Black Lives Matter press conference transcript

Held at the parking lot at 15 Wellesley St. East on 2016.07.07.

Diverlus, Williams, Khan, and others outdoord


  • One video source.

  • All discussion of being unable to get Ms Syrus Marcus Ware on Skype elided. (They never managed it.)

  • Only persons named on camera are named as speakers in the transcript.

  • Alexandra Williams clearly pronounced her name as such (not as Alexandria) and interrupted even more times than are rendered here. “Somaya Del Mar” is exactly how Williams pronounced the name of an alleged police-shooting victim.


MAN: Uh, first we’re gonna start with Alexandra, who’s the cofounder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.

WILLIAMS: Good morning, everybody. Again, my name is Alexandra William. I’m— Williams. I’m the cofounder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. We’re here today to address a couple of things that have happened after Pride Toronto, after we halted the parade. And one of the biggest things that we want to talk about today is: What does it mean to be an honoured group for Pride? There’s been a lot of questions of folks asking how we could be the honoured group but act in such a way? And the reality is is the way that Pride handled Black Lives Matter Toronto, the way that Pride handles blackness, the way that Pride handles black LGBT-key— LGBT youth, is abysmal. And when you start having conversations with the police, we are talking about how the presence of the police and the symbolic representation of the police and what that means to racialized communities who are queer, right?

Most recently in the media, we have heard about Alton Sterling. We have huah – heard – about Ferlando, uh, um, Ferlando, and the deaths that have been happening to black bodies over the last 24 hours. So the question is: How is it that we’re still asking questions how the police are threatening our communities? We’re seeing it live in real time.

Also the fact that Mathieu has gone back and forth off his solidarity with us shows that Black Lives Matter and that black LGBT community does not have a place in Pride Toronto. He actively [unintelligible] to push us out by flip-flopping on his stance of solidarity with us.

— Uh, and then up next we’re gonna have, uh, Rinaldo Walcott, uh, who is a long, uh, long, uh, longstanding member of our community, respected member of our community, to, uh, to give some words as well.

WALCOTT: OK, I’m gonna speak in my capacity, um, both personal and as a member of the anti-black-racism network. I wanna say couple of things. First, I wanna say that it’s pretty absurd that yet again young black people and black people are holding a press conference to talk about our rights to shape the polity of the City of Toronto. Um, we’re not asking for anything; we’re taking what we have helped to produce and to make this city. So I wanna make that really clear.

Second, I want to make really clear that the issues that Black Lives Matter Toronto have raised and the demands they have made have a long history within Pride. They have a long history within Pride among white queers who asked for-for the demilitarization of Pride. They have a long history among black queers like myself who stopped going to Pride well over five years ago, um, when the debate around QuAIA happened. Pride is political. It always has been and it will continue to be. And there’s no Pride that can be legitimately represent queer people if questions of black lives, black oppression are not central to it, if the question of Palestinian liberation is not central to it, if the question for indigenous justice and decolonization is not central to it —


— if trans people, people living with disabilities, sex workers are not central to it.


— There’s no pride in Pride then.


— And we want to make that extremely clear. So the demands that BLM has put on the table are legitimate demands that belong right inside the Pride organization.

I wanna say two other things. I wanna echo my colleagues here today that Matt-Matthew Charletoyz’ backtracking on his commitment to those demands recalls the moment of Tracey Sandilands, and it recalls the moment of QuAIA. And I want to send a strong message to the Pride organization that they are heading right into the same kind of debacle that they had a few years back.


— Because we will not stand down on these demands.


— They must be made – they must be clear that we will not stand down on their demands. The police have no place in Pride on floats when they are harassing black youth day in and day out in this gay village, when they even harass people at the Pride itself.


— They have no business in Pride. That is not to say that LGBT police officers can’t march. But we do not need a militarized Pride. And there are many, many people in our community what have made that very, very, very clear. And when you place our black youth at the edge of Pride, at the edge, where there’s no security, where [Unintelligible] Security had to come and protect them, we see what you are doing. We see your disregard for black life. And people will no longer stand for that.

