Last weekend, The Michigan Daily reporters went to 11 different protests, driving 269 miles and speaking to almost 100 people in 10 cities about why they came out. Some said it was their first time protesting. Many more said they were used to protests in big cities, but they never expected protests of this magnitude — or even protests in general — in their suburban hometowns. When asked if not before, why now, almost everyone had the same answer: People are tired, and they want change.
This article is the second installment of a four-part series on police brutality protests across Metro Detroit over the weekend of June 6 and 7. Read part one here and check back at michigandaily.com this week for parts three and four.
Many said they were cautiously optimistic that times are finally changing.
Jennifer Parks walked hand-in-hand with her 12 year old daughter Briyah Parks down Hall Road in Sterling Heights Saturday, surrounded by thousands protesting police brutality. In her predominantly white hometown of Fraser, Michigan, Briyah Parks said she’s been racially profiled and called “The N-word” at school. Yet, Jennifer Parks said the protest finally gives her hope that white people will accept people like her and her daughter in their neighborhoods without looking at them differently.
“This speaks volumes,” Jennifer Parks said. “They’re hearing us. Everybody is finally hearing us. I’m sorry if I cry, but they really hear us.”
Over the weekend, tens of thousands wore masks to march in suburbs throughout Metro Detroit against police brutality, joining millions across the country and around the world in wave after wave of protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd.
Throughout the latter half of the 1900s, the growth of the suburbs often came at Detroit’s expense, as capital and white residents moved out of the city in droves while Black residents were prevented from following. To this day, Detroit is unique among other metropolitan hubs across the country in that much of the wealth is concentrated in its outlying suburbs rather than in the city itself.
The majority of those arrested in the first several days of Detroit’s protests lived in the suburbs. Through the week, protests began spreading to Detroit’s suburbs, many of which are predominantly white.
19-year-old Parris Howard pointed towards Lakeside Mall, telling the Sterling Heights crowd he is afraid to walk into its stores and touch something without buying anything in case he was accused of stealing.
“I don’t want to teach my kids that you have to put your hands up, you have to be quiet, you have to be nice, for somebody not to shoot you,” Howard said. “I don’t want to have to teach my kids that you have to go into the store and buy something just so you’re not accused of stealing. I don’t want to have to teach my kids that you have to work twice as hard to get half of what a white man might get. I don’t, I’m sorry, but I don’t.”
The Daily contacted the Utica, Shelby Township and Chesterfield Township Police Departments, all of whom have not replied in time for publication.
Below are some of the protesters from Saturday on their experiences with racism and what this current moment means to them. You can read more from protesters on Sunday in Part Three of this series coming soon.
You could hear the crowd in Sterling Heights coming down Hall Road, even before you could see them. When the five to 10 thousand protesters did become visible, a sea of people flooded the four-lane road, shutting down the area in front of Lakeside Mall for hours.
Several times throughout the event, protesters chanted “Fire the Shelby Chief of Police,” in reference to Robert Shelide, police chief of neighboring Shelby Township, who was placed on paid leave Thursday for social media posts linked to him which glorified police brutality.
One post dismisses President Donald Trump’s threat to deploy the military and suggests to “unleash real cops and let them take care of the barbarians.” Another referred to protesters as “savages” and called for “body bags for these vicious subhumans.”
Shelide released a statement Thursday apologizing for his comments. A statement from the department on Twitter asked for patience as they investigated the situation. A petition demanding Shelide’s immediate termination has over ten thousand signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Dale Dwojakowski, Sterling Heights police chief, told The Daily the Board of Trustees of neighboring Shelby Township faces a big question in whether to fire Shelide.
“As a chief of police, all I can say is I have to be very careful with every single word that comes out of my mouth and anything I post on social media,” Dwojakowski said. “I represent every ethnicity, race, and I have to be very mindful of that, to not insult anybody or to make even the accusations of an insult.”
Dwojakowski said the protests today basically reflect the same grievances from protesters in the 1967 Detroit riots: inequality and differential treatment based on race.
“So the question is, how does it change?” Dwojakowski said. “It needs to change at a social level, a political level, the police officers, doctors, engineers, teachers, everybody’s got to change. This isn’t just a police thing, there’s racism throughout this country. So hopefully maybe this time, we make even more strides.”
Shelby Township resident Jordan Barker, recent University of Michigan alum, said the posts from the Shelby Township chief didn’t surprise him at all.
“I’ve seen a lot of the police officers in Shelby Township have just been really aggressive,” Barker said. “I’ve heard a lot of stories about Shelby Township police disproportionately targeting Black people. It’s clearly a sign of bad leadership. Personally, I’ve been talked (to) really aggressively by the police, I don’t know if that’s a racial thing or not. But, just the fact that I’m not sure.”
Barker said he “would’ve never in a million years thought that in Shelby Township, Michigan, thousands of people would be marching for Black Lives Matter,” as it seems like people in the area didn’t care much about social issues. He said it gave him hope that times are finally changing.
Throughout the protest, many knelt and held up peace signs and posters condemning police brutality as a black-and-white, upside-down American flag flew in the background. The flagbearer, Sterling Heights resident Joshua Berry, said he brought the flag as a symbol of a country under attack.
“If you see any flag that’s upside down, it means the country’s distraught,” Berry said. “The black and white symbolizes America’s death. And that’s why I’m flying it. We need change, we need to rebuild.”
