'I’m not used to white people being on my side': Tens of thousands protest police brutality in suburbs across Metro Detroit
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 fourth 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, part two here, and part three here.
Elizabeth Taylor lives in Redford and has a membership with the Livonia Recreation Center. When she and her family use the rec center, she said multiple people will harass them and come up to them asking for their IDs. Taylor said she was taught not to drive in Livonia and not to come to Livonia unless she has to.
One among thousands protesting police brutality in a city that has been often hostile to her and family, Taylor said she couldn’t help but get emotional.
“When I first got here, I was moved to tears and I tried to hold them back,” Taylor said. “But just to see all of these people, the white people, here with us, I do not know anything about this. I’m not used to white people being on my side. So this is amazing to me. This is an experience I will never forget in my life.”
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.
Southfield resident Monique Montgomery said her 12-year-old daughter has been upset and traumatized from hearing about police brutality in the news, as she is now “at the age where she gets it.” She said she brought her daughter to the Birmingham protest because she wanted her daughter to see Black and non-Black protesters denouncing racism together.
“I wanted her to see that not everybody feels that way,” Montgomery said. “It’s nice to see the diversity, it’s nice to see that we have allies. I think it’s not just Black people that are sick of it, all people are sick of it. They realize they can’t stay silent if they want change. Their children are growing up in this world too.”
The Daily contacted the Livonia Police Department, but they did not reply in time for publication.
Below are some of the protesters from Sunday on their experiences with racism and what this current moment means to them.
2PM - Birmingham - 91.5 percent white and 2.8 percent Black - $118k median household income
Thousands filled the streets of downtown Birmingham, shutting down a portion of Woodward Avenue, walking past pretty boulevards and flooding nearby neighborhoods with chants of “Black Lives Matter.”
Nigel Sanders, an incoming sophomore at Howard University, was one of the organizers of the Birmingham protest. He said he chose Birmingham because he wanted to bring the protest to the Detroit suburbs, as protesting in the city where many Black people live would be “preaching to the choir.”
“The other day, I was talking to my dad about these protests, and I just asked him the question, ‘When was the last time — he’s lived here thirty years — when was the last time you saw a protest out here in Birmingham?’” Sanders said. “He paused for a second and really didn’t have an answer for me. Which I think meant it hasn’t been seen before. I mean, in these sorts of numbers, to shut down a main thoroughfare like Woodward? That just shows the power that we have as people.”
Recent Groves High School grad Amir Mitchell said he thought it was a positive change to protest outside of Detroit because he thinks racism is a problem in every neighborhood.
“A lot of these high taxpayers tend to be a little on the racist side and they don’t want to cooperate with the low-income and the minorities,” Mitchell said. “So, to be in their face like this is really something that they haven’t seen, and it’s a culture shock to them.”
Mitchell said racism can be difficult to see because it can be subliminal and silent.
“It’s if you walk up and somebody sees you and they clench their purse or lock their car,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been in personal things where I get pulled over for being Black. I asked the officer, ‘Why was I pulled over?’ and he said, ‘I just ran your plate.’”
After marching through several blocks of houses, the crowd gathered at Barnum Park. Roy McCree IV, Western Michigan University student, stood atop the highest step of the playground, speaking with a megaphone to the audience below. He encouraged the audience to vote in all elections, not just those at the federal level.
“Nothing’s going to change unless we stand up right now and change ourselves,” McCree said. “Nothing’s going to change. I’m willing to go to any extent, even if it means dying right here, I’ll die for you guys right now to see justice in this country.”
3:30PM - Southfield - 22.8 percent white and 70.3 percent Black - $54k median household income
About a dozen protesters stood waving signs to supportive honks at the corner of Southfield Road and 12 Mile Road.
Southfield resident Jasmine Griffith had been at the corner since the morning, when she said the mayor and police chief spoke to the small crowd. As the founder of the non-profit Help a Friend, she said even a small protest can make a big difference in the community.
Griffith said she has received positive feedback from the community about previous protests on the corner, motivating her to continue the demonstrations daily.
“It’s truly inspiring for me because our leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X didn’t die for nothing,” Griffith said. “We know we have to keep on running this race until things get better.”
Southfield resident Sherri Henderson lives about a mile away from the intersection. She said she was driving by when she saw one of the protesters’ signs, so she went home and made a sign before coming back to join the group.
“We have an opportunity to be on all four corners, and so many people have stopped by to join in with us,” Henderson said. “Families have brought just a whole host of food and drinks. It’s good to be here, I think we can impact a lot of people just by strategically standing here.”
Henderson, who works in business development, said she was protesting not only against police brutality but also because of the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black businesses.
Overall, Henderson said she is protesting to finally “get some answers for the Black community.”
“I’ve never seen this before in my lifetime, and if you just stop and look around there’s a lot of things happening right now we’ve never seen before,” Henderson said. “The pandemic, economic development crash, millions of people out of a job. I’ve never seen people come together like this, all races, Black, white, brown, everyone’s been coming together for this. So this is definitely a new time in history, and I’m happy to be a part of it and participate in it.”
