La Toya Barrington had no plans to attend the racial justice protest Sunday evening in Downtown Vancouver over the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
In fact, the Richmond mom-of-three didn’t even know there was a protest until she saw a post on a wall while walking through Vancouver.
So there was no one more shocked than Barrington when, about two hours later, she stood on the steps of Vancouver Art Gallery and relived through a microphone to 3,500 people a lifetime of racial abuse as a Black woman growing up in Richmond.
“I thought I should go check it out and the plan was to just stay on the outside,” laughed Barrington, who actually suffers from anxiety and wouldn’t normally speak publicly.
“I didn’t really want to be around people, let alone a big crowd. But listening to other people’s stories, I just felt compelled to tell mine.
“I spent an hour and a half waiting to speak and I kept changing my mind. I had to keep psyching myself up.
After grabbing the mic, Barrington said she was extremely nervous, but felt herself getting angrier during her five-minutes “on stage.”
“Reading out loud to thousands of people all these negative experiences, it made me angry that I had lived them,” she told the Richmond News, adding that some of the racial abuse was at the hands of former partners.
“When it was over, I was so relieved. I couldn’t get off the stage quick enough. I had to leave the crowd to calm down.
“When I came back, so many people were coming up and thanking me, telling me it touched them. It was very moving. I’m still emotional right now.”
Later on that evening, Barrington said she felt empowered and then started receiving messages from people that she went to high school with.
“Most of these negative experiences (related to race) were in Richmond,” she said.
“Some people from high school have contacted me to apologize for not stepping up and doing more. That made me very emotional that those people are finally coming forward.
“All that stuff (growing up) still affects me today. I’m not the person I could have been.”
As far as the violent unrest in the U.S. is concerned – with many cities under curfew amid protests over Floyd’s death – Barrington said she understands why some people have resorted to violence.
“They’ve tried (in the past) to do things peacefully. I don’t agree with (the violence) but I understand it,” she said.
Another prominent member of the Black community in Richmond, Mary Wilson – the founder/organizer of the city’s Black History Month (BHM) events – told the News how she grew up in the U.S. with “too many stories like that of George Floyd.”
“Stories of racism, injustice, inequality, police injustice towards my community,” said Wilson.
“No matter how many times it happens, nothing prepares me for the reality of the situation. To turn on the TV and watch George Floyd being killed by policemen in public, dying in the street, in pain, begging for breath left me speechless, extremely sad and in a state of disbelief.”
Wilson said that, what was “once done to us by the police in the dark is now done for all to see.
“Is the killing of Black people being normalized? The death of George Floyd has been a call for action to the world. We all need to stand together to fight racism and injustice.
“Thank you to the responders against racism directed toward the Black community and all communities, whoever and wherever you are. Non- violence is the key, as spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Barrington, meanwhile, despite having a bad experience at the hands of police due to her race, knows she can’t put all law enforcement officers into the same category.
“I still think there are some good and some bad (police officers), they’re not all in the same,” she said.
“But I am grateful to be Canadian. I really think life would be different for me growing up (as a Black woman) in the States.”
The officers connected to the death of Floyd last week have been fired, with possible criminal charges pending.
As well as Sunday evening’s protest in Vancouver, Canadians have been protesting the recent death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a black Toronto woman whose mother says the 29-year-old woman was fatally pushed off a balcony by authorities.
Vancouver's gathering was peaceful, with many attendees wearing face masks and at times attempting some degree of physical distancing.
Vancouver Police said there were no arrests related to the protest.