By Tom Travis
For a second time in two days, protesters gathered Sunday night, this time in downtown Flint, to send their message that black lives matter and police brutality needs to end.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, who had drawn national attention Saturday for joining with the protestors on Miller Road, returned to be with the protestors again and promised, “We are with you.”
A speaker set up in front of the Courthouse at Saginaw and Court streets blasted music all night, including “Changes” by 2pac, “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
Swanson had arranged for Koegel hot dogs, chips and bottled water for anyone. A grill was set up in front of the Genesee County Jail and staff cooked hot dogs all evening.
He again answered the crowds plea from Saturday’s march in Flint Township, “Walk with us!”
A group of protesters marched around the four corners of Saginaw and Court streets from about 6 p.m. to about 8 p.m.
Some protesters gathered at the flat lot near UM-Flint around 8 p.m. The flat lot group marched south on Saginaw Street towards the other group at Court Street. Escorted by police vehicles from across the county, Swanson joined the group and led hundreds of protesters down Saginaw Street to the overpass at I-69.
There Swanson and Flint Township Detective Chad Miller spoke to the crowd.
“No need to burn the city down, you can have your voice heard,” Swanson began. The crowd cheered. Swanson continued, “We will be the next generation to make the change and continue the movement. Are you with me?” The crowd cheered again.
“Let’s start a movement in Flint and let it spread,” Miller said. “Police and communities can come together. It’s gotta start from the heart. We’re with you.”
Swanson called everyone on the overpass to take a knee and offer 30 seconds in a moment of silence for George Floyd. Then Swanson stood and asked everyone to stay down and to offer another 30 seconds of silence for all others killed by police brutality.
After the speeches by Swanson and Miller on Saginaw Street the protesters marched up Beach Street into the Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood, Grand Traverse Boulevard and around Hurley Hospital.
A weekend of protests in Flint
Flint’s weekend of protests and marches aimed to honor and to seek justice for Minneapolis resident George Floyd, slain by a white police officer. On Saturday night hundreds showed up on Miller Road in Flint Township. After marching up and down Miller Road for over two hours the protest march made its way to the Flint Township Police Department across the street from Genesee Valley Mall off Linden Road.
There a scene played out that has, to this point, changed how Flint is reacting to the death of George Floyd, police brutality and racial inequity. While many cities across the country are burning and being looted, Flint is reacting differently, largely in part due to the actions and words of Sheriff Swanson. On Saturday night Swanson met the marching protest at Flint Township Police Department.
At Sunday night’s protest in downtown Flint, EVM asked Swanson to describe what happened in that moment in Flint Township.
“What we saw was a march and it accelerated quickly. They marched with increased anger towards the police department,” Swanson said. “I saw just a few breaks along the line that they were receptive.”
“You can’t plan for that. Training and experience kicked in and a heart for people. You have to love people. I’ve been doing this for 27 years on Tuesday. And I took my helmet down, I laid my weapon down. I went to the ‘shot caller,’ the local lead organizer. I gave him a big ol’ bear hug and I said what do I need to do?”
Swanson said to the lead organizer, “That guy (referring to Minneapolis police officer Chauvin)– He doesn’t represent us. He’s not one of us, the one who killed George Floyd.”
Swanson said the lead organizer replied, “Tell them.”
Swanson asked the organizer, “Get their attention.”
“I looked at the crowd and I said, ‘What’s next?’ The crowd said, ‘March with us, walk with us.’ And man, those words, “let’s walk” flipped the switch.”
“Then a conversation started,” Swanson said. “And that conversation started with compassion, a fist bump and a hug. It started the whole thing. It started a movement in Flint.”
Genesee County Sheriff Swanson does not condone what happened to George Floyd
Detective Chad Miller of Flint Township Police stood beside Swanson in full tactical gear.
“We do not condone what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis,” he said.
“We pray for the family and friends of George Floyd. It’s disgusting what happened, we don’t condone it and we don’t allow it here.
“We’re going to start training better, we’re going to start talking better. And hopefully it’ll start in Flint, Michigan. That type of policing is unacceptable we can’t allow it anymore. We have to change what we do as a profession.”
EVM asked Swanson what would happen to a Genesee County officer who acted like Chauvin? Swanson said, “The Sheriff’s office has fired over 80 people since 2000. If we had an officer that did that, they would be arrested, lodged, fired, and charged, with haste. There’s no ‘I need to see more evidence’.
“There’s 8 minutes and 46 seconds of video and that’s all you need to see. You can’t be on someone’s neck that long. It’s deadly force. He’s in handcuffs, he’s not resisting. The crowd’s begging to let him go. He’s begging for his mother.”
Swanson continued, “That’s a culture that was established in that officer. I don’t know the officer. We look at the actions. That wasn’t his first time. That kind of thing had to be caught way before. And at this office and Flint Township you jump on it (he said as he snapped his fingers and clapped his hands)
Detective Miller added, “I promise you if I would have been on that scene George Floyd would be alive. I would not have allowed that behavior. I would have taken control of that scene.”
