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 Protest organizers Derrick “Dex” Roman, of Rochester Hills, (center) and Sean Nyman, of Rochester Hills, holding the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign, lead a peaceful protest June 6 in Rochester to fight against systemic racial injustice.

Protest organizers Derrick “Dex” Roman, of Rochester Hills, (center) and Sean Nyman, of Rochester Hills, holding the “BLACK LIVES MATTER” sign, lead a peaceful protest June 6 in Rochester to fight against systemic racial injustice.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Rochester community marches together against systemic racism

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published June 9, 2020

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ROCHESTER — People throughout Michigan and across the country are taking to the streets to fight for racial justice in the wake of the death of George Floyd.

Floyd — a black resident of Minneapolis who had been arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill — died May 25 after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over eight minutes, ignoring Floyd’s pleas for air.

Floyd’s death, which was captured on video, sparked protests in cities across the U.S., including the Rochester area.


‘Which side of history will you walk on’
On June 6, Rochester Hills residents Sean Nyman and Derrick “Dex” Roman, 23, hosted a peaceful protest in Rochester that they said “came together in a matter of days,” gaining traction on social media.

Roman, who is black, and Nyman, who is white, had only met virtually just six days before the demonstration.

“The reason why me and Sean started this event is very simple: It’s because we can no longer stand idly while innocent black people are being murdered and the murderers are not being held accountable,” Roman explained.

Roman said Nyman is “a true example of an ally.”

“I saw he had an event in Rochester Hills with four attendees because he cared, and in these last six days he has done nothing but amplify my voice,” Roman explained.

Close to 600 people of all ages and races showed up the morning of the event to appeal for an end to racism, inequality, brutality and fear in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I just want to start by saying I am overjoyed,” Roman said as he addressed the crowd from a megaphone. “I’m overwhelmed with the amount of support that this event has gotten. You guys give me hope.”

Before taking to the streets, Roman shared an important message that was powerful, emotional and clear: It is no longer acceptable to remain silent and neutral in the fight against racial injustice.

“Far too many times, people who I call my brothers, people who are like family to me, are silent when my life is in danger, when the lives of innocent black people are in danger, and to those people, I just want to say, your silence is deafening and it breaks my heart,” he shared with the protesters. “We can no longer continue to be silent because we’re uncomfortable, because it’s an awkward topic. … We’re all expected to function and coexist as a society, but we literally can never have that happen when there is a group of people who have knees literally and metaphorically pressed against their necks.”

Roman said it’s not enough to just not be racist in this fight for justice.

“We have to be so anti-racist that it makes our blood boil,” he shouted to the crowd. “This is not a matter of white versus black. It’s not a matter of Republican versus Democrat. This is right versus wrong. So what side of history will you walk on?”


Marching in solidarity
Protesters took to the streets with signs like “Liberty and Justice for ALL,” and “I SEE you, I HEAR you, I STAND with you,” to name a few, and chanted “Black Lives Matter” in solidarity as they marched down University from the Rochester Hills Public Library to the Rochester Police Department — where they knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the same time the officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck — then on to Rochester Municipal Park and back.

Among them was Brionna Taylor, of Oak Park, her 3-year-old son Riley, and her mother, Karlzella Taylor, who wore shirts with the message “Love = Unity.”

Brionna Taylor said she learned about the protest from her father, Merlin Taylor, who is a detective with the Rochester Police Department.

“It’s ridiculous that we’re here in 2020 trying to protest for Black Lives Matter. There should have been no reason that George Floyd died in the hands of officers, who we look to to protect us,” she said. “The looting is just wrong. I believe that we can make a difference with peaceful protests, and I feel that a change needs to happen immediately.”

Brionna Taylor encouraged members of the community to get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement by educating themselves on systemic racial injustice.

“Read about what’s going on, be a part of the movement,” she said. “Black lives matter, always.”

Olivia White, 15, of Rochester, and her mother, Sarah, also marched in solidarity. Olivia White held a homemade sign with a fist that said, “I stand with you.”

“This is my first protest, and I decided to come out because I feel like it’s an important movement and I wanted to show my support,” Olivia White said.

The 15-year-old said that what’s happening across the country is “scary,” but she’s glad that people are “banding together and standing up for what’s right and what should change.”

Sarah White said she’s proud her daughter wanted to get involved with the protest and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I’m a former social studies teacher, so I’m all about civil rights and civil actions. I’m happy that she’s aware of what’s going on and wants to support something and take action. I think that’s really important in a democracy,” she said.

 

‘It stains our profession’
Rochester police officers marched with the crowd June 6 and assured that demonstrators stayed safe.

Rochester Police Chief Steve Schettenhelm said there were no issues with the protest June 6 or the oth- ers held on June 4 and June 7.

“Things went very smooth. There were no problems. No issues whatsoever,” he said.

Roman said that just because protesters gathered peacefully, it doesn’t mean they’re not fighting.

“We’re fighting for our lives. We’re fighting for our right to survive,” he said. “We can no longer stand around idly as our black brothers and sisters are slaughtered by people who were sworn to protect and serve us. We have to hold our political leaders accountable. We have to hold the police accountable, we have to educate ourselves on the history of racial injustice and systemic racism in this country … and we have to vote.”

Schettenhelm said there is no excuse for the behavior of the officers in Minneapolis.

“That can’t be justified, so I think whenever that type of activity comes to light, it is certainly understandable for people to be upset about it. We’re upset about it. It stains our profession. It’s not acceptable,” he said.

Schettenhelm said there is no place for violence and police brutality in the Rochester Police Department.

“From the moment of hiring officers all the way through their career, (we) instill in them the standards that we have here at the department to do our job well and to be fair and equitable to all the people that we encounter on a daily basis. People have to have trust in their police department, and it’s our job to make them comfortable that they can have trust in us,” he said.


‘Resources the community can trust’
Rochester Hills Public Library Director Juliane Morian said the library’s team of librarians has curated a list of resources its patrons can use to educate themselves about black history, systemic racial injustice and more.

“Providing resources to inform is one of the pillars of our mission statement. During current events, individuals are inclined to turn to social media for information, which may or may not be researched. The library provides professionally curated resources to help the community explore topics and events dominating the news cycle. These are resources the community can trust,” she said.

The list of resources, which include items for both children and adults, can be found at rhpl.org/use-the-library/news-events.

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