Over 700 people went to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market on their bikes to join the Silent Bike Ride for Black Lives Matter Friday afternoon. Adults, elderly and children of all races were present while wearing masks to the protest hosted by Survivors Speak, an interfaith council for peace and justice, and Bicycle Alliance of Washtenaw, among other local organizations.
Not everyone had bikes: Some people wore roller skates or used skateboards to participate. Many signs supporting the Black Lives Matter movement were attached to bikes, some of which wrote “Fight racism,” “I’ll teach my kids. You train your cops,” or simply “Black Lives Matter.” Loud music blasted through the farmers market before a group of speakers started the protest.
Sha’Teina Grady El was recently victim to police brutality in Ypsilanti when a police officer punched her in the face and arrested her while her husband was tased. Grady El spent four days in jail before she was released. Since the incident, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, drafted a bill that requires more training for police in Michigan. The family is also currently seeking assault charges against the deputy who punched her.
Grady El spoke to the crowd about her appreciation of peaceful protests occurring in Michigan and around the nation to contest police brutality. She said in order for those who commit police brutality to be held accountable, people need to be aware of everything the city is doing to support the police department.
“We have to let these legislators know that enough is enough,” Grady El said. “We're holding them accountable. They need to do what we want them to do because we put them in office. So we need to make sure that we keep them accountable, but everything that they pass underneath our noses. (A) lot of times things (are) passing –– we don’t know –– but we have to stay involved.”
William Amadeo, Grady El’s lawyer, shared his disappointment in the sheriff’s response to the incident. Amadeo said defending the officer is a sign of weakness because the police officer is not a victim — Grady El is.
“Jerry Clayton, we watched in horror when you gave your press conference on Friday,” Amadeo said. “What you did a week ago was you defended that monster for 45 minutes. I understand you have a job to do. I understand there's pressures but being a man is not an easy task and you are not doing the right thing by Sha’Teina and Dan and their family. Let me be real clear to you, Sherriff Clayton, I know you’re watching this. You are not the victim. They are. At some point, lip service gets old. We need action.”
Trovious Starr, co-counsel to Sha’Teina Grady El’s lawyer Amadeo, shared his experience learning about police brutality as a child. He expressed his frustration for having to pass on that lesson to his children, which is something he wishes he did not have to teach.
“I thought about the time when I was in middle school, seventh grade,” Starr said. “At the Bible study in my grandma's house and the talking, not to talk about the birds and bees, but the talk. This kind of talk is like ‘Hey, this is what you do if you’re ever in a situation where law enforcement has you detained’ … It is unfortunate because it's 2020 and I still have to have that talk with my kids.”
Desiraé Simmons, co-director of Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, shared an anecdote with the crowd about a conversation with her daughter, emphasizing the presence that police brutality has on young children.
“My three-year-old, she's saying, ‘What are you talking about Mama?’ ‘What did the police do?’” Simmons said. “I have to tell her, ‘It was violence honey.’ (Her daughter responded) ‘Why they doing violence Mama?’ It's because they don't know the love that we have for one another. It is our job to teach them and if they can't learn it, we need to take their money away.”
Simmons also said knowing the names of the victims is not enough to get justice for police brutality, and emphasized the names of the officers need to be known so they can be held accountable. She also referenced Aura Rosser, who was fatally shot by Ann Arbor police officers in 2014.
“I'm tired of worrying about my family's safety,” Simmons said. “I'm tired of having that talk (with my kids) because deep down, it doesn't really matter if they’re compliant. Being compliant does not guarantee that they're going to come home alive. I know George Floyd’s name. I know Ahmaud Arbery’s name and Breonna Taylor’s name and Eric Garner’s name and Michael Brown’s name and Sandra Bland’s name. I know Aura Rosser’s name. But I want police names.”
The protesters rode silently for six miles around Ann Arbor for over an hour. Young children were riding along with their parents, and during the silence, bikers and onlookers were noticing the signs, many attached to their bikes. As bicyclists rode past houses, people in the neighborhood stood in their yards holding up fists or signs in solidarity for Black Lives Matter.
Silence was not only present in the cyclists, but throughout Ann Arbor, according to Ypsilanti resident Kurt Powdhar.
“As I was riding my bike, I noticed that Ann Arbor was silent,” Powdhar said. “You didn’t really hear any cars, anybody honking, nobody yelling. I think everyone was really respectful with it.”
Ride of Silence organizer Suzette Wanninkhof has organized similar protests when her brother was hit by a car and killed while cycling. She said white people have been speaking over Black people for far too long, and the silence is a chance for them to listen to the Black community.
“It’s space that the people would have spoken in had they not been killed,” Wanninkhof said. “It’s a powerful active memorial. Especially, I think with a cycling community, which is (in) Ann Arbor pretty white. White people do a lot of talking when they shouldn’t, when we should be doing a lot more listening.”
Survivors Speak organizer Trische’ Duckworth had a different interpretation of the silence, saying that it represented the generations of silence from white people against police brutality.
“When you think about Survivors Speak, what we represent is a voice,” Duckworth said. “For me I was like ‘Wow, this represents the silence that we see from our Caucasian brothers and sisters as things happen to us.’ They don’t say anything. So this ride was just so powerful. It was beyond our wildest dreams.”
Graduate Music, Theatre & Dance student Elisandra Rosario said she hopes people think about what they can do to support Black people during the silent bike ride, noting the need for people to step out of their comfort zone to make a difference.
“I hope that people really remember the victims that were brutalized by officers, (and) murdered,” Rosario said. “I hope people use this silence to figure what they’re going to do next, to figure out how they’re going to speak, to figure out how they’re gonna use their voices and their words to make a difference. I know a lot of people find comfort in silence, but we need to get through what’s uncomfortable.”
Summer News Editor Calder Lewis contributed reporting to this article.
Summer Managing News Editor Jasmin Lee can be reached at email@example.com.