As some marched along the perimeter of Lakeside Mall, about a hundred gathered at the intersection of Hall and Westbrook Drive, listening to speaker after speaker testify about their experiences with police brutality, racial profiling and other forms of racial injustice. Many talked about racist slurs from classmates and neighbors, and discrimination in school and at work.
One speaker talked about the first time she was scared in front of a police officer at 12 years old, when a police officer pulled over a lady in front of her grandmother’s house. According to the speaker, the police officer was grabbing the lady out of her car by her hair, so her mom went outside to help the girl. Though her mom had to spend a night in jail, the speaker said she believes her mom saved the other lady’s life.
The speaker said she was scared the officer was going to kill both women in front of her. The experience taught her merely recording a police brutality incident is not enough.
“We need to stop. We need to help. We need to block,” she said. “I have been handcuffed, I have been ziptied, I have had a police officer put a gun straight to my head so close I saw the barrel. I know that feeling. I know that fear. A lot of us know that feeling and fear. Stop recording, take a stand. Yes, you might get tazed, but if they got two of you, how can they just kill the one?”
Khalil Savory said he was 15 when he moved to the area from Detroit. He told the audience about a time he was racially profiled by a police officer in front of his own home after his family just moved into it while waiting for the bus to go to work. Savory said this experience was right after Trayvon Martin’s death.
“He pulled into my driveway, asked me if I lived there,” Savory said. “It’s 12 o’clock in the afternoon, I got a Sonic uniform on, I’m not breaking into a house in broad daylight on a busy street. He asked me for my ID, I didn’t pull for it because I was scared. He put me on the car, he patted me down. I’m 15, I’m like ‘Yo, my brother’s in the house, he can tell you I live here.’ He wasn’t trying to hear none of that. Then two more cops pull up, he throws me in the back of the car. I’m like ‘Yo, my brother’s in the house, he can tell you I live here.’ Two more cops pull up, they sitting here talking for 30 minutes, I’m sitting in the back of the cop car scared as shit. My mom isn’t home, I’m a kid, I don’t know what to do. Then he just takes me out of the car and says there’ve been a couple break-ins in the area. Didn’t apologize, didn’t say shit to me, just went about his way.”
Savory said a white woman from across the street approached him after the police left while he was outside crying and talking to his brother.
“She says, ‘Oh what happened? I should’ve came here earlier,’” Savory said. “Well, you could’ve came here and told them I live here. When we first moved in the house, police surrounded my momma’s house, saying we were squatting. She said, ‘I can show you the deed, I live here.’ And that’s happening right here, around the corner.”
After the speeches, protesters lined up across from Utica police officers near the intersection. Protesters laid on the ground, asking for the officers present to kneel. When the officers did not respond, protesters then asked for officers to raise their right fist.
None of the officers did so and protesters grew confrontational, at one point with only a few feet of distance between the two groups. Some protesters yelled, “You all say you hear us, but you don’t understand us.”
The protestors asked the officers to give a thumbs up in support, which a few did. A couple protesters convinced the group to move behind the cones and then back onto the sidewalk as the police began reopening Hall Road.
Warren resident Summer Sills was one of the protesters who helped deescalate the situation. She said she thought the officers not agreeing to kneel or put up a first was “bullshit.”
“They can keep their left hand on their gun at all times, and they can’t raise their right one?” Summer Sills said. “If they say they support us like they did, they would’ve at least put up a fist. That thumbs up is nothing. Good job, what does that mean to me?”
Summer Sills said she thinks the protesters’ confrontation with the police officers “went in one ear and out the other.”
“They don’t care because at the end of the day, they’re protected. I’m not,” Summer Sills said. “They get to go home and take off their badge. I can’t go home and wash this off my skin. I’m forever going to be Black, biracial or not, I’m forever going to be Black. They get paid to do this, I’m out here for free.”
The most vocal protesters from Sterling Heights spontaneously gathered on the shoulder of Jefferson Avenue outside Offshore Market, a small party store, after the Sterling Heights protest concluded. The group of about a dozen waved signs at passing drivers to and received supportive honks from cars passing by. Within ten minutes of the group’s arrival, Offshore Market closed and locked its doors before its listed closing time.
Two Chesterfield Township police officers pulled into the market soon after and said the store owner had requested the group move to public property. Members of the group told the officers they would comply and shook hands with the officers.
Mount Clemens resident Kadijah Sills said she thought the owners were scared for the safety of their store when a group of young, mostly Black people arrived on their property and might have misjudged the protest’s intentions.
“A lot of the media displays a lot of looting and rioting,” Kadijah Sills said. “And that’s not what we’re doing here. We’re being extremely peaceful at this moment in time.”
Kadijah Sills also said she understood the owner’s decision from a business perspective.
“The people in this community are not fond of us, and those are the people who give him business,” Kadijah Sills said. “So allowing us on his property shows support for us and supporting us is detrimental to his business.”
When contacted by The Daily, management from Offshore Market declined to comment.
When asked why she decided to come to Chesterfield Township to continue protesting after the Sterling Heights protest ended, Bethany Cox said she wanted to protest for her people and everybody who looks like her.
“Racial injustice, this isn’t something new,” Cox said. “This isn’t our first time going through this, but this is the last straw.”