Black people helped to make this city, and we are demanding of this city what we have put into it. Thank you.

VOICE: Whoo-oo!

WILLIAMS: Yasss. Yasss. Yasss!

MAN: So we’re gonna have Janaya Khan, uh, give a little perspective from BQY and Blackness Yes.

KHAN: Blackness Yes has been a part of Pride Toronto for 18 years. That’s 18 years of service, 18 years of dedication, 18 years of infrastructure – 18 years that Pride Toronto has consistently undermined, delegitimized, and erased. Years ago, their stage was moved to this location. It was dangerous at the time. Their budgets have been slashed in half. They are – have one of the biggest stages with one of the biggest draws. More than that, they are one of the only spaces within Pride Toronto throughout the entire week that is dedicated to black and brown bodies –


— that celebrates our culture –


— that celebrates our history, and celebrates the history that is Pride, that is resilience, that looks like black and brown trans people stepping up and challenging the system. In 1981, we had a r— a riot here that was as a direct result of police brutality, and that is the birth of Pride in this city. That is following in the tradition of 1969 in Stonewall.

The police have consistently targetted our communities, have consistently brutalized us, have historically erased us. There’s still been no apology –


— for the Pussy Palace raids in 2000. [There was – as part of a settlement accepted by both sides that also included a commitment to training and a $350,000 payment]


— There has still been no apology, as recently as last year, when TAVIS attacked and attempted to destroy sex working in trans communities.


— The – what does it mean if, in Pride, I am criminalized within it as a queer black person –


— and I am criminalized when I leave it?


— What does it mean then? So before you start asking questions about the role of police, perhaps we should start asking questions about the role of black people, and the active inclusion of black people that have been part of Pride historically and will be moving forward. Will it take 20 years or 10 years or 15 years before we recognize that we are an integral part of this? We founded this movement to represent some of the most marginalized communities and we will continue to do that.

[Williams says “Yasss” plus something else sassy and supportive, indiscernible]

MAN: Uh, lastly, many of you will know my face, because I did the media circuit on Monday. Uh, and there are a number of things that we wanna address, uh, within that. Um, specifically, uh, I wanna address, uh, Mayor Tory’s response letter, uh, yesterday. Uh, I wanna make it very clear to Mayor Tory that he has no place in this discussion and he needs to stay in his lane. I want to make it very clear, uh, to Mayor Tory that we are not interested in politicking back and forth with him.

WILLIAMS: Nooo. Not interested.

— We are not interested in going back and forth with him, as we’ve done this year.

WILLIAMS: Noooo. Exactly.

— We are not interested in his soundbites. We are not interested, uh, in his vapid interest in this community. We want to make it very clear to Mayor Tory, want to make it very clear to Mayor Tory, that this, uh, is an issue between the LGBT community.


— This is an issue between the LGBT community, the black community, and Pride Toronto, and the community at large. This is a conversation that has existed before he took office.


— And will continue after he takes office.


— Uh, and this is a conversation that warrants real, uh, real community investment, uh, that warrants real discussion, that warrants real, uh, hurtful, uh, painful, um, uh, sad, uh, revelations? And that politicking and his interventions have no place in that.


— Having said that, we also want to acknowledge that there are a lot of discourses that are missing. It’s been three days, uh, three days of doing media nonstop, answering questions, having conversations with you all, uh, and yet there’s no one who’s talking about Somaya Del Mar. No one’s asking questions about the black lives that are lost and why we’re – why we’re talking about police violence. No one as asked us to talk to BQY or Blackness Yes –


— or to get an actual understanding of what it’s like to be a black queer youth in this city. As such, we want to reiterate our demands and we want to remind people of our demands. We want to remind people of the reasons why, uh, we halted the parade, why we’ve escalated to this action, and why we’re continuing to take action.

