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Montreal crowds protest against anti-black racism, police impunity

Protests turn violent

A Montreal anti-racism protest demanding justice for a black Minnesota man who died following a police intervention last week has turned violent.

About three hours into the march that started out peacefully, Montreal police declared the gathering illegal after they say projectiles were thrown at officers who responded with pepper spray and tear gas.

Tensions flared after demonstrators made their way back to the starting point, in the shadow of Montreal police headquarters downtown.

Windows were smashed, fires were set and the situation degenerated into a game of cat-and-mouse between pockets of protesters and police trying to disperse them.

Demonstrators had gathered to denounce racist violence and police impunity before marching — both in the U.S. and at home.

George Floyd died in Minneapolis on Monday after pleading for air while a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck.

His death has sparked nightly protests in major U.S. cities.

The Montreal rally was described as a solidarity gathering with American anti-racism activists, but organizers say it is also an opportunity to express their own anger at the treatment of racialized people in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

"It's important for everyone to be here today so that we can have a lot of voices to say the George Floyd event is not a singular event," said Marie-Livia Beauge, one of the event organizers. "It keeps happening and it's happening here in Montreal so to be here together is to show solidarity and denounce the injustice."

Protesters chanted "Black lives matter" and took a knee in unison several times.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers repeatedly told people to spread out, trying to find a spot where a two-metre distancing could be maintained.

Despite a majority of people wearing masks and organizers squirting hand sanitizer, the numbers attending made distancing impossible.

The location adjacent to Montreal police headquarters was packed, with police closely guarding the building that houses their brass.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, told Radio-Canada on Sunday evening that he recognized the importance of the cause but urged hand washing and for anyone exhibiting symptoms to let health authorities know they attended the protest.

Around the start of the demonstration, Montreal police took the unusual step of issuing a tweet saying they were dismayed by the death of George Floyd.

"Both the action taken and the inaction of the witnesses present go against the values of our organization," the force tweeted calling on for a peaceful demonstration.

"We respect the rights and the need of everyone to speak out against this violence and will be by your side to ensure your safety," the police said.



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