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 Organizers lead a protest with chants including “No Justice, No Peace,” “Say his name — George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” in Troy June 1.

Organizers lead a protest with chants including “No Justice, No Peace,” “Say his name — George Floyd” and “Black Lives Matter” in Troy June 1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Local activists, officials speak out against racism

By: Mark Vest, Tiffany Esshaki | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published June 4, 2020

 The protest march heads east on Big Beaver Road to the Troy Civic Center in Troy June 1.

The protest march heads east on Big Beaver Road to the Troy Civic Center in Troy June 1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WEST BLOOMFIELD — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

As we’ve seen across the country in massive protests, people are ready to turn up the volume against systemic racial injustice.

The death of George Floyd — a black resident in Minneapolis who died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, disregarding Floyd’s cries of “I can’t breathe,” during an arrest May 25 — only heightened anger and sadness that has existed for generations over racism and criminal justice inequality.

Just over 700 miles away, frustrated people around metro Detroit are doing what they can locally to demand change. From marches and sit-ins to artwork and social media movements, the presence has been hard to miss.

A protest was set to take place in West Bloomfield June 5, after press time. West Bloomfield Deputy Chief Curt Lawson shared comments via a telecast on Civic Center TV prior to the protest.

Lawson said both he and Police Chief Michael Patton were saddened by what happened to Floyd.

“We work so very hard here (in) West Bloomfield with our team to create what we’ve created, and it really undermines us,” Lawson said. “I have walked around this Police Department and talked to all of our young officers, our men and women, and we’re all on the same page. They’re horrified by the incident that happened to Mr. Floyd, and it never has been, never will be accepted here, any sort of racial profiling, any sort of excessive force. Certainly if that did occur here, we would deal with it swiftly and that person would no longer work here.”

Patton said he supports people’s right to protest, but he said there is a “requirement” to the exercising of those rights.

“This is an incident in which I doubt there is any debate regarding the wrongfulness of the actions that prompted this national outrage,” Patton said. “However, the way some of the people have been expressing their outrage is wrong, and it’s criminally wrong,” he said of protests that occurred elsewhere. “There’s a unified voice in this country right now regarding the inappropriateness and the criminal wrongfulness of what those officers did. We need to be united and express one voice about the criminal wrongfulness of what we are seeing going on in far too many locations in the United States.”

Troy resident Summer March, 25, of Power Detroit, said she feels it is important to bring protests to the suburbs outside Detroit, where she said many black people experience racism firsthand. Her organization’s mission is to combat police brutality and racial injustice by working directly with law enforcement.

“Our organization didn’t pop up because of George Floyd,” March said. “We feel like we’re more so angry because George Floyd’s death didn’t have to happen, because we’ve experienced this type of stuff before.”

She said Power Detroit works largely with the Detroit and Southfield police departments to implement policies. Chauvin had at least 17 misconduct complaints filed against him.

“If people are complaining, it’s for a reason. Check into those officers,” March said. “What we’ve seen now is people are going to Detroit protesting, but they don’t even live in the city, and at night, they begin to almost sort of attack police officers, and that’s not what we’re about. They’re making it worse for the people who actually live in the city.”

Lakeesha Morrison, of Royal Oak, helped organize a May 31 protest in Royal Oak, which she estimated attracted 100-125 protesters.

Morrison said her immediate family, descended from ex-slaves Elizabeth and Henry Hamer, who settled in Royal Oak and worked for the Starr family, experienced police brutality firsthand in 2002, and she wanted to take a stand.

“It hurts my heart to see that continue inside of our community,” she said. “We want to get everyone out and fight for what is right and just to know there is a community behind us. We should not be policing the police.”

While protests in Oakland County have all been peaceful, violence has broken out at other protests around the country. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission, an arm of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, released a statement last week denouncing violent protestors using the current movement to feed their own chaotic agenda and said they’ll fight with those who use the very system that is broken to reform it.

“Not only must we demonstrate in the streets, we must demonstrate better respect for life. We must demonstrate in places such as courtrooms by serving on juries to fulfill our civic duty. We must demonstrate at the polls by exercising our right to vote. These are the actions needed to redress institutionalized racism, eradicate systemic disparities and provide for better treatment of people of color,” Stacie Clayton, the chair of the MCRC, said in a press release. “I pray that the fight to end inequity and discrimination based on a person’s religion, race, color, sex, age or national origin continues long after the last protest has ended.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist responded to protests last week with plans for police reform through increased diversity training and de-escalation techniques in law enforcement agencies.

“Here in Michigan, we are taking action and working together to address the inequities Black Michiganders face every day. That’s why I’m calling on Michigan police departments to strengthen their training and policies to save lives and keep people safe. I am also ready to partner with the Michigan Legislature and law enforcement officials to pass police reform bills into law,” Whitmer said in a prepared statement.

She added her support for a potential “duty to intervene” policy for sworn officers of the law, requiring them to step in if they see a fellow officer using implicit bias or unnecessary force.

“We recognize the shortcomings of the systems in place today — systems that have left Black, Latino and other communities of color feeling underserved, even threatened by law enforcement,” Gilchrist added in the statement. “People across Michigan have been calling for changes to police practices, and these actions are clear steps in the direction of needed reform. We are not done, and we strongly encourage cities and counties to adopt and enact local measures that build trust, accountability and a comprehensive, nondiscriminatory experience of safety for everyone in our state.”

West Bloomfield Supervisor Steven Kaplan said the township favors all forms of peaceful protest, but he did share a concern.

“The difficulty with these marches, rallies, protests, demonstrations, is that an outsider not part of the protesting group can arrive and wreak havoc, cause mayhem,” Kaplan said.

Floyd had been arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 in a purchase. Chauvin was eventually arrested and charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. On June 3, three other officers involved in Floyd’s arrest were charged with aiding and abetting murder.

Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik contributed to this report.