With the luxury shopping mall Somerset Collection as a backdrop and across the street from a boarded-up Saks Fifth Avenue establishment, approximately 500 predominantly young protesters of all races broke the typical calm of a Monday afternoon in the Metro Detroit suburb of Troy, Mich., chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Almost all donning face masks, they joined hundreds of thousands of people in major cities across the United States and across the world in peaceful protest of the killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, by a white police officer, among other documented acts of police brutality. No Troy police officers were seen wearing a mask, though The Daily cannot verify every officer on the scene did not have a mask.
In its entirety, protesters were at the Big Beaver Road and Coolidge Road area for about four and a half hours and remained peaceful the entire time, though about 30 protesters who stayed at the end were told by Troy police officers they would be arrested if they did not leave the intersection. None of the protesters were arrested, though the Troy Police Department arrested one person, a 68-year-old male from Troy who intentionally struck a protester with his car. According to the Troy Police Department, the victim had no apparent injuries.
Troy is about a half-hour drive to Detroit. It is one of the many suburbs of Metro Detroit that grew wealthier from white flight in the mid-1900s — the mass movement of white families from cities to the suburbs in fear their property values would deteriorate as Black neighbors moved in — and is now the largest city in Oakland County, one of the richest counties in the country. According to 2019 census estimates, it is about 68 percent white — and just under 4 percent Black.
Most of the protesters arrested in Detroit in the last several nights of protest there were from its suburbs. According to Troy protest organizer Marshele Parker, this move to protest in the suburbs of Detroit was an intentional choice among the organizers.
“We started seeing people on social media saying, ‘Why don’t we bring it to the cities that we actually know hurt us more than the city of Detroit?’” Parker said. “So that’s when we decided to all come to Troy. We decided to go to Somerset because it’s one of those big malls in Michigan. And because of the systematic oppression in place, the Black dollar doesn’t stretch that far, and when it does, it goes to their favorite mall such as Somerset with all the glitz and the glam.”
Somerset Collection was closed all day Monday in anticipation of the protest. In a statement to The Oakland Press, Somerset spokesman Peter Van Dyke said the closure was taken as a necessary safety precaution for everyone involved.
“Somerset Collection values and supports freedom of speech and peaceful protest,” Van Dyke said.
The event was organized by the Black Activist Movement Network, a new group formed by Parker and other Black college women: Rebekah Long, Cameron Simpson and Joy Mosley. For over two hours, the crowd of several hundred protesters, mainly students who lived in the surrounding area, walked around the Coolidge Road and Big Beaver Road intersection, then down Big Beaver Road towards the Troy Civic Center. Many held posters denouncing police brutality and anti-Black racism, chanting as cars around them filled the afternoon with honks of support.
Among the suburbs, Parker said Troy was chosen as the site for their protest because of word-of-mouth about racist interactions with the Troy police.
“Some of our peers that we know have also faced, let’s just say, racist incidents with the Troy police,” Parker said. “However, they were very cooperative and helpful today. They made sure we were safe all around the way, and I’m very grateful for them.”
In an interview with The Daily, Sergeant Meghan Lehman, Troy Police Department public information officer, said she was impressed by the youth organizers of the event. She emphasized police were on hand to make sure everyone stayed safe and expressed she was glad the protest was peaceful in its entirety.
When asked about any racist incidents involving Troy police officers, Lehman said she was not aware of any specific incidents.
“I would have to know about the incident and we would be happy to address it,” Lehman said. “Anytime we get a complaint, we have a whole process. They’re investigated thoroughly, professionally, documented and held onto for years.”
Troy High School alum Isaiah Smith protested with his best friend, Mike Cifliku. He said he felt it was important to hold a protest in Troy especially because people of color are underrepresented in the city.
“As someone who went to Troy High and came up in Troy, I’m glad we’re having this in Troy because I feel and I have experienced racism in Troy, whether people know when they’re being racist or not,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of subtle racism in this city.”
On Tuesday, students began sharing their experiences with racism in the Troy School District on a Twitter thread which as of Wednesday morning has over 100 replies.
When the protesters marched down to the Troy Civic Center, they stopped in the parking lot of the Troy Public Library for at least a half-hour, where organizers opened the floor to testimonials from those in the audience.
To cheers from the crowd, one speaker emphasized the significance of holding a protest in a suburb such as Troy compared to a city like Detroit.
