By Tom Travis
A crowd of hundreds, many in masks, gathered on the lawn of Flint City Hall Monday night, the peaceful protest one in a series of weekend protests in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
State and local politicians and a stream of local activists spoke to a racially mixed crowd holding signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice No Peace” and who raised their fists and cheered in support of the speakers.
“We have long seen no justice from the death of Black people. We have also seen the victim’s past used to justify their death. Why?” local activist and director Flint Rising Nayyirah Shariff declared to the crowd.
“Does someone have to be canonized as a saint to receive empathy, to see their death as unjust? Black lives haven’t mattered historically or politically. Because our lives haven’t mattered, we live next to expressways and toxic plants. We live in structurally divested communities.” Shariff said.
“We get Jim Crow, the Emergency Manager Law, and the Flint Water Crisis. And we are expected to be resilient after police harassment and our bodies being poisoned.” Shariff continued.
Also speaking Monday night was Egypt Otis, who said, “Having emotions of anger, rage and frustration are legitimate feelings to have when black lives are under a constant threat of violence.”
“It is time to attach these feelings with action items. It is time to demand transformative policies and not reform. It is time to not only protest but organize and have black people leading these movements.” Otis said.
Otis ended by reminding the audience that July 7 is #BlackOutDay. This is an effort to encourage people of color to use economic power by withholding their money to fight racial injustice.”
“The Black Out Day website explains, “The #Blackout is the name of the movement behind the hashtag #BlackoutDay (#blackout on Tumblr), a quarterly call-to-action to (re)define Blackness that takes place on the 6th day of every third month starting from March 6th. This is our way of talking about Blackness and how we can see ourselves regardless of age, background, size, gender, etc.. We welcome you to help define Blackness on your own terms simply by being yourself and showing us what you can do.“While white supremacists may not like us they love our money”, Otis said.
In a brief speech, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley announced resolutions and ordinances he introduced to City Council that evening. Neeley said, “We all witnessed in the death of George Floyd —a horrible reminder that we have much more work to do in this country.”
“It is incumbent on all of us to do more and push harder for racial justice,” Mayor Neeley said. Paraphrasing a famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr., he said, “Make no mistake about it: The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice because of the pressure we put upon it. I am proud to join in Flint’s peaceful protests and to continue working every day for unity in our community.”
Abdul El-Sayed , a physician, progressive activist and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate, called for a process of police accountability including support of establishing police review task forces who are responsible for the application of conducting independent audits and regular internal training on crisis intervention.
In the crowd Monday night was 48th District Michigan State Representative Sheryl Kennedy. She was masked and carried a hand written sign with names of people who have died at the hands of police brutality in the last ten years.
Asked why she was there, Kennedy said, “I’m here because I think it’s vitally important that leaders, especially leaders like me, who happen to be white, step up and be allies for what is clearly an injustice. And it’s not a one-time injustice— it has been an injustice for 400 years. Enough is enough.”
“We know this has been going on. This is something that we just shouldn’t be taking anymore. I think especially we need to see this as a community issue, this is something we all should be speaking out about and fighting for.”
Kennedy described the poster she was holding, “it’s of names of men and women who have died under police brutality in the last decade. I couldn’t fill in any more names because I ran out of room.”
Asked what white politicians say and do about racial inequity, Kennedy said, “White people need to speak their truth and their heart and then open your ears and listen. To me, that shouldn’t be that hard. I’m familiar with working and leading in diverse schools and diverse communities.
“So for me, it’s not that difficult to talk about issues of race,” she said. “But I recognize the community I grew up in was predominantly white. A number of my friends from the white community have said, ‘I don’t even know how to talk about it.’ So you know what, reach out, read books, inform yourself. We need to have these conversations and we need to have them as one community.”
The peaceful protest began at 4 p.m. ended at 5 p.m. A crowd of young people continued the energy of protest by taking to the street. The group of about 100 young people spilled onto Saginaw Street in front of City Hall and walked north down towards the river. The group circled the Veterans Memorial in front of the Durant and headed back towards City Hall.
Banner photo by Paul Rozycki
EVM Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.