Hudson, 16, was shot April 8 after a reported robbery of a Liquor Mart. The following day, Jason Collins, 36, was killed following a reported domestic dispute. On April 18, Stewart Andrews, 22, was shot when police responded to a 911 call from a man who said he was threatened and assaulted while taking out his garbage.
All three deaths are still under investigation by the IIU.
In their pain and loss, the Indigenous and black communities are tragically united, said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, representing 34 First Nation communities in Manitoba.
"Indigenous leaders want to lend their voices, and I think there needs to be space for that, but there’s no doubt that it’s time for black leaders to be heard," Daniels said Monday.
WPS Insp. Bonnie Emerson leads the force's community support division. She spends a lot of time thinking — and listening to new ideas — about how to connect with local groups and find creative ways to try and divert people from the justice system.
"I became a police officer because I believe in the concept of police officers being peacekeepers," Emerson said.
Over the past 2 1/2 decades she’s worked as a police officer in the city, Emerson said, the service has greatly improved in terms of how it connects to minority groups. However, "Has the escalation of conflict — both locally and globally — gotten better? I don’t know. It certainly doesn’t seem that way," she said.
Emerson maintains hope further improvements can be made because officers care, they want to help. Emerson’s team will be reaching out to the event co-ordinators for Friday’s protest and will be asking how they can best work with them.
While the flashpoints of conflict for minorities are often connected to police officers, the problems are more deep-rooted and systemic and can’t be mended with changes to policing alone.
"If you look at justice systems, they disproportionately have impacted Indigenous and black lives across the country," said NDP MP Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Centre).
Gazan, a former organizer with the Idle No More movement, said she’s alarmed whenever she hears of violent clashes with minorities and police, but she doesn’t blame the issues on a lack of goodwill or support from the people.
"With the onset of Idle No More, people from all walks of life said they care. I saw families and advocates from across this country pushing for a national inquiry (on murdered and missing Indigenous women), how we got that. So it’s not that," she said. "It’s from a lack of political will to actually listen, to take our positions of privilege and figure this out, in solidarity with community.
"I put the onus on us as elected officials to figure out a way forward."
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.