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One thousand stand silent for eight minutes, 46 seconds

Soili Smith, a PhD student in American Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey, grew up in Prince George and told her story to local media earlier this week. Bill Phillips photo

Close to 1,000 people stood silent for eight minutes and 46 seconds in downtown Prince George Friday.

It was a moving, and silent, tribute to George Floyd who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Derek Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder and three other officers, who stood by, have also been charged.

Fridays for Future organized the protest against police brutality and in support of Black Lives Matter.

“Today is very personal, for me today is very emotional,” said the emcee for the protest. “To see you standing with us today, it really means a lot. You have chosen to stand with us, you have chosen that our pain is your pain, that our suffering is your suffering, our tears are your tears as well.”

Soili Smith, a PhD student in American Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey who grew up in Prince George, gained local attention this week when she penned a letter to Prince George Matters telling her experiences as a black person growing up here. One of the problems facing society, says Smith is that people prefer not to be seen as racist more than preferring that racism doesn’t exists

“The consequences of racism far outweigh the consequences of admitting that one is living in a racist society and therefore probably has racism thoughts and feelings,” she said before the protest. “… I grew up in a family where it was an open conversation. I also grew up in family with a disabled father. We talked a lot about the way society is structured against certain groups of people.”

She said racism has to become part of the public conversation.

“If you can’t even admit that racism exists, you can’t begin to talk to anyone about it,” she said. “If the first point of debate is whether racism exists or not, there’s no way you’re going to be able to talk about your personal experiences with it.”

Several speakers took to the steps at City Hall before the crowd marched through downtown chanting “I can’t breathe,” which were Floyd’s last words as Chauvin knelt on his neck, and “Black Lives Matter.”

The issue of overt and systemic racism against blacks here and in the United States is supported by local indigenous groups who have faced many of the same problems.

British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said it’s time for a revolution.

“(The Black Lives Matter) stories are far too similar for my indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada and the United States, and more locally here in Prince George,” he said.

He referenced Clayton Wiley, a Metis man of died in police custody; Dale Culver, who died after being pepper-sprayed in Prince George in 2017; and more recently his own relative Everitt Patrick, who died after a stand-off with police in downtown Prince George.

“This is not new to me,” he said. “This is not new to any of us. This has been a long road, and an ongoing one.”

A second Black Lives Matter protest is scheduled for noon Saturday at Mr. PG.

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