Protests continue Downriver
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – As peaceful protests continued Downriver for the third week since the death of George Floyd, chants of “No justice, no peace” and heartfelt, first-hand stories of discrimination resonated at gatherings.
In Melvindale, protesters walked from the Civic Center, along Allen Road and Oakwood Boulevard, on June 14, gathering at the Veterans Memorial, where the crowd held an 8 minute 46 second silent vigil while lying on the ground to commemorate Floyd’s death when Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck.
Protest participants spoke next, sharing the fear and discrimination they had felt and experienced in their lives.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13th District), who represents Melvindale, and Melvindale Police Chief John Allen spoke as well.
Event leader Precious Gill, 26, of Taylor, said she calls on police officers to protect people from their colleagues who allow their personal prejudices to get in the way of performing their sworn duty.
Following the silent vigil for Floyd, she encouraged people to continue to attend protests, and to speak and make a difference, so their children’s future will be better.
Anthony Hill, 22, of Melvindale, said, in addition to police brutality, the protesters speak out against racism and hate. He said his 3-year-old daughter rode her bike with them
during the protest.
“I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with what I do, everything single day, being a black male,” he said. “We protest not just for change for today, for tomorrow, but for my daughter, so 20 years from now, she doesn’t have to do what I am doing right now.”
He said racism and hate are taught, and are not something people are born with.
“Things are different for us of color,” he said. “I was raised by white parents, with white brothers and sisters, and people have said, ‘You’re not black enough,’ or, ‘You don’t know what we go through.’ But tell me, if I were to walk down the street or into a store, do you think they know that, that that will protect me? Just think about how crazy that sounds.”
Hassan Perez, 33, of Wyandotte, spoke about a society that marginalizes both people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community.
“We, as human beings, we touch people and inspire people,” he said. “We need to come together and love each other, and abolish all this inequality, all this injustice, all this racism that a child has to deal with, growing up in this world.”
Dontay Johnson, 26, of Melvindale, said he didn’t attend the protest intending to speak, but he said, pointing to the school he attended and the surrounding neighborhood that he has walked through countless times, that as a gay black man, he encourages others to learn each other’s stories and struggles.
“I encourage everybody to learn,” he said. “That is what I came out here to do – to learn from everybody.”
Eric Wilson, 35, who is black, and attended with his son, Isiah, 6, urged people to set aside judgement and to love people of all backgrounds. He said his wife is white, and they are raising three biracial children.
Wilson said his children shouldn’t have to worry and be asking him if the police are going to stop him and take him to jail because he is black.
“Officers, please look out for your community,” he said. “If a black person calls you, do the same thing you would do if a white person, if an Arabic person calls you. Everybody, love everybody, until they give you a reason not to love them.”
Tlaib marched and spoke, and said she gets calls from people who are fearful, and acknowledged that black people have been failed by this country.
“We never really, truly freed them,” she said. “Young black children in Detroit Public Schools are begging for the right to literacy, to read. They had to go to court for that.”
Tlaib said Detroit schools have more security personnel than counselors, and schools no longer have social workers and nurses.
“We are militarizing and criminalizing the poor, militarizing neighborhoods and criminalizing the poor,” she said. “Of course, George (Floyd) was calling for his mother, because he knew he was dying. But when I cried more was when I found out his mother was not even alive. He knew he was taking his last breath.”
Tlaib said the system is set up in a way that is broken, oppressive and racist.
“All I am saying to you all, is when I see $733 billion in federal money going to war, to militarization, versus $190 billion for health and human services, while a school doesn’t even have clean drinking water, is it is set up against black and brown people in this country,” she said.
Tlaib reminded the protesters that the Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted more than a year.
“Transformative change is not going to happen until we keep going, until we see investment in our kids, and in our communities and our neighborhoods, and until we see accountability,” she said. “No one should ever have to get up here and say ‘I was afraid when I was little.’”
Michael Wozniak, 36, of Allen Park, said Chauvin did not do what he did out of fear or passion, and said Chauvin had eight calm minutes to process what he was doing.
“Besides George (Floyd’s) pleas for his life, several people, including an EMT, pleaded with him to stop, or at the very least, check a pulse,” he said. “Even after George lost consciousness, (Chauvin) did not get up. There was no threat, there was no danger, but he continued to kneel on a dying man’s neck.”
Wozniak said racists have had it “way too easy for way too long.”
“But that is changing, and people are changing,” he said. “Some of history’s most bigoted groups, like the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan, went from major powers to marginalized and taboo. We need to use this momentum to drive racists into hiding.”
Wozniak urged people to continue to speak out and stand together.
“If we continue to listen to those that have suffered the pain of injustice, and we become comfortable with being uncomfortable, we can shape the future, so let’s all get out and vote, and let’s all be uncomfortable,” he said.
Allen spoke, and said he is “on the side of humanity.” He thanked those gathered for coming out and being part of a peaceful protest.
“People of Melvindale, we are here to support you, and that is why we are here,” he said. “To give you a peaceful platform to do something, where you are not going to have to worry about your safety.”
Allen said it is hard for him to understand what is going on elsewhere, because he is not that way.
“I don’t police that way, and I feel bad listening to the stories I hear,” he said. “I have never encountered a bad situation like that in my life, as a police officer, and I am sorry police officers are doing that.
“From the bottom of my heart, we are here to support you. We are all human, and we are all in this together.”