The Daily sent reporters to various protests across Michigan throughout the week. Here are the protests we covered.
Breonna Taylor Protest on Diag
Sunday, June 14, 2020
About a dozen community members spread across the Diag in sleeping bags Sunday to honor the memory of Breonna Taylor. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by a Louisville police officer who entered her home with a “no-knock warrant” in March. The event lasted eight hours in remembrance of the eight times Taylor was shot. Organizers encouraged Black protesters to set up their sleeping bags in the middle of the Diag. Non-Black protesters were asked to encircle the resting protesters and watch for any potential agitators. The block “M” in the middle of the Diag was covered by a blanket.
University of Michigan Social Work student Dana Pittman, Association of Black Social Workers member, was part of the team that helped organize the protest. Pittman emphasized that the protest on the Diag emphasized resting for Black people who are fighting racism and to symbolize Breonna Taylor’s death.
“Today, we really wanted to highlight the importance of rest and Black rest (and) Black bodies. Rest shouldn’t be revolutionary, it should just be a right,” Pittman said. “But sadly, we are not afforded that because we always have to fight and we always have to do the work so we invited other people to support us in the work so that we didn’t have to continuously inform them … rest is something we really (want) to center in this protest.”
Social Work student Leslie Tetteh, Association of Black Social Workers member, also helped organize the protest. Tetteh told The Daily being active in dismantling racism can be tiring and taxing on Black people who constantly experience prejudice and they are doing the best they can when it seems more violence is continuing to occur.
“For me, what’s been difficult is the overwhelming feeling of what we’re doing,” Tetteh said. “I think that we all are very active in terms of everything that’s going on (and) making sure we are advocating for others. Especially for other identities we may not share who are also Black and making sure that is inclusive … (also) knowing that this week, two other Black trans women died. As someone who is gender non-binary, hearing that and also fighting (police brutality) is really difficult. Just know that as we’re fighting for our lives in this space, there are unfortunately others elsewhere who don’t even have that right and it’s being taken away from them. So I think it’s just been hard to like ground ourselves, at least for me, ground myself and remind myself that I can only do so much right now.”
Ann Arbor resident Devon Keen arrived at the Diag around 3 p.m. for the eight hour event. She explained how the demonstration’s inherent ability to disrupt normal activity on the Diag was purposeful and made it even more meaningful.
“I like that it disrupts the normal,” Keen said. “Someone was here a little earlier wanted us to uncover the “M” so they can take their graduation pictures. And we said no. And the fact is that we are killed and dishonored, regardless of what’s going on in our lives. It could be our graduation day. Breonna Taylor could have celebrated an amazing milestone the day before. That day could have been her graduation day, nobody knew, those police didn’t know. So no we’re not gonna uncover, as in make nice again something for you to celebrate your day. You have that opportunity, that person has that opportunity everyday. I hope that people pause, they stutter step.”
Ypsilanti Black Lives Matter Protest
Saturday, June 20, 2020
Despite temperatures reaching over 91 degrees on Saturday afternoon, hundreds of protesters gathered in downtown Ypsilanti to support the Black Lives Matter movement. After almost a month of national attention given to police brutality and systemic racism, protesters have continued to fight for change for their local communities. But many say this is only the beginning.
The afternoon began with a number of speakers ranging from local city commissioners to college students to long-time residents of the Ypsilanti area. Aryanna Bennett, a 21-year-old college student at Eastern Michigan University, organized the event. She told The Daily she was motivated to be a part of the movement and hoped to inspire other young people to make change and, more importantly, to vote.
“I’m only 21, and I felt like the youth of this community and all over the country and the world needed to do something more,” Bennett said. “It’s finally the time where the baby boomers — we are actually outnumbering them — so I’m trying to get it out there where we actually vote.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., kicked off the speeches by acknowledging the need to ensure that this wave of Black Lives Matter support is a movement, not a moment. She explained how the youth of this generation is vital in the effort to change policies that disproportionately affects minorities.
“I’m more afraid of what is going on in this country than I am of COVID,” Dingell said. “What a wonderful job Ayanna, a young person, a 21-year-old person did, and the signs that the children have — they are 20 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future … I was a kid 50 years ago, and I’m not sure much has changed, but our young people are our hope.”
