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Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth says officers will help ensure a local protest sparked by the death of George Floyd takes place peacefully, while calling actions that led up to the man's death in Minneapolis police custody "criminal."
"By any professional measure, Mr. Floyd’s death was unnecessary, it was avoidable and, frankly, it was criminal," Smyth said Tuesday.
"I think the chief there has moved quite quickly to take decisive action to fire the officers involved and now, as we see, criminal charges are being laid."
Smyth joined Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane in a civic leadership response to Floyd’s death and the protests that have followed in its wake. The May 25 death was captured on video, showing a white police officer kneeling on the black man’s neck for several minutes.
Large-scale demonstrations have since occurred in multiple cities in the United States, with some including violence and looting.
Smyth said police will focus on allowing an upcoming Winnipeg protest to take place peacefully.
"The outrage and the anger, both in Minneapolis and throughout the world really, and here locally, it’s understandable. It is palatable… It’s important to hear from our own community," the chief said.
On Friday at 6 p.m., a Justice 4 Black Lives Matter rally will take place outside the Manitoba legislature.
Winnipeg city Couns. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) and Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) have announced they’ll attend. Both said they’ve received an increased number of calls and emails about racism in Winnipeg in recent days.
"I want our communities to, first and foremost, take care of themselves because the vicarious trauma conveyed through our televisions, screens, and smartphones is real," Chambers said in a news release.
Smyth said the Winnipeg rally’s organizers have reached out to police, who expect to monitor the event. He said the group has told police it intends to hold a peaceful protest and respect COVID-19 pandemic social-distancing rules to stay at least two metres apart.
Even if the protest violates a public health directive that caps outdoor gatherings at a maximum of 50 people, the police chief said it won’t be used as a reason to end the rally.
"If by chance people get too close, we are not going to intervene into their ability to protest under the guise of COVID," said Smyth.
Smyth, Bowman and Lane all said they would consider attending the event on a personal basis, but only if organizers wanted them to do so.
"In terms of standing (with them), if the community organizers are welcoming of that, I would certainly consider standing with them, I just don’t want to impose myself," the police chief said.
The officials stressed local work to combat racism must continue, including through the education of City of Winnipeg staff and others.
"This is an ongoing effort that’s going to take… a lot of good people. I think there’s a role for all Winnipeggers (to get educated)," said Bowman.
Meanwhile, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says health concerns will prevent him from attending the Friday rally.
"As a senior with asthma, I'll be observing social-distancing recommendations given to me by my physician and by Dr. (Brent) Roussin (chief provincial public health officer) personally," said Pallister, 65. "So I will not be in attendance for those reasons, but I will be there in spirit."
Pallister said he does not condone violent protests, which have been an element of some demonstrations in the United States.
"I've always believed that peace and love and understanding have to replace discord and violence and racism... I think it's critical that we demonstrate our understanding in ways that are non-violent," he said, urging attendees to observe pandemic social-distancing rules.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 7:11 PM CDT: Adds photo
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