Detroit POWER and BAMN Revolution joined with supporters June 7 for a peaceful rally in downtown Birmingham’s Shain Park to protest systemic racism.

Detroit POWER and BAMN Revolution joined with supporters June 7 for a peaceful rally in downtown Birmingham’s Shain Park to protest systemic racism.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Local activists, officials speak out against racism

By: Mark Vest, Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published June 8, 2020

 Protesters knelt down and put their hands up at Woodward and Maple to honor victims of police brutality.

Protesters knelt down and put their hands up at Woodward and Maple to honor victims of police brutality.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


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

OAKLAND COUNTY — 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.

Voices in the streets
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.”

On Sunday, Carolyn Watson, of Troy, took her 5-year-old daughter, Leah Watson, to a peaceful protest in downtown Birmingham.

“Leah understands the golden rule, that everyone should treat others the way they want to be treated. She understands that racism is treating others poorly because of their skin color, but she doesn’t understand the depths of systemic racism and history of our country,” said Watson. “And while she may not easily discern a racist in a crowd, she certainly can point out the actions of a bully.”

Explaining to her little one why people were marching was a careful and important talk to have, Watson said.

“Today she asked me why people are saying ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because in her mind, it’s a given that they do. It’s important that we have these conversations little by little, day by day,” she added.

Voices online
The movement isn’t new to the Race Relations and Diversity Task Force, a program sponsored by The Community House in downtown Birmingham. For nearly a quarter of a century, the group has facilitated tough, honest and respectful conversations in communities around southeast Michigan about how racism impacts everything from education to economics to politics — and, hopefully, it has created some solutions.

“Our goal is to always educate people and to encourage those courageous conversations, which this certainly is,” said Marcia Wilkinson, the president of the group’s board of directors. “I think that’s good that we’re starting to have conversations. Institutional racism has been here forever, at least in this country, in one form or another. Many, many people are aware of that. Some are not as aware. Even scarier, there are some who are aware but maybe they support it. There is a fragment that supports racism, and that’s very sad.”

Wilkinson, a white woman, said her African American colleagues on the task force are “very hurt” by the reports of racist attacks that have prompted the current wave of demonstrations. But she said they’re aware it will take voices from all communities to end the cycle of bias and violence.

“These are serious issues for African Americans, particularly African American males. We’re very concerned about the brutality, but also concerned about the white community’s reluctance to get in there and advocate for solutions,” she said. “This is on our shoulders too, as white people. I think it’s good that people are talking, and we can only hope that good things come of this.”

Joy Mosley, 19, of West Bloomfield, who attends Michigan State University, explained that she and four others, including Caitlin Ukpong, 19, of Bloomfield Hills, who attends Howard University, woke up Sunday morning (May 31) and decided they wanted to do a “very peaceful protest in the suburbs.”

Ukpong said they, through their organization, planned to advocate for justice for black people by hosting panels and events and providing resources.

“We will donate, as a group, to the bail fund here and in Minneapolis and provide supplies to people in need,” she said.

They said the group also planned the protest at Shain Park in Birmingham June 7.

“We’re expecting a big turnout,” Mosley said before the event. They were inspired to take action to be “mobilizers and organizers to create change.”

She said the best ways to do that are to speak up on racial injustice, sign petitions, register to vote, donate to black community funds, support black businesses and advocate for Black Lives Matter.

According to its website, Black Lives Matter’s “mission is to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.”

“The younger generation, who are not black, should talk to their parents and older grandparents, help them to understand better and be loving and caring for each other,” Mosley said.

“We honestly want to prove everything we’re doing can be done peacefully,” Ukpong said. “We understand the anger. Black Lives Matter is peaceful. Whether in a city or suburb, we want everyone to be treated as equal. We want to spread the foundation of equality. Have those conversations at home. Call friends out if they are not in support of the movement. All we want is the right thing to be done.”

“I don’t want this movement to be seen as a trend,” Mosley said. “After all the heinous acts are handled, I still want people to fight for Black Lives Matter — dismantle systems that do not support black participation.”

To that end, at their events, the group touts, “a nonpartisan effort to help register young people and get them to the polls on Election Day,” according to their website. For more information on the Black Activist Mobility Network, send email to

Voices from the Capitol
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 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.

… Because one more voice was silenced
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.