“We’re not in Detroit, this is Troy, Michigan,” she said. “This is the suburbs. Do you know why we’re here? This is not a major city in America issue. This is an all-over-the-country issue. This is in the suburbs. This is everywhere in the country, and we cannot just tear up our cities and be out there downtown. We need to be in the neighborhoods. We need to be where the silence is.”
Another speaker, Caleb Potts, talked about racial dynamics within his family and his experience living in Metro Detroit.
“Half of my family’s white, half of my family’s Black. Even in my own family, they see this difference as something that fucks them up,” Potts said. “My mom worries about me every single day I leave the house just in case something happens in the suburbs. Now that shouldn’t happen.”
John C. Clark III told the crowd he has been to several protests in the area over the last couple of days. And as protests continue to happen, he said he plans to continue to attend.
“While my heart beats, I won’t stop,” Clark III said. “While I can breathe, others are having their last breath. And I have to watch it, like it’s porn on my phone. I can’t take it no more. I don’t even know what to say. All I can do is march. Sometimes I’m silent. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I’m mad at the world. Sometimes I’m mad at my family. Sometimes I’m mad at my own best friends. But you know what? I look around, and I see a lot of people I don’t know. I feel you all, and everywhere I go, I step for you all. And one thing I want you all to remember. This is not the last day. And when things go back to normal, guess what, they won’t. There ain’t going to be ever be a normal. And if you feel like things are getting normal, shake that shit up.”
After several more individuals spoke, the event organizers thanked everyone for coming and said goodbye to the crowd. However, as protesters walked back to Somerset Collection from the Troy Public Library, they continued to march and chant, again to the support of car horns on the streets.
Protesting all around the Coolidge Road and Big Beaver Road intersection and gathering for a while longer in their original spot across from Saks Fifth Avenue, most protesters dispersed around 8 p.m. after the event organizers again thanked the crowd for coming.
But at least 50 protesters stayed, standing then sitting down on Coolidge Road next to the high-end Ocean Prime restaurant. Troy police cars blocked off all four sides of the Coolidge Road and Big Beaver Road intersection, as a few protesters talked to Troy police officers and as the remaining protesters chanted at the officers to take a knee.
Three Troy police officers then took a knee, to cheers and tears from some in the group. Officers also exchanged hugs and handshakes with protesters in the crowd. The moment was celebrated on social media and a focus of several news reports on the Troy protest.
Troy High School alum Torrey Kinnard was among the protesters who sat with the group that demanded the police officers take a knee. He said he chose to stay because he felt he had to.
“(I stayed) because we matter. Because if we don’t stay, nobody will,” Kinnard said. “So, it’s up to us, and when I say us, I mean African American. It’s cool that we’ve got support, but as far as us, we need to stay here and stick it out, for us, by us.”
John Julian, a school resource officer with the Troy Police Department, was one of the officers who took a knee. He told The Daily he supported the protesters’ cause, many of whom he said might have been his former students, and that he condemned Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd. He said he took a knee as a way to show his support.
“We had a heart-to-heart talk with many of the people here, and as a symbolic gesture, they asked us to take a knee, so we did,” Julian said. “It helped bridge that gap, and everyone cheered and applauded, and now they’re on their way.”
However, interviewed after the kneeling moment, Kinnard said he planned to continue to stay. When asked what it was like seeing the officers take a knee, Kinnard said there needed to be more than symbolic gestures.
“You know, that’s cool, that’s nice that they did that, but it’s going to take more than three officers on a knee to make a change,” Kinnard said. “But that’s a start, that’s definitely a start.”
When asked what changes he wants to see in police forces both in Troy and across the country, Julian said many of the concerns the protesters had raised didn’t apply to the Troy Police Department, which Julian claimed was known in the area for its community outreach efforts.
According to Julian, police officers are like any other profession where there are “some bad apples you see in the news” but that doesn’t mean society should “spill the whole bunch.”
“So, a lot of the things that they’re saying don’t apply to us,” Julian said. “I mean, could it? Sure. We maintain our professionalism the best that we can. Whatever happened in Minneapolis, that doesn’t have anything to do with us. Could it be us? Sure. Everyone makes mistakes. But we are trained, and we acknowledge the fact that you don’t treat people like that.”
