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 Protesters stand outside the Township Hall in Shelby Township on Van Dyke Avenue June 24.

Protesters stand outside the Township Hall in Shelby Township on Van Dyke Avenue June 24.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Protests continue in Shelby Township

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 7, 2020

 People opposed to the protest June 24 displayed this sign on the other side of the street.

People opposed to the protest June 24 displayed this sign on the other side of the street.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 A woman holds a sign during the protest.

A woman holds a sign during the protest.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Tensions are high in Shelby Township as protests have been occurring often.

The protests began last month after the Shelby Township police chief, Robert Shelide, was put on paid administrative leave after the discovery of concerning social media posts connected to him.

Shelide had a personal Twitter account where he posted inflammatory statements regarding the civil unrest around the country following the death of George Floyd. The Township Board of Trustees voted 5-2 June 16 to suspend Shelide without pay for 30 days and order him to have cultural and sensitivity training within 60 days.

Not long after, township trustee John Vermeulen allegedly made a post on one of his personal social media accounts that people found offensive, too. He later allegedly deleted it.

Neither Shelide nor Vermeulen responded to calls for comment for this story.

Since then, protests have been taking place in Shelby Township, including one June 24 and more recently one that involved blocking off the road outside the municipal campus. The protests also have drawn people who support the police in general, and there have been some disagreements. Some disagreements even became physical.

There are residents who are glad the protests are occurring and others who do not support them.

Mark Cowan Jr., of Shelby Township, said he was not able to make it to the protest June 24, but he has gone to some of the other recent protests and said he is happy that people are taking a stand to stop racial injustice in Shelby Township.

“I didn’t make it out to that date, but have been to a few of the protests in the last month or so. I am happy that people are showing up for racial justice in our community. We need to do more of this work as white people and continue doing it even after this moment passes out of the news cycle,” he said.

He said he thinks Shelide should be fired.

“As a public servant in charge of the police force, he should be held to a higher standard, and his comments were violent and racist. The same goes for Vermeulen. These two officials can’t be trusted to serve and represent the community. It has nothing to do with ‘cancel culture’ and everything to do with basic respect, standards and accountability,” said Cowan.

Justin Mann, who has lived in Shelby Township for 18 years, said he has been pleasantly surprised at how much support the protesters have been getting.

“I was at the protest on the 24th as well as several before it. We have had people pull over to give us food and water, talk, ask questions on why we are protesting, and even set aside their time to protest with us,” he said.

He said that, as an African American resident, he has experienced racism in the community.

“I believe these protests have been very effective at bringing out the racism we’ve experienced out and into the spotlight for more people to see. Places with smaller populations and low diversity like Shelby Township are the areas where protests like these need to happen. People who live here tend to turn a blind eye and ignore racial problems because of the lack of diversity here. I believe that people didn’t expect us to keep protesting this long,” he said.

He believes that leaders in Shelby Township thought the suspension of Shelide would bring about the end of the uproar.

“I believe the reason they only gave him a 30-day leave was because they expected us to flame out by then and stop protesting. So I believe now more than ever that we must keep showing up and bringing more numbers to remind everyone around here that there is racial injustice even in the small quiet town of Shelby Township and that we refuse to let it continue to go on,” he said.

He said these protests have not only gotten the attention of local residents, but also national and international media coverage, and the longer they have protested, the more local racism they have been able to expose.

“I’m excited to see what comes out of this in the future, and I hope that change for the better will come to the community for it,” said Mann.

Matt Etkie, of Shelby Township, said he did not attend the protests, but he said he has a different view on the topic.

“I saw them protesting, and I am very pro-police. I do not like that the entire police force is vilified by the actions of the few. They shouldn’t be posting, but people make dumb mistakes. Like I said, I support law enforcement. The suspension without pay should be it,” he said.

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