By ZACK BABINS
On Saturday, May 30, I walked from my apartment in downtown Toronto to Christie Pits Park (it took me over an hour on foot) to join with thousands in protest of the (recent) murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from her 24th floor balcony during an interaction with the Toronto Police, the details of which are still forthcoming, and far too many other Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC).
As I approached Christie, I saw hundreds of people walking the same way, carrying signs and, yes, wearing masks.
Before I begin, please do not dismiss this protest as “dangerous in the time of COVID.” The organizers of the demonstration made very clear that they would be making it as safe as possible – masks and hand sanitizer were available – and nearly everyone I saw was wearing a mask. A friend of mine marched with her bicycle basket full of water bottles and hand sanitizer taped to the side.
Was it as safe as sitting at home, in the dark, covered in hand sanitizer? No, but we’re trying to do something here.
The significance of starting this protest in Christie Pits was not lost on me, though I’m not sure it was fully clear to many present.
In 1933, Christie Pits was the site of a long and brutal riot following a baseball game between the predominantly Jewish and Italian Harbord Playground team and the predominantly White St. Peter’s Church team. After the final out, the Toronto Swastika Club, which, I assure you, was a real entity in 1933, unveiled a massive blanket with, you guessed it, a swastika on it. The Jewish and Italian players rushed them in anger, and thus began a six-hour riot.
Solidarity with the oppressed, and fighting against fascism, racism and hatred are values baked into the history of Christie Pits Park.
So why did I leave my comfortable apartment, and my comfortable existence, to potentially endanger myself.
Not only is the Big Rona still a concern, but similar demonstrations all over the United States have become violent, with the police – who are much more heavily armed and armored than the protesters themselves – clashing with protesters and firing at journalists. The Toronto Police officers present, on the other hand, did not come heavily armored, and were stoic and cautious. This could easily have not been the case.
So why did I march? Why did I risk it for something that doesn’t target me?
I marched for my friends, and their families: people of colour who have been targeted, stalked, harassed and worse, for no reason but the colour of their skin. I marched to help them carve out another inch of a world where that is not the case.
I marched because I can risk it, because I have the privilege to not be targeted. I’m a short, white-skinned man, and I will never be at the same risk, for doing the same thing as black and Indigenous peoples in this country. I am not seen as a threat to law enforcement. If I commit a crime, I am much more likely to be arrested and face trial rather than be killed.
I marched because I am Jewish. “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live in the land that G-d has given you” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and I marched because I am commanded to pursue justice. I marched because we are taught that to take a life is to destroy a world, and I’m not interested in world destroying.
I marched because even though I was scared of being exposed to the coronavirus and because I was terrified of police backlash, we marched for the exact same reason we locked down – to save lives. Pikuach nefesh. We locked down our society to hopefully save lives from a virus. We marched to hopefully save lives from police brutality and racism.
This pandemic is a moment for our society to examine itself and ask not “when can we get back to normal” but instead, ask the question “how can we come out of this better than we went into it?” We need to make sure that the society we locked down to save is better for all of us, and that nobody, nobody gets left behind.
I marched so that hopefully, one inch at a time, we stop leaving people behind.
Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.