By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – A diverse crowd gathered the afternoon of June 2 at the Dearborn police station to protest systemic racism, with Police Chief Ronald Haddad and officers “taking a knee” to show support.
The practice of “taking a knee” began when professional athletes used the gesture during the national anthem to protest against police brutality and racism.
The event featured local speakers, after which the microphone was made available to attendees, who shared their thoughts and experiences. Haddad and City Councilwoman Leslie Herrick also spoke.
Following the rally, the group marched east on Michigan Avenue from the police station to Schaefer Road.
Local organizer Elena Calderon, 20, of Dearborn said she hoped the concerns of the protesters would be heard.
“It’s a peaceful protest,” she said. “We just want to talk, and we hope people are ready to listen.”
Calderon said that while she has experienced racism, the focus of the protest was on the systemic racism black people face.
“Black lives matter, and we got to get it across that all lives can’t matter until black lives do,” she said.
Sarah LaFranc, 20, of Dearborn, another event organizer, said Dearborn has been notoriously racist in the past, especially during the Orville Hubbard regime, with his “Keep Dearborn Clean” slogan which was said to have an undertone of bigotry.
“We have transformed into one of the most diverse cities in the metro Detroit area, and we have protested together before, for different causes, and it’s about time we come out here and celebrate black lives,” she said.
Protester Mariam Amin, 20, of Dearborn said the value of a person’s life should not be dependent on their race.
“When they are being systemically murdered, that is a problem, and everybody should be outraged,” she said.
Amin said she faced discrimination in an airport by Transportation Security Administration personnel for wearing a hijab, but said that is nothing compared to what black people face every day.
Another Dearborn resident, Quinn Whitaker, 21, said he was drawn to the gathering after seeing peaceful protests around the country on television, and said it was important for him to take part in one in his own city, to “help bring energy to the protest.”
He said he has benefited from white privilege, and that is one of the reasons he came to the protest.
“I want to use whatever privilege I have to help give a voice to other people who are marginalized and don’t have that same privilege,” Whitaker said.
The Rev. Colleen Neiman, of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Dearborn, who offered an opening prayer, spoke out against racism and white supremacy.
She said her church had a pastor who, with his wife, adopted a biracial child, Kevin Hofmann, who was born in 1967 in Detroit. As an adult, Hofmann wrote a book about his struggles, “Growing Up Black in White.”
“St. Paul is a part of that story, and so I feel, as the pastor of this congregation, at this time, as it says in the first testament book of Esther, ‘For such a time as this, I need to use my voice, and speak out on behalf of my brothers and sisters,’” she said. “So that is why I am here, supporting peace and justice.”
Chianta Jenkins of Dearborn said that as a black American with two sons, the Black Lives Matter movement is important to her.
“Regardless of the color of our skin, we are a community,” she said. “There is no reason for me to tell my 14-year-old son how to behave when he is pulled over by the police. There is no reason for me to fear for my son’s life when he is pulled over.”
DeShaun Whipple, who is black, said when he moved to Dearborn three years ago, he said some of his black friends were aghast at his decision.
“Historically, we have heard racial stories about Dearborn,” he said. “They didn’t want to visit me, because of what they thought Dearborn was. But we are all human beings, and I look at this crowd and see people of all types of races here together. All lives will matter once black lives matter.”
Kristy McCarthy, a camera operator for Fox 2 News, who went up to the podium, said she moved to speak to the crowd.
“As a person who covers the news for a living, I don’t ever do this,” she said. “We do not come out from behind the camera. But I commend you, because I have seen the worst and the best in people, all the time, and you guys are showing an example of how to protest and have your message heard.”
Haddad, who was encouraged by the crowd to come out and speak, said he has done everything possible to instill in his officers to be civil and kind to everyone in the community.
“What happened in Minneapolis to George Floyd was a travesty, a human tragedy, and totally unacceptable to law enforcement,” he said. “I can tell you, when I have a new rookie officer here, I hand him a copy of the Constitution, and I remind them, that every single person that comes in our city, is entitled to the safeguards of this Constitution.”
Haddad said the Dearborn Police Department has done everything it can to reform itself. He said they have met with the Department of Justice, and he feels confident that when reforms are implemented in police departments throughout the country, what they have done in Dearborn will be used as an example.
“I can also tell you that every use of force is examined by everyone in our department, up to me, within 24 hours, and there is not chief or department in the country that can stand here and tell you that,” he said. “And I know, given the vulnerabilities of what we do every single day, that we are only as good as our next action.
“So, I am here to tell you that we are committed to be civil, to respect our community and to do the very best we can to keep everyone safe.”
Haddad said each group has a right to express its message, and his police officers will defend their right to say it.
“I’m going to always stand to salute the flag, but I would take a knee for justice, and against police brutality any day of the week,” he said, before taking a knee in front of the crowd, amid applause.
Herrick urged those gathered to continue to speak up and to contact their elected officials with issues which concern them. She said positive changes have been made to the Dearborn Police Department because of people voicing their opinions like those gathered.
After she left the podium, Herrick said Dearborn faces challenges other cities do not, but the way the Police Department currently handles itself and makes decisions has protected the city from the negative encounters other cities have faced recently.
“People coming together, in peaceful protest, and through conversations and letters to the editor, they do make change,” she said. “We have a very diverse population, who tends to respect and embrace each other’s cultures and traditions and perspectives. That is why I am very proud of the people in Dearborn, and to be a representative of them and their voices.”