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 Hundreds protest the death of George Floyd along Big Beaver and Coolidge Highway in Troy the evening of June 1.

Hundreds protest the death of George Floyd along Big Beaver and Coolidge Highway in Troy the evening of June 1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Local activists, officials speak out against racism

By: Mark Vest, Tiffany Esshaki | Southfield Sun | Published June 9, 2020

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

METRO DETROIT— 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 moreso 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.”

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.

“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, a member of the Black Activist Mobility Network. “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 studentsvote.org, “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 BAMN, send an email to BAMNrevolution@gmail.com.

 

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 Protest from page 7A systemic disparities and provide for better treatment of people of color,” said Stacie Clayton, the chair of the MCRC, 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.

“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.”

 

… 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 Writers Sarah Wojcik and Terry Oparka contributed to this report.