Protesters march on Jefferson Avenue toward Wahby Park June 12.

Protesters march on Jefferson Avenue toward Wahby Park June 12.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Residents march in solidarity with Black Lives Matter movement

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published June 12, 2020

 Wes Porter, of St. Clair Shores, speaks about his experiences as a black man dealing with police.

Wes Porter, of St. Clair Shores, speaks about his experiences as a black man dealing with police.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Gino Maniaci, of St. Clair Shores, holds a sign at a Black Lives Matter protest and march that began at the St. Clair Shores Police Department June 12.

Gino Maniaci, of St. Clair Shores, holds a sign at a Black Lives Matter protest and march that began at the St. Clair Shores Police Department June 12.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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“This has to continue. This life that I live ... this doesn’t go away, it doesn’t wash off.”

Wes Porter,

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Jordan Hill has lived in St. Clair Shores his entire life.

Hill, 20, acknowledges that the city is not very diverse, but he said he has seen some growth in diversity and acceptance, especially among the younger generation.

That’s why the cross-country runner was surprised when he was stopped by a local woman one morning as he ran.

“A lady came out and asked me what I was doing in her neighborhood. I’ve lived here my entire life!” said Hill, who is black, as he stood outside the St. Clair Shores Police Department June 12 as part of a protest to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Holding a sign that read, “my black son is not a threat,” Shelby Wilder said she fears for the safety of her husband and 4-year-old.

“I fear especially for my son as we continue to live here, what it will look like for him as he grows up,” Wilder, a black woman, said. “African Americans, we’re not a threat and our lives do matter. I felt I needed to be here for his sake.”

The protest and march began at the St. Clair Shores Police Department and made its way down Jefferson Avenue to Wahby Park. Once there, participants knelt for 8 minutes, 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd and other victims of police brutality.

It was organized by Evan Hazlett, of Chicago, who grew up in St. Clair Shores and graduated from Lake Shore High School; Brandon Oberdorf, of St. Clair Shores; and Andraya Lane, of Detroit, who also grew up in the community and graduated from Lake Shore High School.

Hazlett, who is white, told the approximately 100 people who turned out for the event that St. Clair Shores has a racist history as one of the communities that white residents fled to from Detroit after the racial unrest of the 1960s. The protest, he said, was an effort to stand in solidarity with people of color.

“It’s up to us to better our communities,” he said. “Use your voice to better St. Clair Shores, to stand up, (and) that black lives matter.”

Oberdorf, who is white and gay, began marching around the city with a sign promoting Black Lives Matter at the beginning of June. He said he couldn’t believe the animosity that he was met with in his own community. He was called derogatory names, was told to get a job and was even cursed at, but then, “an African American woman came up to me and asked me for a hug and said, ‘thank you.’”

That, he said, is why he wanted to be a part of bringing a bigger conversation about race and diversity to the city.

St. Clair Shores has grown in diversity as he has grown up, he said, but “it’s still important that we’re doing it.”

“Our goal is to have conversations. I wanted to call out white privilege,” he said.

Before the march began, several people spoke about their experiences as black people in metro Detroit.

Allanah Morales, a 2017 graduate of Lake Shore High School, said that being a black woman in America means watching black men be incarcerated for “petty crimes” like the possession of marijuana while their white counterparts profit from its sale. Black men, she said, are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white men. Mapping Police Violence confirms that national statistic, and also states that black people are 1.3 times more likely than white people to be killed by police while unarmed.

Morales said that racism isn’t just an issue that affects black people. She exhorted the majority of the crowd that was white to continue to fight for equal rights for all people.

“Don’t go back to your life of privilege and leave the fight to people of color,” she said.

Wes Porter, of St. Clair Shores, didn’t have a prepared statement. Instead, he tried to help those in attendance understand what it was like to grow up black.

When he was 14 years old at a high school football game with two friends — one black and one white — he said that they saw a fight brewing and knew they should leave the area before police arrived. They couldn’t get out fast enough, though, and he remembers being grabbed roughly by a police officer who asked him what he was doing.

The officer squeezed him harder and harder, Porter recalled, and Porter repeatedly asked him if he would let go. The officer threw him out of the field over the turnstile. His black friend was slapped when he was confronted by the officer.

His white friend, Porter said, was left alone and was able to plead with the officer to let the three go.

Porter said he and his friends have been pulled over many other times while driving and have been made to get out while police search the car because they were near a “known drug house” or driving along a major highway that was a “known drug trafficking route.”

Every time there are protests against police brutality, Porter said, he keeps expecting things to change, but they don’t. He told the crowd in St. Clair Shores that he believes this time could be different.

http://change.org/p/mayor-city-council-sign-and-support-the-city-of-st-clair-shores-honor-celebrate-martin-luther-king-day“The difference is, there’s 100 white people here protesting,” he said. “This has to continue. This life that I live ... this doesn’t go away, it doesn’t wash off.”

The protestors included participants as young as 3 years old. Lisa Perdue, of St. Clair Shores, said that she brought her children to the march for one simple reason: They asked to come.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Amalia, said she wanted to come because “some of our friends are black, so I wanted to support them.”

While the protest was mostly peaceful, with participants chanting, “Black Lives Matter,” and “say their names” — referring to Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and other victims of police brutality — a counter protester began arguing with the crowd that “all lives matter.” Most of the vehicular traffic passing the march honked in solidarity, but some yelled expletives at the crowd, gave them the “thumbs down” sign and told them to get out of the road.

The counter-protester, Eli Britt, of St. Clair Shores, said that he believes that the Black Lives Matter movement is a political arm for the Democratic National Party and that money raised has been donated to support Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in their presidential bids.

Britt also claimed that more white people were killed by the police in 2019 than black people.

According to Mapping Police Violence, however, police killed 1,098 people in 2019, 24% of whom were black, while black people make up only 13% of the country’s population.

In St. Clair Shores, Police Chief Todd Woodcox said that all St. Clair Shores police officers receive ethnic diversity training on a regular basis as part of their regular training.

“In our work, we provide service to people of various backgrounds. Our officers need to be in tune to that and know how to interact,” he said.

Woodcox said that no police procedures have changed in St. Clair Shores in the wake of the protests against police violence sweeping the country, but that everything is under review. He said that St. Clair Shores is already in compliance with legislation recently approved by the state Senate that would mandate anti-bias training, de-escalation training, and ongoing mental health services for police officers.

“Chokeholds are not permitted unless it’s a life and death circumstance,” he said.

Organizers worked with St. Clair Shores police to make sure the event was planned for and peaceful, and Woodcox said he appreciated their efforts.

St. Clair Shores police provided an escort for the march in the right lane of Jefferson Avenue from the police station to Wahby Park and back to make sure that the protesters were safe.

“This is exactly what protests should look like,” Woodcox said. “I’m going to do everything I can to support people’s rights to exercise their first amendment rights and all their other rights.”

The organizers of the march also want the city of St. Clair Shores to officially recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Currently, the city is open and the City Council has meetings on that day, but a petition posted to the Facebook event from change.org is requesting the city to honor and celebrate the day. To sign the petition, visit change.org/p/mayor-city-council-sign-and-support-the-city-of-st-clair-shores-honor-celebrate-martin-luther-king-day.

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