4PM - Livonia - 90.6 percent white and 4.4 percent Black - $77k median household income
After marching and chanting in a crowd stretching out of sight down Five Mile Road, thousands kneeled outside the Livonia Civic Center area in a moment of silence for Floyd and other victims of police brutality for eight minutes and 46 seconds. The gesture matched the length of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck.
“If you’re complaining about the eight minutes, you’re in the wrong place,” one organizer said.
Taylor admitted the uncomfortable act helped her truly understand just how long Floyd was suffering.
“It brought the reality down, that he was struggling that long,” Taylor said. “I was sitting on the ground, my butt got hot. I can only imagine what he went through. It brought it into full circle for me.”
After the crowd kneeled, they headed towards Livonia City Hall, where they gathered to hear several speakers address the group.
Victoria Burton-Harris, a candidate for Wayne County Prosecutor, said Black people are standing against injustice and brutality all while systemic racism wears them down.
“We are tired of trying to convince our country that Black lives matter,” Burton-Harris said. “We are tired of watching our brothers and sisters murdered on video for the world to see. We are tired of having to explain to our traumatized children how, after 400 years, Black people are being hunted down and killed, simply for being Black. We are tired of no one being held responsible for the overcharging of Black people in the criminal justice system. So now we are demanding change.”
State Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, said while the white allies she’s seen renounce their white privilege on social media are well-intentioned, their gestures are misguided.
“We can’t renounce the privilege that’s woven into the fabric of our society,” Pohutsky said. “We can’t wish it away, because all that actually accomplishes is allowing white people to continue enjoying it while we choose to ignore the fact that it still exists. We no longer get to be passive bystanders in this and I’m not saying that from a place of judgement, because I too have been passive.”
Pohutsky told crowd members to support Senate Bill 945 , proposed by state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, which would require implicit bias, cultural competency and de-escalation training for all police officers.
Madonna University student Earl Short arrived at the protest the way he gets around most places in Livonia — on foot. He said he only feels comfortable walking on the main roads where a case of racial profiling can be documented.
“I don’t want to turn down a wrong block and not know what’s going to happen in the next couple minutes,” Short said. “Just for safety and security, so even if I can’t videotape it myself, others can.”
Roseville resident Gio Crawford grew up half a mile south of 8 Mile Road, the infamous dividing line between the predominantly Black city of Detroit and its predominantly white suburbs. He remembers his family warning him about traveling north into the suburbs because of discrimination from white people.
“I knew when you got to 8 Mile, just be careful, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Crawford said.
When Crawford’s parents split and his mom moved to Warren, he heard opposite warnings from white parents to their children every day in school.
“Everybody would be so obsessed with denouncing 8 Mile and shaming 8 Mile, as if if you go (south) past 8 Mile you’ll get shot,” Crawford said. “Part of the problem is those misconceptions about what it means to live in Detroit. They think that means everybody’s a gang banger or just out to get white people, that everybody south of 8 Mile is just trying to slowly integrate into their communities and take it over.”
When he started attending Warren schools, Crawford said his white classmates would tell him he’s “not really Black, because what are you doing in the suburbs,” as if they were telling him to “go back to where I came from.”
Having lived on both sides of 8 Mile Road, Crawford said he still has a hard time understanding the disparity in resources between two communities so close together. Crawford said students in the suburbs had more access to tutoring, scholarships, after-school activities and other academic resources.
“It’s sad that I can look across my street and see a different view of how people view the world,” Crawford said. “You can see the difference between the Detroit side and the Grosse Pointe side, and it kinda makes you think why that is. Why do they have more access directly across the street? Not even four lanes, just two lanes stepping across the street.”
Crawford emphasized everyone in the Metro Detroit area must assume responsibility for the well-being of Detroit.
“Anybody that thinks just because you live four miles outside (Detroit) that they have no obligation or no role in changes that need to be made, you need to wake up,” Crawford said. “If you’re living on 12 Mile, you’re impacting people who live south of 8 Mile from what you do or what you don’t do.”
Livonia resident Tiffany Towns was born in Detroit. She said Detroit police officers should come from the community they serve.
“Whoever polices in Detroit needs to live in Detroit so that they can be comfortable with the citizens of Detroit,” Towns said. “We don’t want to hear that you’re uncomfortable being around Black folks and then go back to West Bloomfield.”
Hank, a Livonia resident who asked not to include his last name, said he was one of few minorities in Livonia Public Schools growing up.
“I’ve always had this image in my head that I have to be thick-skinned and people kind of suck out here,” Hank said. “So it’s incredibly surprising to see a thousand people show up out here, honestly. It’s not something I would see in Livonia personally, seeing how they treat people of color out here.”
University of Michigan-Dearborn alum Alexandria Hughes, involved with Michigan Student Power Network and Michigan Liberation, was one of six organizers of the Livonia protest. She said she has family who live and have been racially profiled in Livonia.
Hughes said she was surprised by the turnout and that word spread so quickly. When asked what it means for so many people to show up in Livonia, she said it assures her that “there are more people that think like I do.”
“A lot of time it’s easy to get in the mindframe of nothing is going to change, I’m the only one who feels this way, they don’t have my skin color, they don’t know what’s going on,” Hughes said. “But it’s proof that you have to be optimistic. I can feel that people are getting more tired. And I just feel that change is coming.”