Hundreds of people across the Great Lakes Bay Region and the nation have gathered to protest the murder of George Floyd, an African American who was killed while being arrested in Minneapolis on May 25. While protesting his murder, police brutality, and racial injustice, some protests across the nation have turned violent resulting in the injury of both protesters and police officers, as well as damage to businesses by looters; however, protests in the Great Lakes Bay Region have remained largely peaceful.
Here is what went into a few of the local efforts in Mt. Pleasant and Bay City. You can catch coverage of Saginaw’s efforts here.
Protesters, police work together at Mt. Pleasant protests
When Mt. Pleasant Director of Public Safety and Police Chief Paul Lauria heard about plans for the protest on Sunday, May 31, he had had a sergeant reach out to the woman leading it to talk about the best way for the police department to help.
“The woman leading the protest, Grace, said, ‘We want to walk down the sidewalk to the town center.’ I said, ‘Ok, that’s fine, but there are going to be way too many people here to walk down the sidewalk unless you can get every person in row like ducks. How about we take up both lanes of northbound traffic on the main artery through our city, and we make Mt. Pleasant stop for a brief moment to see what we’re doing? How about that?’
She was like, ‘Yeah, I think that’s what we should do,’ and I said, ‘We’ll make it happen.’”
Protestors lie on the ground and chant, “I can’t breathe,” for nine minutes while others document during an event to protest the death of George Floyd and social injustice June 1 outside Isabella County Sheriff’s Office in Mt. Pleasant, MI.
The result of this coordinated effort – talks about the route, how police could assist with blocking traffic, and discussing how to keep everyone safe - was that on Sunday afternoon police and protesters marched side by side and protesters laid face-down on Broadway Street for nine minutes while chanting “I can’t breathe” to represent the death of George Floyd.
A second peaceful protest that started at Central Michigan University’s Bovee Center took place on Monday, June 1; and, once again, organizers worked with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of all involved.
“When we spoke with the police, we made sure they knew it was our intent to be non-violent,” Crosby says. “Violence is never our goal.”
Central Michigan University Chief of Police Larry Klaus says this was an action appreciated by all agencies involved.
“The protests in Mt. Pleasant can serve as an example for communities throughout our state and region,” says Klaus. “The participants were able to express their views, and our community experienced no acts of violence or property destruction.”
Organizer Steven Green throws a vest to John Campbell, who volunteered as a peace moderator for an event to protest the death of George Floyd and social injustice June 1 outside the Bovee University Center in Mt. Pleasant, MI.
John Campbell of Harrison volunteered to be one of the “peace moderators” at Monday evenings protest. As such, his job was to make sure the peaceful protest was not infiltrated by alternative agendas.
“You keep seeing violence and injustice over and over again,” Campbell says. “These protests are about making sure injustice stays out of Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County.”
Many Central Michigan University students attended Monday’s protest. CMU President Robert Davies attended the event and addressed protestors before they marched down Mission Street toward downtown Mount Pleasant.
“This protest is for the students finding their voice and demonstrating their opinions peacefully,” he said at the protest. “Everyone has the opportunity to embrace this moment and think they can make a difference.”
Crosby explains that a physical protest carries a different weight and meaning than people making reading and posting online about a cause, which is one of the many reasons they are important.
“You can see the pain on people’s faces. Maybe all people can’t relate to the same pain that Black Americans have, but they can try to empathize with pain they’ve felt in their life,” says he says. “It’s easy to read online that people are tired, angry, or hurt. When people come out to these protests, they are able to see the tiredness, pain, and tears in people’s faces.”
(From left to right) Gil Melvin, Rondo Sanders and Steven Green march toward downtown Mount Pleasant during an event to protest the death of George Floyd and social injustice June 1 on Mission Street in Mt. Pleasant, MI.
On Monday evening, protesters – accompanied by law enforcement – again marched through town to the Isabella County Sheriff’s Office, and at one point laid on the ground for nine minutes chanting “I can’t breathe”.
Leading up to the protests, Lauria reminded those on his team that a protest - when people are feeling that hurt and pain – is not the time to say local police are different or try changing people’s minds about the police.
“What I told our officers on the day of the protests is, ‘Our actions speak louder than our words today.’ That means: As the police, when you hear things you don’t agree with, a protest is not the day to try to defend your position. It is not the day to try to say, ‘We’re not like that; we’re different.’ What a protest is for is letting people get some of that frustration and anger out,” Lauria says. “Let them be heard, and whatever that is, we need to let them know that we’re here to accommodate everything that is peaceful up until the point it becomes violent or destructive.”
Keeping local protests peaceful has been a coordinated effort, and while Lauria says he’s proud of his department, he says he’s more proud of the protesters and organizers.
