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 Thousands of peaceful protesters in the June 6 March for Justice in Ferndale gather to voice their disgust with the killing of George Floyd and other black Americans in racial violence.

Thousands of peaceful protesters in the June 6 March for Justice in Ferndale gather to voice their disgust with the killing of George Floyd and other black Americans in racial violence.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Thousands in downtown Ferndale protest killings of black Americans

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 8, 2020

 A man in Ferndale’s March for Justice holds up a sign reading, “I am a black man who fought for this country as a soldier. And as a Veteran in this country, I’m fighting for my life.”

A man in Ferndale’s March for Justice holds up a sign reading, “I am a black man who fought for this country as a soldier. And as a Veteran in this country, I’m fighting for my life.”

Photo by Deb Jacques

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FERNDALE — “George Floyd.” “Breonna Taylor.” “I can’t breathe.” “No justice, no peace.” “Black Lives Matter.”

Those were just a few of the names and chants heard as thousands of people made their way down Nine Mile Road from City Hall to Geary Park June 6 to protest the racial violence and police brutality done to African Americans.

The peaceful “March for Justice” protest was in response to incidents of racial violence, including several in recent months: the May 25 killing of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a white Minneapolis Police Department officer, Derek Chauvin; the March 13 killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers; and the Feb. 23 killing of Ahmaud Arbery by two white men in Georgia; as well as other acts of violence against black people in the United States.

The march was organized by six local young adults: Kyra Newman, Kendall Grayson, Mya Riccardi, Nolan Handyside, Alex Lawrence and Rebecca Phoenix. Newman told C & G Newspapers that seeing all the people come together to protest was “overwhelming.”

“It was such a surreal feeling, because I’ve never felt more empowered than I did seeing the thousands of community members who were showing their unwavering support for this movement and the justice for black Americans,” she said.

Once the protest and its thousands of marchers arrived at Geary Park, they stayed to hear speeches from local politicians, youths and a professor of African American studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, Angela Flounory.

Flounory, of Detroit, said that now is the time to talk about the racial divide of Eight Mile Road.

“Eight Mile exists as a physical dividing, as an actual psychological and cultural boundary,” she said. “It embodies a divisive and racist legacy, and you can look at the Dream Cruise every year as a perfect symbol of Eight Mile’s racial dividing legacy.”

Flounory also stated that Ferndale, at times during her last 10 years as a resident in Detroit, has displayed elements of what was known as being a “sundown town.”

A sundown town was a municipality or neighborhood that aimed through laws or violence to keep black people out of their cities, or keep them from entering “after dark.”

Today, Flounory said, the sundown town sentiment is a salient issue and is subtly enforced when one considers the way in which black drivers are racially profiled on the Eight Mile corridor, and that there have been times she drove in fear down the road as she tried to navigate safely through police, who she said “seem to prey on Detroit drivers.”

“For years, I have watched the frustration as Ferndale police officers racially profile drivers on the eastbound side of Eight Mile. … In 2017 and 2018, 66% of the traffic violations issued by Ferndale police were to African American drivers, but we got to look at the demographics of Ferndale, which is only 87% if we look at the white population and 6.9% if we look at the black population. … There is more to this than a racist legacy,” she said. “It is a twisted use of policies that carry out racism and inequality when what we need is equity.”

Flounory continued, “Because of socioeconomic discrepancies, when black people are policed and fines are at higher rates, this causes a destructive downward spiral for us. It leads to warrants, unpaid tickets and then arrests for nonviolent offenses.”

The talk of the Eight Mile divide grabbed the attention of the first black woman on the Ferndale City Council, Raylon Leaks-May, who told Flounory the city is going to address that problem.

The councilwoman went on to tell the crowd, “I can’t tell you what it means to me, because you having our back and us working together, I know we’re going to be influential as far as the changes we can make. … I’m just so proud. It fills my heart to see you all here standing with us today.”

Leaks-May said that black people have always had to deal with certain stigmas, such as being strong or not experiencing pain or being treated like second-class citizens because they can handle it. It’s a perception, she said, that people have put on them from years and years past.

“We’re at the point today where we’re not looked upon as people, but as objects or as animals that have to tolerate things, like getting a knee stuck in our necks until we can’t breathe and then we die,” she said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Leaks-May put out a charge to the thousands in attendance that she wants people to change their perception of others. Whether it’s seeing somebody “shady” on the street and thinking they’re a problem, but really they could be a person in need, or, for people in the medical field, that black women aren’t “superhuman” and need the same care as everybody, she wanted everyone to change their perceptions.

“If you change it, one by one, if you see someone, change the way you perceive them,” she said. “It has gone on for years and years and years, and it has to stop because if one by one — I’m looking at this group — if we change it, the way in which black and brown people are treated will change, but we need you. We need people who are not black and brown to come in and stand up, because we have to work at this together.”

Mayor Melanie Piana also addressed the Eight Mile divide, adding her hatred for the “intrusive” Eight Mile-Woodward Avenue bridge that separates Detroit and Ferndale, and hopes it comes down in her lifetime.

Piana announced to the crowd that the City Council would adopt a declaration of commitment to be an anti-racist city at the council’s next meeting June 8, which occurred after press time.

The mayor said that passing the declaration is a “start to say that we are going to be taking a look at our policies and practices in a more meaningful, thoughtful way than we have before.”

“I am committed to doing this work, and so is City Council, and so is our city staff,” she said.

Piana also said she has heard from the black community and Detroiters about bad experiences coming into Ferndale, and was “heartbroken” to hear it. While she said she can’t change the past, she promised to use her power as mayor to change where Ferndale is going.

On the topic of police reform, Piana highlighted the Police Department’s adoption of former President Barack Obama’s 21st Century Policing and its pillars. She said they’ve been working to put these reforms in place, referring to them as a “continuum.”

“It is a work in progress,” she said. “There is no ‘there, there’ with the process, that one day I’m not gonna say, ‘It’s all done. We can applaud ourselves and walk home.’ That ain’t gonna happen.”

At the end of the speeches, Newman addressed the crowd with a speech hoping that those in attendance would be an ally all of the time and not just because it’s a trend. She also called for people to vote corrupt politicians out of office to get the justice they deserve.

“Especially the person who is supposed to be the President of the United States,” she told the Talk. “He is encouraging white supremacists to act upon malicious thoughts and feelings and not holding anyone accountable, and it’s time for this to end. We can’t handle another four years of what we’re going through, because the last week has felt like a decade.”

Newman also wants people to take a step to educate themselves on the hardships black Americans go through every day and to get involved in politics as much as they can.

“Obviously, politics aren’t everyone’s thing, but if you don’t know who your current policymakers are and what the laws are and what you can and cannot do, then you’re gonna be blindsided and not be able to stand up for yourself or for your fellow humans, and stand up for what’s right.”

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