Vancouver’s Black community tells city to cancel town hall, focus on actions instead
Thousands of people march to mark Juneteenth, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, June 19, 2020. Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free 155 years ago. Now, with support growing for the racial justice movement, 2020 may be remembered as the year the holiday reached a new level of recognition. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
VANCOUVER -- Members of Vancouver’s Black community have sent city manager Sadhu Johnston a stern letter asking him to cancel a planned town hall to talk about racism, and instead focus on actions the community has been asking the city to implement for years.
The Hogan’s Alley Society recently raised concerns about the lack of response from the city to a proposal made two years ago. The society wants to create a community land trust on city property that was once home to Vancouver’s Black community, but was razed to make way for a highway in the 1970s.
On June 13 and 14, a group of activists blocked the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, calling for changes to policing and for the city to move to create the land trust.
In the letter to Johnston dated June 29, several Black community groups and organizations say a June 17 letter from Johnston, in which he expressed “personal allyship” and acknowledged “past and current anti-Black racism in Vancouver” was deeply underwhelming.
Missing from Johnston’s letter, said the group, was any acknowledgement of “structural and systemic racism” at city hall.
Johnston’s letter “states that you ‘have a moral and civic duty’ to take action against anti-Black racism, but there is no acknowledgement that this resides in the City’s structure and in ongoing policy direction and decision-making,” the group wrote.
They also panned a plan by the city to hold a town hall to talk about racism and hear from the Black community about their “experiences, frustrations, hopes, and suggested actions.”
“This statement … begs the question: have Black people never shared this with the city, or has leadership not been listening?” the group wrote to Johnston.
Detailing the many community consultations, public hearings and working groups Black community members have participated in in recent years, the group said the city should already have a good understanding of the issues – and it’s time for action, not words.
Instead of holding a town hall, the coalition of organizations is asking the city to put in place an immediate ban on police street checks, and sign an agreement to create a community land trust with the Hogan’s Alley Society.
On June 22, the Mayor of Vancouver, Kennedy Stewart, said he would introduce a motion to ask the city’s police board to end the use of street checks, a controversial practice where police stop people who are not a part of an ongoing investigation, and ask to see identification or for other information.
Data released two years ago showed almost 100,000 street checks were conducted between 2008 and 2017, and Black and Indigenous people were "significantly overrepresented" when compared to the city's population.