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“End White Silence”: Second Protest Planned in Rochester Hills

“End White Silence”: Second Protest Planned in Rochester Hills

(Leslie Ellis, June 1, 2020)

Rochester Hills, MI – Protesters will gather again Monday in Rochester Hills to demonstrate against police brutality and structural racism, following a peaceful, last-minute protest Sunday.

The pair of protests are among demonstrations that have engulfed the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn. Floyd, who was black, died after former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes during an arrest over a suspected counterfeit $20 bill. The incident unleashed long-simmering feelings of frustration, anger and grief about how the black community is policed and generated calls for all officers involved in the arrest to be charged in Floyd’s death. Chauvin was fired and has been charged with murder. Three other officers who were on the scene have been fired.

Emily Francis, who organized the pair of Rochester Hills protests, said she couldn’t stay silent any longer after seeing video of the incident.

“When no one speaks out, people can feel like they are alone. I wanted all of our black neighbors to know that there are people here who will fight with them and for them,” Francis said. “We need to end white silence. It’s easy in the suburbs to feel like this is a big city issue or that there isn’t anything we can do. The goal is to gather together and take a clear stand that systemic racism and acts of racial violence have no place in our community.”

Approximately 60 people attended the protest Sunday at the corner of Adams Road and Walton Boulevard near the campus of Oakland University. They were encouraged to follow COVID-19 safety protocols — wear masks and stay at least 6 feet apart. Francis said she informed the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and the Oakland University Police Department in advance about the protest.

Reaction to the protest was largely positive.

“For the most part, there was lots of honking and raised fists from cars passing by.  Others just observed the signs,” Francis said. “Many of those gathered expressed how good it felt to be doing something, even though it was small. Some people just saw us and joined in.

“A few people yelled back that ‘all lives matter.’ Only one man yelled the ‘f’ word and a racial slur. Several people yelled ‘get a job,’ which was funny because it was Sunday at 3 p.m. We have jobs that don’t require us to work on Sunday afternoons,” said Francis, who teaches at Oakland University.

Nicole Lucas of Huntington Woods said she attended the Sunday protest because she wanted to use her actions to create change.

“While I was there, I had so many thoughts associated with hope, that so many people see that this is wrong and we must stand together to bring peace and equality,” Lucas said. “But, I also was saddened by some of the negative comments. I mean, how can someone argue that all people should be equal? Hearing some of the words of the passers-by are a reminder of how broken we are as a country.”

If people would like to take action but can’t make it to a protest, Francis said there are other options: They can donate to organizations providing bail money, legal aid, food and medical supplies for protesters; write their representatives; support businesses that have spoken out against racism and police brutality; or join a local Working Together for Racial Justice group on Facebook.

“In the suburbs, it can be hard to understand systemic racism,” Francis said. “It takes a lot of work — and uncomfortable work — to understand how your own life intersects with the racism that is deeply embedded in our country.

“The suburbs are especially difficult because there can be a lot of fear if people don’t make an effort to put themselves into situations with more diversity,” she said. “For white people, it’s sometimes hard to know what to do or say. I totally get that. But it is our work to learn and to speak up.”

Another protest will be held from 4-6 p.m. Monday, June 1, at the corner of Adams Road and Walton Boulevard near the campus of Oakland University. Protesters are encouraged to remain peaceful and follow COVID-19 safety protocols — wear masks and stay at least 6 feet apart.

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