After a week of marches in Washtenaw County and across the country rallying against police brutality and racial injustice, Monday’s protest on the University of Michigan Diag brought more than 1,000 students, activists, elected officials and police officers to the center of campus and through the streets of downtown Ann Arbor in a peaceful protest organized by the non-profit Survivors Speak.
Trische’ Duckworth, founder and executive director of Survivors Speak, began the rally by disavowing the looting and burning at various protests around the country. She urged the crowd gathered at the Diag to remain peaceful, even if agitators were waiting to stir up trouble along the marching route.
“We will not disrespect the movement of peace,” Duckworth said. “We will not disrespect the movement of justice, because when we do that, when we wreak havoc and when we cause confusion, it takes away from the mission. We cannot allow that. If we start to get out of control, then the attention will be on that. We want the attention to be on justice that we all need to see.”
Survivors Speak organized five protests throughout Washtenaw county before changing locations to Ann Arbor on Monday. Ypsilanti resident Judy Thurman attended the Survivors Speak protest Saturday, but said the crowd at Monday’s protest was much larger and more passionate.
“The Diag stands for so many other public protests and it’s the epicenter of Ann Arbor,” Thurman said. “To have it on the campus of the University of Michigan would include many more students and many more people from this area. You see all ages, all colors, all nationalities.”
The crowd featured many returning participants from the sheriff’s office protests and Saturday’s mostly student-aged protest on the Diag organized, which was organized by Ypsilanti resident Myles McGuire. When Engineering senior Marlon Green saw the march pass by in front of his Ann Arbor home Saturday, he joined in spontaneously. The experience was so moving, he said, that he made sure to be at the Diag from the beginning Monday.
“That march honestly changed my life,” Green said. “I see more of the purpose as to why we do this. You just don’t feel the same way looking at a video versus actually being in the crowd and the energy and seeing the love we all have for each other. I knew it was my duty to come back and do what I can.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, Sha’Teina Grady El — the woman punched in the face by a sheriff’s deputy during an arrest on May 26— and other local activists addressed the crowd from the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library.
Dingell shared her experience of attending Catholic school, where she said nuns first opened her eyes to all of the advantages she grew up with.
“They wanted me to know that I was a child of privilege,” Dingell said. “I said, ‘You taught me God created all people equal.’ And he did. But they taught me we are not all treated equally. They took me and they taught me how people weren’t as lucky as I was.”
Rabhi commented on rhetoric surrounding a return to normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, stating “normal” was not good enough for people of color. He said the status quo was built on systems that disenfranchise Black and brown people all around the world.
“When all of these orders are lifted and we go back to ‘normal,’ I can tell you that I certainly don’t want to go back to no normal,” Rabhi said. “When I see all of you out here fighting, what I see is a movement to make sure that when the pandemic is over, we go into a different world.”
Rabhi later told The Daily he hopes the protests around the state will show his colleagues in the Michigan Legislature that incremental change on policing and criminal justice reform is not enough to satisfy their constituents.
“People on the Republican side are paying attention,” Rabhi said. “I talked to a colleague of mine and they see all of this and they’re paying attention. They know that the people are hurting and they know that the people want change. Both sides of the aisle are watching what’s going on and they know that change is in the air.”
Irwin specifically called for independent investigations of police-related incidents, citizen oversight and better training for police.
“When the public doesn’t trust these investigations of police brutality… (it’s) because the prosecutors and the police are on the same team,” Irwin said.
Duckworth said she appreciated the elected officials’ appearances, but wants to get to the point where she sees them visible in the community at all times.
“At the end of the day, it’s gonna take everybody, our legislators, the community, the police,” Duckworth said. “It’s gonna take all of us to really bring about this change.”
Grady El took the microphone at the center of the library steps to the loudest applause of the afternoon. She urged the crowd to continue the momentum from the past week of nearly daily protests.
“Stay on this, because it’s not just me,” Grady El said. “I’m sure at least a quarter of you have had some type of interactions with law enforcement that may not have gone well. So, this is just letting them know that we see you, and we’re not going to stand for it.”
McGuire said he appreciated Grady El’s speech and was moved simply by her presence at the rally.
“I wasn’t gonna cry in front of everybody,” McGuire said. “But I was about to when I saw her because I didn’t think that she would be here. So that was really humbling to see that she’s still fighting after an aggravated assault and she’s still willing to inform and educate people.”
After Duckworth once again reminded the crowd to keep the event peaceful, the 1,000-plus protesters turned towards the northwest corner of the Diag and marched down State Street towards East Liberty Street.
Police blocked off the roads along the march route, according to Ann Arbor Police Chief Michael Cox.
“Talking to (organizers), they told us the route,” Cox said. “I’ve been walking with them and we’ve been telling officers the route to make sure it’s blocked off so you all can march peacefully without worrying about cars coming into you and stuff of that nature.”
Cox said protester safety was his first priority in the decision for him and a deputy to march alongside organizers, but he also understood why people wanted to be heard.
“Being an African-American male my entire life, I understand the issues,” Cox said. “And so, I support the causes, certainly, that people have been protesting recently. Everyone has been tremendous, they’ve been non-violent and protesting the appropriate way, and all I can do is to take my hat off to say thank you.”
After turning down Main Street and East Huron Street, organizers scaled the steps in front of the Ann Arbor Municipal Center to address the protesters again.
Washtenaw Community College student Adam Theros, a water polo coach at Dexter High School, attended the rally after holding up a “Justice for Floyd” sign on a street corner last week in Dexter, which he described as a conservative area. Theros said he wants to show the younger kids he coaches it’s okay to stand up for what’s right and to fight for what you believe in.
“I know I’m sick of it and I’m just a white guy from a white town,” Theros said. “I can’t imagine what my Black brothers and sisters are feeling at this point in time, and I’m certainly not going to stop until there’s justice. You can hear the chants. ‘No justice, no peace.’”
Those chants, echoing between walls of downtown Ann Arbor and floating through the sea of signs and protesters, originated from Engineering freshman Joseph Ryan’s orange Home Depot bucket. After the sheriff’s office protest Thursday, Ryan said another activist gave him the makeshift drum, complete with two string shoulder straps.
“I‘ve seen it change the crowd,” Ryan said. “It’s really astonishing.”
Ryan said the drum keeps the energy high when the weather is hot and tiring and when, with masks on, it’s harder for some people to breathe.
“It helps raise the volume so those people who are afraid can add their voice,” Ryan said.
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