Eleven-year-olds faced off with University students over the merits of affirmative action as hundreds gathered to protest the passage of Proposal 2 on the Diag yesterday.
Militant pro-affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary sponsored a march and rally that brought hundreds of supporters to campus on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Promotional material distributed by BAMN before the event said the marchers would demand “no drop in minority enrollment in higher education in Michigan.”
Confrontations between marchers and members of the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, a politically conservative group, erupted when several YAF members walked in front of the march.
Marchers chanted a line often heard at BAMN-sponsored protests: “They say ‘Jim Crow,’ we say ‘Hell no!’ ”
Most of the marchers were middle school, high school and college students from across the state, though people of all ages took part in the march. Organizers said the group bused almost 300 students from Detroit area schools, including members of the Cass Technical High School marching band.
At least 40 members of the band played music, twirled flags and danced at the front of the pack.
Maricruz Lopez, co-chair of the University’s BAMN chapter, said the group brought the students to Ann Arbor so they could fight for a cause that matters to them.
“This is a fight for their lives,” she said.
Shanta Driver, the national co-chair of BAMN, said the main goal of the rally was to let both the University administration and the state of Michigan know that the group will continue to oppose Proposal 2 – even after the University has announced that it will not file any new legal challenges to the constitutional amendment for now.
Currently BAMN has filed two separate lawsuits seeking to weaken and reverse the effects of Proposal 2.
The first asks the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay that would delay the implementation of Proposal 2 until the end of this year.
The second suit challenges the validity of Proposal 2. It alleges that proponents of the law used “racially targeted voter fraud” and “lies and deception” during the campaign to get the proposal onto Michigan’s ballot. The suit is before a federal court.
George Washington, the lawyer representing BAMN, said he is confident both cases will fare well in court.
Luke Massie, BAMN’s other national co-chair, said Proposal 2’s passage was a step backward for civil rights.
“We’re strong, we’re proud, we’re loud, and we’re not going back,” he said.
Four members from YAF walked in front of the march waving posters with things like “Scoreboard: MCRI: 58, BAMN: 0,” – a reference to the 58 percent of the vote garnered by Proposal 2 – written on them.
One sign bore a line from King’s famous “I have a dream” speech: “They will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
The students also shouted chants into megaphones like “Hey BAMN, what do you say? Prop 2 passed anyway” and told the marchers to “stop whining.”
Andrew Boyd, chair of the University’s chapter of YAF, said their main opposition to BAMN’s agenda was that Michigan voters had already passed Proposal 2.
Boyd said BAMN did not uphold the values of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was peaceful and tolerant – BAMN is militant and intolerant,” Boyd said.
But Driver said King would be marching right along side her group.
“If he were alive today, he would be here with us today- I am certain,” she said
Passions ignited and shouting matches erupted as the two groups clashed ideologically.
Although the marchers most vocally opposed to the YAF protesters were adults, many of the younger participants also got involved.
The march turned physical on State Street when members of the two groups got involved in a short pushing match.
YAF member Justin Zatkoff claims that a BAMN marcher punched him in the chin during the altercation.
“Some guy just came up and pushed me, and then slugged me on my face,” Zatkoff said.
But campus police, who were on hand throughout the entire event, said they did not see any signs of violence.
Zatkoff said an officer was nearby, but no legal measures were taken.
BAMN members also disputed Zatkoff’s claim and said they were just trying to stop the YAF members from blocking their route.
Driver described YAF’s efforts as simply “insignificant.”
Several BAMN members said numbers were in their favor.
“There’s hundreds of us and just a couple of them,” Law School Student Kelli Sussman said.
Although BAMN’s tendency to bus in inner-city youth has often stirred controversy on campus, many young students said it’s their choice to participate and are excited to do so.
A seventh-grader from Malcolm X Academy in Detroit said she relishes the opportunity to be an activist.
“I’m really excited and hyped that I can actually make a difference with what my future looks like,” she said. “My parents are happy I’m here, too.”
Although pedestrian traffic was low because of the holiday, some passers by stopped to watch.