“As police officers, we are expected to serve the public in the way that we did,” he says. “I am more proud of every single one of the attendees in how they treated us and how they conducted themselves.”
Trokon Jayqua, right, thanks police officers during a march to protest the death of George Floyd and social injustice June 1 on Mission Street in Mt. Pleasant, MI.
After witnessing the coordination and participation of CMU students, Davies says he has hope for the future and hope that change can happen.
“Real change, powerful change, is possible only when guided by compassionate, dedicated leaders, and we saw that in action at CMU this week,” he says. “While there is hard work yet ahead for our community and our nation, I have no doubt that our future is in capable hands.”
Bay City protests remain peaceful, encourage formation of local advisory council
Organizers of several protests in Bay City said they took care to keep the focus of demonstrations on Black Lives Matter and to discourage violence.
Brandon Schwartz, who organized the first protest in Downtown Bay City on May 29, said he was inspired after seeing news and social media live streams of protests in major cities around the country. He created a Black Lives Matter Bay City Facebook page.
“It just really inspired something inside of me and I’ve never really done anything like it before,” says Schwartz. “I thought that maybe Bay City would be ready for change and we want to voice our opinion on it and try to get the word out for the movement.”
Many of the signs carried by participants in Bay City's protest mentioned George Floyd, the African American man who died May 25 after being restrained by a Minneapolis police officer. Photo credit: Phil Eich, Full Steam Social Media
Schwartz posted an inquiry about holding a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Bay City at about 3:30 a.m. May 29. When he checked the page later that day, he found a number of people expressing interest. Before he could confirm the event, he was getting calls from media outlets.
The organizers of Bay City protests held on May 29, May 30, and June 3 say they have no complaints about the actions of Bay County law enforcement officers. Instead, their concern is with incidents in other parts of the country; but, they do want to encourage local governments to form an advisory council with anti-racism focus.
Jessica Tenney, who also helped organize the Bay City protests, said the advisory council will only be effective if it includes people of all races. “It’s important that we have a lot of white people on that to use their white privilege to dismantle white privilege,” Tenney says. “But I also think it’s important that we involve a lot of people of color so we have knowledge from their perspective.”
The Bay City protests have grown, attracting a few hundred people each time. People carry signs painted with words such as “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Justice for Floyd.” Some demonstrators chant slogans, verbally testify during the events, or post on social media.
The march in Bay City advocated for peace and police reform. Photo credit: Phil Eich, Full Steam Social Media
“Seeing that amount of support from the community was just amazing,” Schwartz says.
The Bay City protests attracted the attention of Saginaw activist and musician William Patrick Hystead. As a mixed-race person, Hystead says he has experienced racism throughout his life. He asked Schwartz if he could speak during the Bay City protests. Schwartz agreed and Hystead spoke to the crowd through a megaphone.
“The message I want to spread is, first and foremost, Black Lives Matter,” Hystead says. “Yes, all lives matter, but right now we’re focused on the black ones.”
Hystead advocates for policy changes that will guarantee equal treatment of minorities in the court system and better economic opportunities. Protests, though, are only the first step. Real change requires action.
“Policy is not written on street corners,” Hystead says. “Take this message back to your State House, back to your representatives, back to your ballot box, back to your college campuses, back to your places of employment, and demand policy change.”
He also asks that everyone get involved. “You can’t be quiet, just don’t be silent,” Hystead says. “I think this one is going to matter. I hope George Floyd’s name goes down in history books.”
Children carried signs questioning their personal safety. Photo credit: Phil Eich, Full Steam Social Media
The local protests have remained largely peaceful. Organizers attribute that to multiple factors, including efforts by the Bay City Department of Public Safety to train officers in de-escalation techniques and for wearing body cameras.
The Bay City protesters invited the Bay City Department of Public Safety to join their demonstrations, but the department declined. Bay City Police Chief Michael Cecchini was not available for comment.
“I don’t think we have the population to speak to the anger and the true devastation of what the issue is,” Tenney adds. “We have a lot of privilege in our area, so we don’t have a lot of the anger. We haven’t been getting beat down over and over and over again.”
Both Tenney and Schwartz encouraged people to speak out against racism in every form. They also are seeking people to help organize a Black Lives Matter Advisory Council.
“We need to get all of the protest organizers for the Tri-Cities and just really try to join forces and bring the movements together,” Tenney adds. “I’m more than happy to take the reins and try and get something together. And the amount of involvement people have had has been amazing.”
While more protests may be planned, Schwartz emphasizes he wants to maintain peace. “Our city has gone through such a change in the last 5 to 10 years with the downtown area especially where we were protesting. It would just be a setback in our city’s economic growth.”