Protesters gathered to advocate against police brutality in the U.S. and Ann Arbor in downtown Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon, marching through parts of downtown.
The rally, led by Black Lives Matter activists, started around noon at the Michigan Union, where protesters picketed for an hour and a half before walking through the streets.
According to the Facebook event, the protest was planned as a response to the shooting of Terence Crutcher, but also for the more than 708 people killed by police this year.
Crutcher, 40, was shot and killed by police on September 16 in Tulsa, Oklahoma after approaching his SUV and raising his arms, according to NBC News and film footage of the event. He was unarmed.
Sierra Witcher, Black Lives Matter Detroit communications chair, said they heard about the event from Black activists in Ypsilanti and the Ann Arbor area while representing Black Lives Matter at an Eastern Michigan University protest in response to racial slurs spray-painted on one of their university buildings.
Witcher said several black activists were hesitant to participate in the Ann Arbor protest because the event was initially led by white activists.
“There was a lot of pressure to cancel the event,” Witcher said. “I suggested, this is going to be a very visible day, in a very visible space, in an overwhelmingly and oppressively white space. Therefore, if we can talk to the organizer and get him to agree to step to the side, so that black folks can lead and speak for themselves, as any true ally would, then we should make the most of this time.”
Ultimately, Witcher said, Ann Arbor resident Ethan Ketner, the original organizer, agreed to let Black Lives Matter take the lead.
“I believe in equality when it comes to life,” Ketner said. “I believe everybody deserves fair, equal rights, in every situation of life.”
Ketner said last year, particularly after the Michael Brown shooting — involving Brown, an unarmed Black teenager and Darren Wilson, a white police officer — there were a lot of activists setting up protests and marches in Ann Arbor, but this year he hasn’t noticed any activity. This is the third protest that he has put together since the summer.
Witcher said the overall purpose of the march was to protest state-sanctioned violence in the U.S. They defined state-sanctioned violence as people being cut off from healthcare and from exercising their bodily autonomy through reproductive rights, among other things.
“This march is intended to bring visibility to the black folks who have been slain due to state-sanctioned violence, which isn’t just limited to police brutality,” Witcher said.
James Benjey, a protester and Ann Arbor resident, said having the protest on a game day in Ann Arbor helped it get attention because of “the amount of people walking by, the amount of exposure that we have, the amount of people that are from out of town, coming into town.”
“They’re all curious as to what’s going on, because normally this would be a Michigan event, but this is a community event as well,” he added.
During the protest, marchers held up signs. One read, “We have nothing to lose but our chains. There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Speak up! My humanity should not be up for debate. #BlackLivesMatter.”
Another read, “We stand in solidarity because Black Lives Matter.”
Rick Catherman, a teacher from the Chelsea School District, spoke at the march, saying equality in schools is a key component in the protest of discrimination and violence against minorities.
“We cannot forget in our state how much the lives of children matter in our school districts that are primarily African American and Latino,” he said. “Those schools in our state in particular, with our government trying to shut down schools, putting people into schools who don’t know anything about educating children — those folks can’t be forgotten in this discussion either.”