INNISFAIL, Alta. — There was some friction and angry words but a Black Lives Matter rally in central Alberta Saturday remained largely peaceful.
The protest in Innisfail, Alta., was initially called off after an onslaught of online bigotry, but the community of 8,000 north of Calgary decided to embrace the rally and more than 300 people showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
One of the speakers at the event, Calgary activist Adora Nwofor, told journalists and Innisfail Mayor Jim Romane that the community doesn't deserve any credit for hosting the event.
"I'm not giving out cookies for a one-afternoon event. To have a one-day event, I don't think you deserve credit for that," she said.
"If you want to make a change, you listen to Black people with humility. You go and educate yourselves and then you support Black people in everything we do whether it's messy or not."
But Dieulita Datus, who is Black and grew up in nearby Lacombe, said she believes Innisfail deserves a lot of credit.
"The fact that people from Innisfail showed up. It's optimistic," she said.
"It gives me hope for the future and the fact people are here, whether they're protesters or counter-protesters — the fact that people showed up means that they want to add their voice to the conversation."
A handful of individuals were drowned out when they attempted to chant "White Lives Matter," while a man in a lawn chair was holding a sign that read "What about all lives matter no matter what colour you are."
At the end of the rally the BLM protesters surrounded some of their opponents yelling "You aren't welcome here."
Protests were organized across the United States and around the world following the death of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who died while a police officer pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The protests are calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality.
Innisfail's mayor said he regrets making the comment that "all lives matter" when initially talking about the proposed rally.
"It was just that single little remark I made and all of a sudden we're a bunch of hillbillies," Romane said.
"I honestly don't feel that our community is obviously worse than any other small town community in the way of discrimination. I'm just anxious to hear and learn from it."
Organizer Brittany Bovey said she is glad that it all worked out after a rocky start.
"At first I thought it was troubling but as soon as the negative press spread the positive support for the movement, for persons of colour was just extraordinary. I'm confident that the love and solidarity will shine through."
Lonny Averill, wearing a cowboy hat and a Bob Marley T-shirt, said he is tired of the protests.
"I've got friends of every colour and this is bulls**t what's going on right now," he said.
"It's a distraction and a message I'd like to put out to people is spend a little more time looking in a mirror and get in touch with that person and find some love."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2020.
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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press