]Proceeds to read demands]

— Our demands have stayed put. Our demands have stayed still. And we are staying firm on our demands. Unfortunately, we have seen, uh, Pride Toronto recant from their commitment of these demands. As you all have seen, as the world have seen, as my cousins who are overseas have seen, Pride Toronto executive directors and cochairs signed these demands on the streets –


— signed these demands in front of the world –


— and signed these demands, and have stated their commitment to these demands. But unfortunately in the aft— Monday afternoon, uh, this message box was changed by Pride Toronto executive director Mathieu, and we as a community are very disappointed to see that. We as a community know though, that this, uh, is historically accurate of Pride. There are promises that are given to the black community. There are commitments that are given to the black LGBT community. And those commitments are-are quickly recanted. In this case, it took less than 24 hours, which is really unfortunate, but, uh, really showed the true nature of Pride Toronto. As such, we have left no choice but to go back to our community and to evaluate our options.

So we want to announce a community meeting that Black Lives Matter Toronto, along with these groups, will be holding. This community meeting will be held, uh, in the next couple of weeks, will be held with our community, black LGBT, uh, folks, and, really, it will be held to re-evaluate these demands and evaluate what our options are as a community. Uh, right now the options are open. Right now, we are putting everything on the table. Right now, the sky’s the limit.


— And we want Pride Toronto and the mainstream LGBT community to know that we see through the anti-black racism. We see through the violence that have happened, uh, and that this community is very serious in moving forward, in moving forward in ways that make sense to us, in moving forward in ways that are make sense to our youth, and moving forwards in, uh, ways that see these demands, uh, being met.

WILLIAMS: But I also think that it’s important for folks who are at home who are watching who have this clear division between the LBT community and the black community that the people who are standing in front of you now belong to the LGBT community, that the members that have founded this group, that continue to do this work, are queer and trans women who are black who are doing this work and who are actively pushing against this. Understand that the demands that we are asking for, what we’re asking for, is coming from a lived experience as well as hearing the needs of our community.

It has to be understand that living while black and queer and the intersectionalities that it takes to live within that body is something that incites fear in your existence. And what we did today by making sure that we talked to the folks at home, that we brought these issues to Pride, was to make sure that we, as not only community organizers but that our community feels safe to be able to participate in something that they fought, that they bled, and that they were jailed for.

[Intro to Q&A session elided]

[REPORTER 1 asks inaudible question]

MAN: Uh, the community has been meeting halfway for a lot of times on a lot of these demands, I think it’s important to realize, and that, for us, these demands were accepted, and these demands were accepted as full, so we’re gonna hold Pride accountable – oh, uh, we’re gonna hold Pride Toronto accountable for the acceptance of those demands in full.

WILLIAMS: And understanding the symbolization of the police float. What does that mean for that trigging – that triggering image to be a part of your Pride? Like I said before, within the last 24 hours we’ve seen two black bodies shot and killed by police. What does that mean when you are trying to be a part of Pride, when you have a symbolic representation of your oppressor, of your violence? We are asking for the removal of that trigger-triggering symbolism in order for all marginalized communities to be safe at Pride.

MALE REPORTER 2: You’re not moving on that? That’s – there’s no way you’ll budge on that, uh, demand?

MAN: So those demands have actually come from communities. So, um, until we hear from community that community is willing to compromise their safety, uh, and their identity and their bodies, until we hear that, uh, we’re gonna stay firm on our demands.

MALE REPORTER 3: Why is it that-that this has been such a huge issue, first of all, in terms of your community, and in terms of, effectively, you’re saying being ignored by Pride? Why has it taken until now for this become so central? Why haven’t there been discussions five years, ten years ago?

WILLIAMS: There have been discussions for a very long time.

MAN: Yeah, go ahead.

WALCOTT: Actually, that question is entirely unfounded. It real— the question that you just asked is entirely unfounded. It has been a part of debates within the Pride organization for more than five years. But-but most recently, it’s a part of the community engagement process that Brent Hawkes, who went behind queer communities’ back and brokered a “regret” with the police –


— had helped to lead. So it’s-it’s a misnomer that these – that these demands have not been a part of the queer community debate and inside Pride organization. It has been for longer than five years, up to at least a decade.