Other speakers at the protest were Ypsilanti City Councilmembers Annie Somerville, Ward 3, and Nicole Brown, Ward 1. Their presence at the protest comes a few days after the two Councilmembers spoke up against Ypsilanti Mayor Beth Bashert for making racist comments during a City Council meeting. As members of the city’s leadership, Somerville said they will not be engaging in council meetings until the mayor resigns.
“For all of the other members of our community, the other millennials that have been calling the mayor out on her bullshit since day one, I’m sorry that it took me so long to call her out,” Somerville said. “She engaged in behavior that is unforgivable. She needs to resign, and Nicole and I are not participating in another council meeting until she does.”
Brown emphasized the importance of hiring a leader who can equally represent all members of the city. Many gathered on Monday afternoon to call for Bashert to resign.
“There has been a history of our mayor making remarks and exhibiting behaviors that are blatantly racist, and prejudiced and biased, and we did not call it out in a public setting,” Brown said. “We talked to her individually about it. We tried to course correct, and she did not, through her arrogance, take any of the feedback from those that she is harming. And currently, in her stance on the media, she is centering herself over the people that she has harmed. So, if we’re talking about allyship and how we move forward, then the request from me, from my fellow councilman Annie Sommerville and many people in the community already is that she resigns. The only way for her to learn and grow, is not currently sitting in the seat that should be representing us all.”
Community members spoke to the crowd on their experiences with police brutality and racial injustice, receiving numerous shouts of support. One speaker was Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder who was at the center of a widely reported confrontation with a white teenager near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in January 2019.
Phillips is a resident of the Ypsilanti community and spoke to The Daily about his experiences with being abused by police departments. He shared how his first encounter with the police in his hometown in Iowa resulted in police beating his brother and arresting his mother. He commented on the systemic racism that exists in the leadership of the city, hoping the mayor and police department are held accountable for their actions.
“The systematic racism in this town has been going on for a long time,” Phillips said. “Right now, we got a mayor who openly admits that she’s racist. I thought that she had a vision maybe for our city, our community, but no. It isn’t that way. I’m here (for) George Floyd and Zachary Bearhills and looking for accountability for our police department.”
Eastern Michigan University alum Shala Rae Leung, also received loud cheers from the crowd, as she spoke about recognizing the biracial community as part of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I want to speak for the voices of the biracial,” Rae Leung said. “Because although Black lives matter, we also forget about the mixed families and mixed children. We are also divided by our own color. My father is what you call dark skin, my father is also from Colombia, my mother’s white and we’re Polish, but I look pretty golden. I need you to know one thing: We are marching for everyone whose lives have been told they do not matter. But we cannot forget about our own, our own community does deny their mixed children. We deny their color. We can no longer continue. Our Black lives matter, and so do our mixed families, our mixed lives.”
Once the march started, volunteers from Southeast Michigan Street medics stood along the sides of the roads offering water, snacks, ice packs and hand sanitizer to the protesters. Michigan Medicine student Alyssa Chen –– one of the volunteers –– recognizes the significance of COVID-19 but says racism is something that exists in all aspects of life that needs to be resolved.
“It’s really important to stay inside during a pandemic, and that’s something the medical community has been saying these past couple months,” Chen said. “But racism also kills, and we recognize that racism permeates everything, including medicine. This is something that’s important so that’s why I’m out here today.”
After hours of marching, the protesters reached the Ypsilanti Police Department and sat in front of the building while listening to more speakers. Bennett asked the police officers to talk to her about racism within the police department. After several unsuccessful encounters, Bennett and other protesters eventually were able to speak with Police Chief Tony DeGuisti about their concerns with the police department.
Protesters sat during the majority of their conversation, which was so quiet only those within earshot could hear the conversation. Isaiah Greggs-Dorsey was one of the protesters who expressed his grievances against the police to DeGiusti. Greggs-Dorsey was holding a mop stick and dropped it on the ground in front of DeGiusti to show he was not going to be violent.
“So if we’re trying to show you we mean no harm, police need to mean no harm as well because things will get worse if they don’t listen to us,” Greggs-Dorsey said. “There are so many people that got killed for no reason, for something they didn’t do. And that’s what’s scaring all of us. We are all humans, we’re not space aliens or nothing. We have hands, we have feet, we have eyes, we’re like them, we’re humans. All we want is happiness. We do not want this killing to keep going on.”
Summer News Editor Calder Lewis contributed to the reporting of this story.
Summer Managing News Editor Jasmin Lee can be reached at email@example.com and Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.