Nearly a year after the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, more than 100 protestors united Saturday afternoon to honor Floyd’s death at Glencoe Crossing in Ann Arbor. The event, organized by Value Black Lives and Survivors Speak, drew families and locals to either listen or share stories about the impact of police brutality on their lives and injustice that continues to ensue upon people of color.
Floyd was killed in May 2020 when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds while other officers were present. The murder sparked national outrage and initiated a racial reckoning over the summer when cities across the country protested against police brutality and called for racial justice and systemic change.
Following the death of Floyd, the Minneapolis Police Department fired Chauvin, and he was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The conviction of Chauvin began on March 8 and is currently underway. A decision is expected within the coming weeks.
Trische’ Duckworth, Survivors Speak founder and executive director, was one of the organizers of the protest. Since last May, Duckworth has been an active voice in the community, leading a plethora of other marches and rallies calling out police brutality and racial injustice. Duckworth opened the protest by also paying tribute to Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by Minnesota police after being pulled over for expired registration and an air freshener dangling from his mirror.
“How many know we’re in a racial pandemic as well?” Duckworth told the crowd. “Not being here, not raising awareness, just wouldn’t be right because our Black blood is continuing to be spattered on the streets by police.”
Other local groups also joined community members on the march, including Boober Tours, Street Medicine, Southeast Michigan Street Medics, the Bike Alliance of Washtenaw County and Detroit Black Syndicate Motorcycle Chapter.
“Understand this: We want reparations,” Duckworth said. “For everyone that thinks, ‘Well, I had nothing to do with that,’ it’s OK. You didn’t have anything to do with it, that’s fine, but I wasn’t a slave and I’m still fighting because we are in bondage.”
Protestors in attendance were instructed to practice social distancing and follow COVID-19 precautions during the event. After introductions from Duckworth, the crowd marched to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office, where multiple guest speakers shared their personal stories of police brutality with the crowd.
Along the way, chants like “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Get back, get back, we want freedom, freedom!” rang throughout the streets.
Protester Spidey Dee was one of the many members of the Black Syndicate Motorcycle Chapter who led the marchers on their motorcycles. When asked why he thought the rally was important, Dee told The Michigan Daily he felt frustrated by the repeated acts of police violence against Black people.
“We’re standing up for justice for Black people and things going on in the world besides just this pandemic,” Dee said. “I’m here to stop the police from doing what they’re doing to our Black people in the youth and young people.”
Ypsilanti residents Sha’Teina Grady El and her husband Daniyal Grady El also spoke to the crowd to share their experience with police brutality. In May of last year, a video emerged showing a Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy punching Sha’Teina Grady El three times and another police officer deploying a stun gun on Daniyal Grady El after they refused to vacate an area where there was a presumed active shooter. In September 2020, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel deemed the use of force appropriate since Nessel said Sha’Teina Grady El had bitten the officer.
Sha’Teina Grady El said her family is still recovering after the incident. Like grief, Sha’Teina Grady El said, assault has many stages to healing, oftentimes beginning with anger and denial.
“An injustice for one is an injustice for all,” Sha’Teina Grady El said. “I just want us to remember that at all times, it may not be you today, but it may be you tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. It may not (have been) your loved one on the ground last night, but it could be them in the future.”
Daniyal Grady El encouraged those in attendance to take action and get involved within their community and in politics. Daniyal Grady El said he felt it was important for both the officers involved in the assault and the department as a whole to take responsibility for their actions.
“We are all free people, but according to the system that we’re in, we’re slaves,” Daniyal Grady El said. “We’re not free at all. So it’s time to get together and start knocking on these doors, holding them accountable to the oaths they took to support and defend our rights.”
The protesters marched back across Washtenaw Avenue, which the city had shut down for the event. Stopping at a blocked-off intersection, the protesters each took a knee for a total of 9 minutes and 29 seconds in remembrance of Floyd.
Attorney Robert Burton-Harris was one of the protesters. During his speech, Burton-Harris said the police system is flawed, noting there are systemic policies that allow police officers to get away with injustices or deferred from telling the truth.
“There’s no accountability,” Burton-Harris said. “(Police officers) know they’re not going to get in trouble. And if they did anything different, they wouldn’t be police officers. They will be fired for telling the truth.”
Lisa Jackson, Michigan Commissioner on Law Enforcement Standards and Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Commission chair, spoke to the crowd about how police officers must be trained to not shoot as an instinct.
“Police officers have the right, right now, to shoot you when they reasonably think you might have a gun,” Johnson said. “And what we need is for them not to be able to shoot, and to be trained to not shoot unless they know you have a gun and are going to use it … It cannot just be blue lives matter. Sure, they absolutely have the right to go home safe at the end of the day, but so do we.”
At the end of the rally, community members were invited to share their stories of police brutality. Ypsilanti resident Vicki Echegoyen said she, her husband and in-laws have all suffered from police profiling, fear of deportation and other injustices due to their Mexican heritage. Echegoyen emphasized the need to speak up and document incidences of police violence to truly hold officers accountable.
“You have one power that you don’t know you have and it’s your mouth,” Echegoyen said. “The second power you have … is your cell phone. Put it on and say, ‘I can see you. We’re watching. I’m posting.’”
Business sophomore Sara Gray said this was her first protest and that she attended to support the ongoing fight for racial justice. Gray said activism and awareness can start with social media and that it is important to continue this discussion.
“I think social media is a good way to … (keep) the conversation going and also just (take) account and having a conscious effort of doing it,” Gray said.
Duckworth echoed the importance of standing up to injustice. She said everyone has a voice in this issue and should be fighting against racism.
“Don’t walk in condemnation, walk in conviction,” Duckworth said. “Conviction keeps you moving forward, fighting for what you know is right. Condemnation stagnates you, shame stagnates you. You don’t have to feel guilty because of what your ancestors did and what some of your people now are still doing. We need you to hit the frontlines… lock arms with us and be with us.”
Daily Staff Reporters Lily Gooding and Ivy Muench can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.