A protest attendee holds up one of many signs in the crowd.

A protest attendee holds up one of many signs in the crowd.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

Huge crowd marches peacefully in solidarity in Macomb County

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published June 6, 2020

 From left, Ariana Belyue, 16, Mary Vucaj, 17, and Angela Santana, 15, lead the June 6 protest from the Golden Corridor in Sterling Heights, to Macomb Community College in Clinton Township.

From left, Ariana Belyue, 16, Mary Vucaj, 17, and Angela Santana, 15, lead the June 6 protest from the Golden Corridor in Sterling Heights, to Macomb Community College in Clinton Township.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


MACOMB COUNTY — “Hey ho, hey ho. Racist cops have got to go.”

That was one of numerous chants shouted by a huge crowd of people that packed eastbound Hall Road for miles June 6 as they marched peacefully from Sterling Heights’ Golden Corridor to Macomb Community College in Clinton Township, in memory of the May 25 death of George Floyd.

The event spurred from social media posts created by a trio of teenage activists: Angel Santana, 15, Ariana Belyue, 16, and Mary Vucaj, 17. The Macomb County Sheriff’s Office worked with local police departments to block off the eastbound side of Hall Road for the protesters.

Santana used a police microphone car to tell the crowd that ever since she was young, she knew she was different because of her skin color.

“That’s not how it should be,” Santana said. “And I want to do this so when I have kids they don’t have to go through everything I had to go through. And that’s why Black Lives Matter.”

Vucaj, who is white, said she was with her peers as an ally.

“No matter where you come from, no matter who you are, no matter how old you are, this is a cause that we can all get behind,” Vucaj said. “I don’t understand, and I understand I don’t understand. With you I stand, always.”

At the end of the march, Belyue stood in the bed of a pickup truck and addressed to the crowd.

“Actions speak louder than words,” she said, mentioning how she and her friends can’t vote yet, but everyone else can vote for their cause. “We have to stand together. No matter who you are and who you support, this not political,” she said. “It’s a human rights issue.”

‘This is the time for reform’

Kimberley Will, a black woman from Macomb Township who has lived in the area for 24 years, said she was “pleasantly surprised” at the crowd size. She said, “justice is for everyone.”

“It really disturbs me having a young, black male has a son and people feeling afraid,” Will said. “And if you see my child and say that you’re afraid, or you see my husband and say that you’re afraid, and you call the police — will the police be just? Will they do what they’re supposed to do, or will they take irrational actions?”

Her family lives near the border of Shelby Township, where Police Chief Robert Shelide was recently placed on paid leave after alleged tweets of his relating to protesters and police brutality were discovered. He later apologized.

“I thought for the position that (Shelide) has, and the people that he serves, that his tweets were unacceptable,” Will said. “And although he apologized, it should have been an action that he should have never taken in the first place considering the fact that he serves the public.”

Her friend Shelly Watts, also of Macomb Township, said she was present to show support for her “black brothers and sisters.”

“We love them and this is a time when they’re hurting and they need to have some solidarity behind them,” Watts said.

Robert Allen, 43, is from Macomb County. He’s black and has biracial children. When asked what he wants out of the national protests, he replied, “Just stop killing people.”

He called the turnout “tremendous” and said it made him feel “really good” that it wasn’t just black people, but all people, marching.

Darnell Blackburn, of Clinton Township, offered his perspective as a black man and former police officer.

“It really shows that people are not just frustrated and angry, but can come together and come together in a good way, for the most part,” Blackburn said. “Being a former police officer, I’m tired of it. I hate it. I’m frustrated, I’m angry and we need change. This is the time for reform of law enforcement.”

He now runs the “Be the Change” initiative through his business, PRAT LLC Training, in an effort to recruit for better diversity in law enforcement agencies.

He said more black and brown officers tend to gravitate toward cities like Detroit because the force is already diverse, but he said the diversity needs to spread to regions like Macomb County.

“Everybody’s fed up and now we can see it,” he said. “It’s time for systemic change. And this whole race system, it permeates the law enforcement system; it permeates the education system. Everybody sees it and now it’s front and center. … It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

No more ‘judge, jury and executioner’

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said this moment in history is necessary because “there are challenges that need to be addressed.”

Hackel said the week before the protest, people had called and emailed the county regarding worries of business looting, or questioning why the Hall Road corridor would be blocked off.

“We’re thinking, ‘No, no. We’re going to let this happen,’” Hackel said. “It’s happening all over the world. Yes, we’re going to let them come here and be peaceful.”

He said the biggest thing that happened after Floyd’s death was that not only was the officer who killed Floyd held accountable, but so were the three who stood by and observed it.

Hackel, a former sheriff, said there are some examples of a “we must protect our own” mentality that extends from law enforcement agencies to prosecutors, and to judges and unions and arbitrators.

Hackel called it a “wake-up call” for eliminating excessive force.

“It’s unfortunate some believe they can use force to be judge, jury and executioner out on the streets,” he said. “They can’t do that; that’s the judiciary branch. You have no right to do that, and you’re going to be held accountable.”

Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon wasn’t surprised at the crowd size, saying it was a big issue that needs to be addressed.

“They’re here to express their views and we’re here to listen and learn,” Cannon said.