— So then why hasn’t it been made a larger deal of and become [inaudible]

— And it has been made a larger deal of. You-you guys have short memory. I have to say the media has short memory.

[Williams titters]

— When QuAIA was pushed out of Pride, when they attempt to push QuAIA out of Pride, the question of militarization was a part of the debate. Let’s not forget that. So-so you guys need to go back and do some homework. You need to go back and do some research. It’s all there. It’s all in public – all in-in public documents.

[REPORTER asks question, barely audible; MAN talks over him]

— I also want to note – I also want to note also – I also want to note as well that Blackness Yes, that’s a point – that-that-that-that’s, uh, an important conversation point to Blackness Yes as well. Um, a lot of, a lot of the conversation on social media have been on posting links in 2010 and 2011 when Blackness Yes were back at the exact same table, having a conversation about funding, having a conversation about space, having a town hall at the 519 where Pride and Pride’s executive director at the time, Tracey, made some promises, and, um, black folks came back from the table. Uh, so there are – in a variety of different ways this is a conversation that have existed since I’ve been in Toronto, uh, which has only been eight years. Uh, and I think that that historical piece is really important to note as well.

MALE REPORTER 3: Do you need to get some members of your community on the executive, on the board of Pride, to have more influence? What’s it going to take, then?

MAN: I think that that’s a – that’s a question to Pride Toronto. Is it – what is it going to take, uh, to get our demands met? Uh, ultimately we know that there are – that there are black folks who’ve-who worked at Pride, who’ve been on the board of Pride, who-who’ve, uh, navigated Pride spaces. Uh, and the black community have constantly been back and forth with Pride and our involvement in Pride and, uh, and-and-and unfortunately we haven’t seen any-uh-any-any, uh, as seen by-by-by the backtracking of this demand we haven’t seen, uh, any concrete, long-term, standing, uh, and permanent changes within Pride Toronto.

So that’s why it’s important for us to have this community meeting, to have this conversation with our community, uh, and to address these historical issues and to talk about our options as a community. What does it mean for us moving forward? I don’t know. We can’t speak on that as organizers, but, uh, we hope to hear from-from-from the black LGBT community of that.

REPORTER (initially inaudible): …expect representatives of Pride to be at that community meeting?

— Uh, to be honest, no. No. This is a –

— Would they be not welcome, or—

— Because this is a community meeting. Because to me, t-t-to us, we want it to be with black LGBT folks. I think that ourselves, as Black Lives Matter Toronto, Pride Toronto, we had a lot of platforms to speak. You’ve heard us speak a number of times. You’ve heard our thoughts; you’ve heard our opinions; you’ve heard Pride Toronto’s thoughts and opinions. I think it’s time to actually put the space out to community, and I think it’s time to actually hear from community directly.

Can we hear from a –

FEMALE REPORTER: (partly inaudible): In the last week, did you have any interaction with any representative from Pride?

MAN: No. No. Not officially, we haven’t, no.

— What do you mean “not officially” at this point? What about not officially?

— Unofficially, no.

FEMALE REPORTER (on camera): So how are you going to hold them accountable? You said you’re gonna hold them accountable. What does that look like? What does that mean?

KHAN: Let’s backtrack for a moment. Because the question you asked was “Why hasn’t this come to the forefront previously?” Well, maybe it didn’t come to the forefront because media wasn’t covering it? Because there wasn’t an actual investment in black lives? And because it took halting the parade for 25 minutes before we were questioning the future of Pride, the role on police in Pride, and the contri-contributions that black people have made.

So: One of the questions that was asked was around membership. Should black people, should LGBTQ people who believe that Pride is political, should they be part of the membership? Well, the reality is the membership has been disabled since this action has happened.


— There was an influx of people who believe in, who believe in the work, who [Williams murmurs] believe in representing marginalized communities, allies who have really stood up and said: You know what? We’re actually gonna actively participate in this. And membership has been disabled. Maybe we should talk to Chantelois about that? Maybe we should discuss that?

