The scene could have been mistaken for a Saturday in the fall: Hundreds of people congregated at the entrance to the Big House, the corner of East Stadium Boulevard and Main Street closed to non-pedestrian traffic, and the parking lot of Pioneer High School filled with window-painted, music-blasting cars.
But the gates of the Big House were locked and Pioneer High School had been closed for nearly three months. The maize and blue, while visible, was far from prominent. The crowd was gathered at the stadium not for a football game, but to protest police brutality.
Ethan Ketner, an activist who helped lead the march, said the protesters were there in response to a Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy using excessive force against Sha’Teina Grady El.
“She was punched repeatedly in her head,” Ketner said. “We took to the streets the following day. She’s been released from jail. Her husband, who was also tazed and abused and brutalized by police the same night was also released. At this point, we are asking that all charges against her and her family are dropped and we want the officers who were involved prosecuted.”
The event, which started at 12 p.m., was originally planned to be a stationary protest, organizers told The Daily. A social media post promoting the event said that participants would line the streets surrounding the stadium.
At approximately 12:45 p.m., however, the protesters moved from the sidewalks into the intersection. They kneeled for a moment of silence. Then, with an escort from the Ann Arbor Police Department, they began to march.
After looping around the athletic facilities, the protesters made their way towards the University of Michigan campus. Chants of “AAPD, why do killer cops go free?” rang out as the group approached the corner of State Street and East Liberty Street.
Just before 2 p.m., the marchers arrived at City Hall. With police officers blockading the surrounding intersections, people filled East Huron Street. They listened and cheered as more than a dozen other protesters, perched on a ledge about 20 feet above street-level, addressed the crowd through a toy-sized bullhorn.
Alum Jordan Newland spoke to the crowd, emphasizing the power of people using their voice to foster change.
“We will educate not only ourselves, but our fellow man, our fellow woman, our fellow neighbor and even our oppressor,” Newland said. “We will educate all of them.”
Newland said he had not planned to speak when he came out today. However, he said he was so inspired by the power of the protest that he decided it was his duty to speak.
“This gives me hope,” Newland said. “This shows me that we as a people, we love each other. And we are willing to fight for eachother. This past week, we said ‘enough is enough.’ We will not stand for police brutality anymore.”
According to many protesters, Newland’s closing words were a reminder of the national attention placed on police brutality after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer in Minnesota. Floyd’s death, along with the unjust killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, have sparked nationwide protests to demand an end to police brutality and racism.
“George Floyd was the last straw,” Newland said. “We will take our knowledge; we will educate not only ourselves, but our fellow man, our fellow woman, our fellow neighbor and even our oppressor. We will educate all of them. And we will stand up for what is right.”
There were roughly 1,000 protesters at the peak of the march; almost all swathed their faces with a mask.
Like that of an Ann Arbor football Saturday, there were a number of people in the crowd wearing green and white Michigan State attire.
Adam Brozowski, a sophomore at Michigan State University, was one of them. Though he wore a t-shirt with a green Spartan logo printed across the center, he said the age old rivalry between the two schools was put aside for this common cause
“Green versus blue doesn’t matter here,” Brozowski said. “Everyone here is unified for the same message; we are all here for Black Lives Matter.”
Back at City Hall, LSA senior Carlena Toombs used a metaphor of a branch on a tree to contextualize the fight against police brutality and systemic racism.
“It’s easy to feel hopeless when you realize that police brutality is only one of the many branches on the tree of oppression,” she said. “And to see how much energy, how much time, how much blood, sweat and tears has to go into cutting down this one branch, it’s enough to leave people hopeless.”
Toombs said that she finds hope in the belief that there are flowers waiting to bloom underneath that tree. By breaking down the branches of oppression, she explained, the flowers will start to see the sunlight that they need to sprout, paving the way for a better future.
Daily Staff Reporter John Grieve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.