Protesters calling for an end to police brutality blocked the Johnson Street bridge in Victoria for about three hours on Tuesday in response to RCMP officers pepper-spraying protesters in Vancouver Island forests.
A group of more than 50 people characterized by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) as “BIPOC youth and settler allies” blocked the bridge in protest of police enforcement actions taken at the Fairy Creek watershed.
Xwis-xwa-caa, a speaker at the bridge-blocking demonstration, talked about colonialism’s generational impacts on Indigenous communities and the ongoing hardships felt by racialized people at hands of Canadian institutions. She also called out VicPD and RCMP for police brutality – especially against BIPOC communities – as the gathered crowd chanted, “They have guns and we are unarmed.”
“When we come together to acknowledge that the RCMP and the policing system needs to be abolished, that doesn’t mean we don’t believe in accountability or being responsible for your actions,” Xwis-xwa-caa said. “It means that we don’t believe in a system that criminalizes you for the colour of your skin or where you were born or how much money you have.”
Protesters painted a pair of red hands on the bridge to signify every arrest made at Fairy Creek, which has so far been more than 800.
Around 5 p.m. VicPD tweeted that protesters advised officers on scene that police, fire and transit vehicles would also be blocked from crossing the Johnson Street bridge and that the public should anticipate potential delays for these services.
The protesters were acting in solidarity with Ancient Forest Protectors in Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek), Pacheedaht and Ditidaht territory. Speakers at the event included those who have spent time in Fairy Creek. One speaker said they’ve been pepper-sprayed on three occasions, all while unarmed, by RCMP officers enforcing a court injunction. That speaker said that, as a Black person, they felt “targeted” by the officers.
Another speaker, wearing a medical boot on her left leg, said officers “threw me to the ground and rubbed my face in the dirt” before stepping on her ankle.
A statement made by the protesters through the release demanded accountability from RCMP for using pepper spray on forest defenders on Aug. 21. “We also want transparency around RCMP tactics against forest protectors and demand that both Victoria city councillors and B.C.’s MLAs restrict police from using pepper spray and other supposedly ‘less lethal’ tactics against BIPOC defenders and their supporters,” the statement continued.
Negotiators arrived just after 6 p.m. and the protesters marched off the bridge just after 6:30 p.m. VicPD said officers worked to ensure the group’s safety as they marched.
— Victoria Police (@vicpdcanada) September 1, 2021
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