And the other thing is this: Does it require black people at the table when a – in a primarily-white space? Do we absolutely need to be there for ethical decisions to be made?


— Do we need to be present for ethical decisions that focus on and include black people in the space? Do we actually need to be there in order for our lives to be upheld, for our traditions to be upheld, for our bodies to be represented?


— That’s a larger question that we need to ask about the ways in which people understand blackness, black liberation, and black contribution.


MALE REPORTER: Can you answer the question? How would you answer that question you just posed it? How would you answer it?

KHAN: How would I answer it?

— I know it’s a rhetorical question, but I want to hear your answer.

— Well, let me answer with rhetoric, then. [Laughter, some inaudible comments] We would seek active membership. We’ll continue to push. But at the end of the day, as Rodney and as Alex have named, we will continue to be led by the communities that are most marginalized. There’s not a specific answer. But we do know is Mathieu Chantelois needs to be held accountable. He has backtracked within 24 hours on the commitments that he made.

WILLIAMS: Publicly.

— Publicly. Publicly. And we have multiple platforms and multiple strategies that we will use to implement, to ensure that our demands are met and that there is a more active presence and celebration of black contributions to Pride moving forward.

MALE REPORTER 4: …that Mayor Tory needs to “stay in his lane,” and it is not appropriate for him to comment. Do you want to answer –

MAN: Mm-hmm.

— that it is not appropriate for him to be commenting on this situation? Does that mean that there isn’t a role for city councillors? I know Mike Layton has come out and said he supports what was going on with Black Lives Matter Toronto. Cheri DiNovo has come out. Is there no role for politicians to enter this discussion and to apply pressure or to otherwise [inaudible] with what’s been happening?

KHAN: Yeah. The mayor has a particular role, doesn’t he?


KHAN: The mayor has a particular role to represent all people in this city.

MAN: Mm-hmm.

KHAN: The mayor has a particular role in representing citizens of this city. The mayor has a particular role in representing some of the most marginalized people in this city. So it’s very different when the mayor and a politician or an MPP weighs in on a conversation. What the mayor has done, has very clearly stated that he is in ca-cahoose-collu— in cahoots with the police; that he is not invested in a more inclusive Pride; that he is not invested in LGBT communities that are marginalized; he’s not invested in black liberation.

He has taken a side. A mayor should not be taking sides when the question is “What does justice look like with structural and systemic power given to the police and when we are representing disenfranchised and marginalized communities?” What does that say about our mayor’s ethics? What does that say about our mayor’s practice? What does that say about our mayor’s politic? This should be deeply concerning to all of us citizens who believe and fight for justice, citizens who seek to represent themselves when the mayor chooses the side of the police – we are all in jeopardy.

MAN: And I think it’s-it’s-it’s worth it to-to note also that this comes in a year when the mayor was silent when people were camping outside of police headquarters —

MAN and WILLIAMS: For 15 days.

MAN: I think that this is worth to mention that after, uh, after, uh, people and-and mothers and aunts and children took over the Allen highway, uh, that this was after silence from the mayor on a number of issues from the black community, that this is a mayor who has been completely silent, that has completely disregarded a number of key issues, uh, regarding policing, regarding surveillance, regarding carding, uh, regarding the ways that our, uh, bodies are targetted. And yet, less than 24 hours after this, has come out and had the time to write a letter. I think that that says a lot to our community. I think that we see a lot through that action. And I also think that that says a lot about the mayor’s priorities and the way that he views his accountability to the black community.

WILLIAMS: And also, Jasmine, just in terms of, like, what do – what does it mean to have city councillors come and be in support of us? Any ally that wishes to hold Pride accountable in the way that they’ve acted towards black youth, black queer youth, who are dedicated to fighting anti-blackness in all platforms, is welcome to stand in solidarity with us and do the work that it takes to actually hold these organizations accountable for their actions.

MAN: There’s a question over here.