Lehman elaborated on the training requirements at the Troy Police Department, explaining all police officers have to go through the police academy to be certified, which includes state-mandated bias-free policing training. Officers also go through field training by a good-performing senior officer and in-service training several times throughout their career. In addition, prior to being hired, Lehman said officers go through a background check and psychological exam.
The Troy Police Department does not yet use body cameras but currently uses cameras and audio devices in their police vehicles, Lehman said. According to Lehman, the department is “moving towards” using body cameras, but has faced technical challenges in implementing the use of them.
Though half the crowd thinned after Troy police officers kneeled, at around 8:30 p.m., about 30 protesters still remained in the Big Beaver/Coolidge intersection. At 8:37 p.m., the Troy Police Department tweeted asking protesters who were “loitering in the area” to leave, as they wrote “the official event is now over.” Less than 10 minutes later, the Troy police department tweeted again writing they hoped they didn’t have to arrest anyone.
At the intersection, officers, including Julian, asked the remaining protesters to move out of the intersection to the sidewalk. One officer announced that anyone who remained in the intersection was subject to arrest. At least 20 police cars and 40 to 50 police officers were in the area, with several more police cars driving up Big Beaver Road from the Crooks Road direction to meet the group.
As more police officers assembled on the intersection in front of the officers, one protester noted the Troy police officers present were almost entirely white and male and told the officers she couldn’t identify with any of them.
The protesters who were in the intersection moved to the sidewalk area and stayed for about 10 to 20 minutes longer before walking away to leave. Police cars filed out of the area, and only a few handfuls of protesters stayed on sidewalks around the Big Beaver/Coolidge intersection until about 9:30 p.m. About 10 to 20 police vehicles remained parked in the Saks Fifth Avenue parking lot.
Ultimately, no protesters were arrested.
According to Lehman, if there had been arrests, the charge would’ve been obstructing traffic, disorderly conduct or both. When asked what differentiated the larger peaceful protest earlier in the day from the small peaceful group of individuals that remained into the night, both of whom had blocked traffic, Lehman pointed to the former being officially organized.
According to the ACLU, police can ask protesters to move to the side of the street or the sidewalk if they are obstructing traffic. The 30 remaining protesters threatened with arrest did not have a permit, and Parker said the officially organized protest also did not have a permit.
Troy Mayor Ethan Baker posted on Facebook on Monday night writing he was “very pleased” to see a large group assemble against racial injustice. He commended the Troy Police Department for “working WITH the protesters and not AGAINST them.”
Tuesday afternoon, Baker shared a City Council resolution from Monday night declaring Troy City Council’s solidarity with the Black community and all marginalized groups. The resolution lauded the Troy Police Department.
In an interview with The Daily, Baker he was a proponent of peaceful protest and supportive of protesting racial injustice. He said he was very thankful the “fluid and well-organized” protest was peaceful and was extremely proud of the Troy police department.
“Hopefully it will raise awareness, you know, we’re a suburban community,” Baker said. “And we aren’t often faced with the same racial injustices and civil unrest that obviously happens more in Detroit, which isn’t that far from us. So, I was thankful to have the attention brought to Troy, to have our residents see a different side of the issue hopefully.”
Parker said the main objective of the event was to encourage young people present to register to vote. She said the organizers also collected over $900 in donations on social media for The Bail Project, which helps pay bail for low-income individuals.
She expressed surprise that the event attracted the crowd that it did and said she was happy to see so many of her younger peers marching with her. However, she said she had mixed feelings about the fact that protesters were predominantly student-aged.
“It makes me happy but it makes me sad in some ways,” Parker said. “Because there’s the draw that we’re the new generation, we need to rise up … But the older generation is really who’s in control of some of these systems that hurt us the most.”
However, Parker said she was inspired by their day of action, which she said had taken form between her and the other organizers in just a day of work. She said it gives her encouragement for more work ahead.
“We woke up yesterday and we just decided we were kind of fed up,” Parker said. “You don’t have to be some big leader, or some big organizer. This is literally just five Black women, college students, that all came together and decided, ‘This is what we’re going to do today.’”
Another protest against police brutality is planned in Troy for Friday, June 5 at 5 p.m. starting at Athens High School. Baker said he will march with the group along Troy City Manager Mark Miller.
Daily News Editor Claire Hao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been updated to clarify protesters’ rights in regards to obstructing traffic, to note the organized event did not have a permit and to highlight a Twitter thread of racism experienced by students in the Troy School District.