Trische' Duckworth says her role as an organizer of anti-police-brutality protests in Washtenaw County was not something she planned, but something "God-ordained."
The Ypsilanti resident is a social worker and also the founder of Survivors Speak, an organization that aims to give voice to various kinds of survivors. In mid-May, Duckworth was shopping for supplies to make no-contact safe deliveries to local seniors, one of Survivors Speak's COVID-19-related projects. While she was still in the store, she received a call from a friend directing her to a video of a Washtenaw County Sheriff's deputy punching a Black woman, Sha'Teina Grady El, in the head.
Duckworth began posting calls for justice on Facebook, and more and more people came on board, including some of the seniors that Survivors Speak serves.
"I told people this is not a Trische' movement. This is a group of individuals who need to make this happen, a movement of justice, peace, and love under God," she says.
Duckworth is a survivor of sexual violence, and she helps others who have survived trauma and violence through Survivors Speak. She says watching a Black woman being beaten "triggered a lot in women."
"(Sheriff Jerry Clayton) not making a statement saying it's wrong to beat someone like that says to every woman in Washtenaw County that it's okay for that behavior to take place," she says. "We hold legislators and police to a higher standard."
Survivors Speak has since held two protests outside Clayton's office, and one that began on the Diag in Ann Arbor, to protest the local beating and show solidarity with anti-police-brutality protests in Minneapolis. The organization also lent its support to a silent bike ride through downtown Ann Arbor in support of Black lives. Duckworth has strongly emphasized keeping the local protests peaceful, in contrast to protests that have turned violent in other locations. But she doesn't take credit for that, saying it is in God's hands.
Duckworth says she thinks Sheriff Clayton has done well listening to protesters but could do more.
"He understands what police brutality looks like, but he's not willing to say that's what happened in this case," she says. "As a leader, we have to be accountable, and that accountability looks like using our position to bring about change. He can't do it by himself, but he can meet everyone at the table."
Hundreds of people have joined all three protests Duckworth has organized so far, and some estimated turnout for the third at over 1,000.
"All I know is I'm grateful for everyone standing with us," she says. "And there were people who were not able to be there who reached out by email and are donating. It's very inspiring."
While some protest organizers in other cities have questioned whether White people should participate in these protests, Duckworth welcomes anyone who wants to participate. She says White allies are welcome to use their privilege to talk to family, friends, and coworkers, and that they might get better and faster results than a person of color sending the same message.
"I talked to a Republican … and this individual spoke out so strongly against police brutality. In that moment I cried, because somebody saw this is not about Republicans or Democrats but about being a human being and having empathy at being brutalized at the hands of police for over 400 years," she says. "We need White allies to stand up and fight this fight with us."
More importantly, she emphasizes that work toward racial justice needs to happen all the time, not just during a moment of protest. She says that work includes "getting legislation passed and holding police accountable" as well as voting out politicians who aren't listening to their constituents on these topics.
"Let's strategically put our brains together at all times, because you know that's what happens: people get mad and say they want to do something," she says. "Let's train ourselves to be proactive all the way through, find proactive approaches that challenge the rule of White supremacy and racism, and continually fight this fight for justice for all."
The next protest Duckworth is organizing is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday, June 9, at the sheriff's office, 2201 Hogback Rd. in Pittsfield Township. Duckworth says those who can't attend a rally can help in other ways, like sharing information with others, confronting friends who say racist things, or participating in an email campaign aimed at the state attorney general's office.
"We need to show that if we challenge people to stand together, that's where we grow stronger," Duckworth says.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at email@example.com.
Photo courtesy of Survivors Speak.