[Unintelligible question, apparently about J. Jaguar]

WILLIAMS: OK, um, just-just a – just to clarify: Jackie Lewis is a staffmember. They are not a boardmember. And I think what we’re talking about here, and I don’t wanna give too much time for it, because Jackie did her role as a… ally. What happened was recognizing that an organization is implicit in the way that they are treating members of its community and recognizing that it is wrong.

MAN: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: Her comment of her wanting to leave Pride, her comment of making sure that our demands were seen as viable and realistic, was something that all allies should do, especially in moments when we are asking for support, when we are asking for help, and when we have someone who is inside these organizations who understands the structural racism that is happening within Pride and how it’s being carried out on the – on the community, of all parts of the LGBT community.

[Partly intelligible question about Mayor Tory and conflict with his being on the Police Services Board]

MAN: I think absolutely. I think that, you know, May-Mayor John Tory, um, teeters on conflicts, ultimately. And, you know, uh, it’s-it’s, especially as a mayor who’s on the Police Services Board, uh, he is privy to a lot of conversations; he knows, uh, he has, um, a-a-a backhand knowledge of-of a number of these issues that we’ve talked about that he’s ignored. So to have that, uh, firsthand knowledge, to have that information on all of these issues but yet to still ignore them, uh, yet speak on them when it is convenient, when it’s convenient for politics, right? And that’s why we talk about politicking. When it’s convenient when – to write a letter, when it’s convenient uh, for, uh, for, to-to, I don’t know, to get back at Black Lives Matter? It seems like it’s this useless game that we’re not actually invested in playing with Mayor Tory.


— We actually want to actually, uh, we wanna, we wanna start talking more about our community. We want to start talking about Somaya Del Mar. We want to start talking about victims of police violence. We want to start talking about the actual issues. Uh, but instead what we see, uh, is the constant back-and-forth and the politicking with the mayor that he initiates. Uh, and that’s a game that we don’t want to play any – any longer.

MALE REPORTER 3 (on camera): Just one more question with Mayor Tory. If-if-if he came out in support of your – what you guys were doing in the Pride parade, came out in support of you guys, would you still tell him to stay in his lane and that it’s none of his business to talk about this?

MAN: I’m actually asking him to support his community that he’s elected to serve.

KHAN: Yes.

— But would – would you still tell him to stay in his lane if he came out in support of—?

— I am asking him to support his community which he’s – is purported to serve.

SAME FEMALE REPORTER AS BEFORE (still on camera): Uh, when the meeting with Mayor Tory was first requested by Black Lives Matter, I was at a press conference. I specifically asked him when he was gonna respond to that. And he said that he had written numerous letters – I think it was about four or five?


— and never heard back. So are you denying that those letters were ever written by Mayor Tory to your organization?

MAN: So we’re gonna – we’ve-we’ve clarified this a number of times and we’re gonna clarify it one more time. We’ve been very clear, uh, in our request for meetings with any politicians or representatives that those be public meetings. Because we don’t believe in the history of-of municipal politics in this city in which five people sit behind closed doors with another set of people, make some promises, draft some reports, and no actions come to light of that.

VOICE: But all –

MAN: We made that request. The request was given – was-was that the – meeting requests that were given to us were not public. Therefore they were not falling in line with the requests that we’ve done. We’ve replayed – we responded back and forth multiple times to the mayor, multiple times with – to Saunders, that we’ve asked for public meetings to be done.

REPORTER. Right. So –

WILLIAMS: So also –

WOMAN 2: Just to clarify –

REPORTER: So you don’t want to hear from Mayor Tory at all now?

WOMAN 2: Just to clarify, every E‑mail that we’ve sent to Mayor Tory has been published on our Facebook page with the exception of, I believe, one. And every E‑mail that he sent us back has been published on our Facebook page with the exception of, I believe, one. He has been responded to each and every single time. We have sent multiple E‑mails to Chief Saunders. We have never, ever, ever heard back –

MAN: Mm-hmm.

— from the police chief. Though he has made those claims in the media, we asked him to show you those E‑mails if he has indeed tried to reach out –

[CBC feed died at 27:30]

Posted: 2016.07.20