Swanson, “You gotta call out wrong when wrong is wrong. I don’t care if you’re the police, it doesn’t matter.”
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes has caused an outcry of protests across the nation.
According to media reports, all four arresting officers of Floyd have been fired. The officer who held his knee on Floyd has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Swanson gives his answer for racial divide in Flint
EVM asked Swanson, What is the answer for racial divide in Flint, Michigan?
“We gotta start with what happened last night and put actions behind our words. We have black folks here, we have people from high end from the low end, people from all walks of life. And when you blend together and show cohesiveness and you listen to the people, that’s the first step,” Swanson replied.
“It is systemic. You see what’s happening in the nation: 30 cities burning — why not here? Because the police started the conversation and the protesters were receptive to hear it.”
Detective Miller added, “Police in America, we cannot police with a heavy fist any more. That doesn’t work. The era of the 60s and 70s — that policing doesn’t work anymore. People are not receptive to that anymore. Police have to start having compassion.
“Not everybody’s a criminal. That has to start with the police. It’s not going to start with the citizens. It has to start with the police. No other way it can happen. We have to get better as a police force in this country. And we will gain the trust of the people,” Miller added.
“We hear you. You definitely have our attention,” Miller concluded. “When you start burning down the country that’s where you lose the politicians and police. You have to have a peaceful protest. We are hearing everyone. We are paying attention. We are going to make changes.”
“We don’t want to put another band aid on the gunshot wound.”
Local activist and Flint resident, DeWaun Robinson joined the scene last night. He engaged in a conversation with Swanson, Miller and other members of the Genesee County Sheriff’s office at the corner of Saginaw Street and Court Street in front of the courthouse.
“We were trying to find some middle ground and we need to start a relationship of understanding,” Robinson said. “I kind of put out something with the rally on Miller Road. And I don’t want to lose the concept of following all the way through. We don’t want to put another band aid on the gunshot wound.”
“If we really expect the police to change and we’re talking transformational change then we have to sit down and have a conversation and have a plan of action on how that looks. So what me and Sheriff Swanson was talking about was sitting down and having that discussion and establish it through action. We aren’t just talking about it anymore but we’re about action now. ”
Robinson said he exchanged numbers with Swanson and Miller and one of them is supposed to reach out to Robinson this week to set up a time to sit down and talk. Robinson added, “I’m going to bring some of the young guys from the community and he’ll bring some of the police officers from the force.”
“And then we’ll have discussion and lay everything out on the table. The point will be for the police to hear how we view the police. And then for us to listen to the police on how they see us. And then how we can look at this as human beings. Ultimately we have to come together.” Robinson said.
EVM asked Robinson what is the hope for police brutality to end?
“We can’t subdue it. It’s gotta end,” Robinson said. “We can’t let it sit. We can’t just comb over it. We can’t just think it’s going to work itself out on its own. No! We gotta do it together.”
“Ultimately it’s going to take the police force to do it,” he added. “We’re putting pressure on the outside from the community. But internally the police department has to take their blinders off and make some transformational change: how they train the police officers. How they view soft and hard criminals. We want to make sure we look at this totally different. Make us feel like we’re part of the community and to cultivate better relationships. You’ll see less crime and less negative perception.”
People need to keep “saying their name”
Flint resident, Alliyah Robertson held a sign that read, “Say Their Names,” referring to the many people of color who have been killed by police. Robertson said about her sign, “Their names should still be heard. No one speaks on it. And in like two weeks no one is talking about it anymore.”
“I think people need to keep saying their names and keep protesting and getting things to be where they should be. I’m here tonight for George Floyd and for my city. We have all been through so much and it’s really nice to see all of us out here coming together,” Robertson said.
The murder of George Floyd one resident said, “It’s nothing new”
Ricky Jones, 21, a graduate of Northern High School, joined in the protest at one point carrying a sign almost as tall as he was. The sign had pictures and names of people who had been killed by police. Jones said about his sign, “It means that anyone of these people could be a family member. It hits home because they are all different kind of ages, males, females.”
About Floyd’s murder, Jones said, “It’s very sad but it’s nothing new. It’s just a different case, a different person.” Asked what needs to happen for change to take place, he said, “I feel like the change that would benefit our country is for the people who have been sitting at the top of our government for 30 years to be fired. Because there’s no change. I’m out here today to bring awareness to all the people getting killed.”
A group of friends from Davison joining the message of Black Lives Matter
Kieana Merriweather, 19, of Davison stood with 7 of her friends from Davison. Merriweather said, “We’re here to protest and make sure everyone knows the importance that black lives matter and everyone’s lives matter. Police brutality is a huge problem and it needs to be fixed.”
One of her friends said about Floyd, “I think it was a terrible tragedy and it could have been avoided a hundred percent– those other cops just stood by, they didn’t jump in and say hey he can’t breathe.”
EVM Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.