George Floyd would like what's happening in Kalamazoo, his friends said Saturday.
He would like seeing people come together to push for change said longtime friend and former NBA basketball player Stephen Jackson.
“I’m putting my life behind this, for every race, for every soul out here,” Jackson told a few hundred people who gathered Saturday afternoon in Bronson Park in downtown Kalamazoo for the “Let Your Voice Be Heard” rally and march.
“Going to Minnesota when my brother was first murdered, what they didn’t know was he had an Indiana brother who was in the NBA who has one of the biggest podcasts in the world (and) that he was going to use his voice in the right way,” said Jackson, who met Floyd when they were youngsters in Texas and considered him a brother. “They didn’t know that. They didn’t expect that. They thought it would just be another murder that they swept under the rug. But it’s a new day. It’s a new day.”
Jackson, who was accompanied on his visit to Kalamazoo by another close friend of Floyd, Milton “Po Boy” Carney, said he has embraced the idea of speaking up for people who have little or no voice in the fight to end police brutality. And he is an ongoing spokesman for people learning to love one another.
He said that following Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, he met the mothers of at least 10 other homicide victims “with no Stephen Jackson to speak up for their kids, who were murdered by police. All I could see … was their pain and their tears. I’m not superman but I feel it’s my duty to be their voice. I feel it’s my duty to be a voice for the ones who don’t have a Stephen Jackson to speak up for them. It’s my job to try to ease their pain. It’s my job to try to bring attention to what they’ve been through, what their sons have been through, to try to help them get justice. So I’m embracing change. I’m embracing this position.”
Jackson has worked as a sports analyst for various television programs and is presently the co-host of a digital video podcast with fellow former NBA player Matt Barnes called “All the Smoke.”
Carney talked about the helplessness, confusion, and anger he felt when he saw a video of the incident involving Floyd, with whom he lived for a short time in Houston and considered a brother. Carney said he is pushing for change now because he hadn’t in the past. For the many unarmed black and brown men killed in previous police incidents, he said, “I kept on about my business. I prayed for their families. But I didn’t do nothing else. And then I woke up one morning, and it was my family. It was my brother that just got killed.”
Saturday’s rally continued what has been a widespread call for changes in policing and police tactics. Protests and demonstrations against police brutality followed the airing of a bystander’s video of a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes as Floyd and other onlookers pleaded unsuccessfully for him to stop. “I can’t breathe” was among the last things Floyd said. It is a statement that was repeated on T-shirts and posters during the rally and in chants by marchers here and elsewhere.
Among other things, the rally also heard calls for people to organize, vote, defund the police, and push for better education for youngsters. The rally, which strived to recognize social-distancing measures, started at 2 p.m. in Bronson Park and included a march along area streets, before returning to the park. It was organized and led by Corianna McDowell, a 37-year-old Kalamazoo mother of two, who said she wanted the event to inspire young people to know “that it’s OK to get up in front of the world and tell them exactly how you feel about topics that most people cannot address or are afraid to address.”
Youngsters from Maple Street Magnet School for the Arts were on stage and helped with the event. Kalamazoo City Commissioner Eric Cunningham helped make announcements, and Kalamazoo County Commissioner Stephanie Moore was among the speakers.
Jackson and Carney became the featured speakers for the event after they became acquainted with McDowell online. McDowell had tagged posts about them on social media and asked them to consider speaking in Kalamazoo if they were ever in the area. They took her up on the idea.
Jackson said leaders are worried about developing places, buildings, and structures rather than people.
“You can’t do that,” he said. “It don’t work like that. You have to develop the people.”
When society fails to help people and “you’re not treating them right and they’re in an undeveloped state – they’re going to tear everything you developed down because you’re not treating them right. And you shouldn’t expect nothing different.”
In the meantime, he suggested that people should love one another.
“Love for all who have love for all," he said. "It’s that simple. And if you don’t love everybody, if you don’t want to treat everybody like you want to be treated, you shouldn’t be here.
Photos by Mario Jaurell Photography