B.C. Lions players Bryan Burnham and Micah Johnson say they feel safer north of the border than they do in the U.S.
Burnham and Johnson, who are both black, made the statements during a candid video presentation on the Lions’ website. The comments come amid protests throughout the United States against racial injustice and police brutality after the death of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.
“There are still problems (in Canada) but compared to the United States, I can walk down the street in Vancouver and not have to worry about anything,” Burnham said. “I feel so comfortable just walking around with my wife, who’s half-Chinese, half-white.
“You walk around you see so many different people from so many different ethnicities — white people, black people, Asians, Indians, natives. It gives you the confidence just to be yourself and walk around and be free.”
But Burnham said that’s not necessarily the case in Tulsa, Okla., where he attended university and currently lives.
“I go out to dinner with my wife and we can feel the looks,” he said. “We can feel people looking at us and giving us those dirty looks seeing an interracial couple together and that hurts when you’re sitting there.
“Every time I go out in Oklahoma I’m kind of in that defensive mode where I have to be prepared to defend myself and defend my wife at any moment and that kind of sucks. I don’t want to go out and feel that stress so a lot of times when we’re here we don’t go out as opposed to Vancouver (where) I’m never really worried about that.
“That’s the big difference, that level of comfort I feel when I’m in Canada.”
Johnson, a native of Columbus, Ga., agrees.
“You can feel the difference, man, it just feels more safe,” Johnson said. ”It’s like you step in America, you can feel the tension in the air like you can cut it and that’s real talk.
“That’s not to say Canada is a perfect place, there’s plenty of people who could feel like they’re oppressed in Canada … and that can be all over the world. But I can speak to America, living up there and growing up in America a black man, it’s a difference. You do have a target on your back and your perception is reality so what people perceive you as, that’s what it is and they don’t even know you.
“If I see you and think you’re a thug then that’s just what it is and they’ll punch you all up. It’s not cool.”
Johnson said when he’s in the U.S. he can’t afford to take the smallest details for granted.
“I’ve made it to where (in U.S.) I really don’t go running really in and out of neighbourhoods,” he said. “You can’t just go on a jog like that, you’ve got to know where you’re running at.
“I have two sons and I’m about to have another son, so just raising three black boys here feeling like there’s literally a target on the back, it’s not cool.
“That’s not to say Canada is a perfect place, there’s plenty of people who could feel like they’re oppressed in Canada … but I can speak to America. Living up there and growing up in America a black man, it’s a difference.”
Floyd, 46-year-old black man, was killed when a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Burnham has always had a social-media presence but has been especially active following Floyd’s death.
“It’s a shame that it took the death of another black man at the hands of police brutality for me to be outspoken about it because it’s not the first,” he said. “There’s a long line of people who’ve been victims of police brutality but this was kind of that final straw where you’re just sick of seeing it.
“It was just time to speak up on it, to start using my platform to speak up on the racial injustice in the nation. It’s been good to see people of all colours and backgrounds and ethnicities coming together and supporting the cause.”
Johnson said he experienced racial discrimination while playing football at Kentucky.
“A lot of people that played where we played ball, I think it just opened up our eyes,” he said. “The type of things the fans used to spew at us on a regular (basis), the types of things that you’d hear walking into the stadium … it just kind of let you know that, ‘Wow, people really feel like this.’
“Being called the n-word on a regular (basis), that was not out of the norm.”
Bystanders with cellphones captured a Minneapolis police officer using lethal force to subdue a prone and handcuffed Floyd. But Johnson wonders how many incidents occurred in the 1980s and ’90s that weren’t filmed.
“How (many) crazy things happened that didn’t get recorded and family members dying at the hands of police and there’s no justice, there’s no excuse, I mean, there’s no nothing,” Johnson said. “We can no longer be ignorant to the fact of what’s going on.
“I think we’ve just got to sit with it, we have to acknowledge it so change can happen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press