Women and Marginalized Groups Come to Forefront of Black Lives Matter in Toronto
"For all the little Black girls out there who are not allowed to just be little Black girls, this night is for you."
The first time Yusra Khogali was carded by a cop in Toronto, the situation quickly turned violent.
"It reached the point where the police officer literally threw me in the front of his van and was threatening to arrest me because I didn't want to give him ID," the Sudanese-born spoken word artist told VICE.
Khogali knew she didn't have to show her identification. But like many others involved in a random police stop, she was not certain of what else she was allowed to do or say. Although the Toronto Police Service website claims that, in theory, you can walk away at any time, this isn't always how it works out.
"I can even speak from my own personal stories about carding: People think that it's something that only happens to black men, but it happens to black women, black queer women, black trans women—it happens to all of us. Like, for me, I've been carded a bunch of times," Khogali said.
"I think that's something that I want to put out. That it's something that happens to pretty much everyone. But it's not framed that way."
Khogali is a part of the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter, a movement that has gained momentum worldwide, bringing to light issues surrounding black lives. Three queer women in the US started the movement, and while they make their voices heard through rallies and protests, they also work to rebuild black communities around the world.
The unique thing about BLM is that the focus is primarily on the most marginalized voices, giving them a space to be heard.
"In the way that the media portrays it, there's no sense of urgency for black women. For queer folks, for trans folks, for black people with disabilities, black people with mental illnesses, there's no sense of urgency in rushing, in organizing for our lives. And It's often we have to remind people that our lives matter too," said Pascale Diverlus, an original member for BLMTO.
This was addressed in the city's 35th Take Back the Night march this past Saturday, where hundreds of people marched to protest violence against women. It was the first year that the event's focus was on Black lives.
"I know that the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre approached Black Lives Matter Toronto because of the momentum that we're gaining as a movement," said LeRoi Newbold, a member of BLMTO who is involved with the organization of the event. "This level of police brutality toward trans Black women for example has always existed it's just that now it's being brought very forcefully by Black communities and Black activists to the forefront."
The event spoke to the marginalized voices that BLMTO stands for, but mainly the "experiences of Black women (in particular Black trans women and sex workers) experiencing sexual violence as a tool of police brutality and genocide," said the event's page on Facebook.
Take Back the Night also included children's activities, a "healing rage space," a community fair and performances to teach about how to deal with difficult situations without relying on authorities. All these components are part of what the group aims to do: heal and restore, to create the type of world they wish to see.
"The transformative justice stage [showed], for example, the ways Black trans women or Black sex workers protect themselves without police, the different ways that they have always done that," said Newbold. "Ways that for example we as communities can intervene when we see an intimate partner violence situation and we don't have to depend on police."
One of the speakers at the rally was Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the BLM movement from the States. Cullors has been a strong force in calling on police accountability and a big personality in Black equality movements.
"We survived, ya'll," Cullors said at the start of her speech. "Do you understand that? We survived, we're here right now."
Cullors took the stage after prayers took place, calling on the spirits of murdered women and ancestors to be with them.
"For all the little Black girls out there who are not allowed to just be little Black girls, this night is for you. For the trans woman who is not allowed to walk home, this night is for you. For the Indigenous women whose name we struggle to remember and the over 500 names of missing and murdered Indigenous women, this night is for you. For all of us who have ever said 'this happened to me,' and were not believed, I believe you," said Cullors.
Only recently has attention been placed on what has been called an epidemic of murdered trans women of colour.
Toronto specifically is still left with unanswered questions from the deaths of young lives like Sumaya Dalmar, the Somali trans woman who was killed earlier this year.
Though we more often hear about the injustices experienced by Black men, there are other voices who have traumatic experiences, but gain less visibility.
There is no doubt that Canada still has a long way to go to protect and support its women and create a world where BLM doesn't need to exist. Although they have hope, some of the BLMTO members aren't convinced that the movement will be any less necessary anytime soon.
These issues have been faced for generations of Black communities, and each generation has hope that the next generation will be able to come closer to rebuilding the systems we live in. The systems can't be fixed, because they are not broken. They were built this way. The BMLTO group knows that they might not be the solution, but that they are part of the long-term path to better quality of life for all Black lives.
"No matter what has been done to us over centuries and over time, like we've always managed to persevere and rebuild and come back stronger," Khogali said. "So that kind of gives me hope that if not in this lifetime then in the next lifetime we're gonna be alright. Like Kendrick said, 'We're going to be alright.'"
Follow Sierra Bein on Twitter.