Pontiac Comes Together in Unity Over Death of George Floyd
(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 1, 2020)
Pontiac, MI – “We have intentionally change the language from a protest to a ‘Community Unity Rally,” said Rev. Keynon Peyton of New Bethel Church on the steps of Pontiac City Hall on Sunday as he overlooked a crowd of those gathered to peacefully mourn the death of George Floyd and call for an end to racial injustice.
“Unlike what we’re seeing in demonstrations across America, we wanted to say here in the City of Pontiac that with the same purpose in demonstrating, that we can do it peacefully and acknowledge what we know needs to change so we can receive justice in America,” he said.
“After watching all the images on the news stations, my heart was broken. When we saw the pain in the street, I too was angry and frustrated. And dealing with those emotions, I knew that there needed t be a safe place for people to take those emotions in a more meaningful and constructive way be able to release that energy and harness it into constructive policy reforms that we seek here in America.”
Peyton and his “pastoral brothers and sisters” from multiple congregations joined together on the Christian-observed Pentecost Sunday to stand united against racism and violence. Instead of signs and chanting, or confrontations with police, there were prayers and gospel music.
“Pentecost is when the spirit of God was able to descend from heaven,” the reverend said. “They all spoke in different languages but they spoke with a common tongue. We are here today with the common tongue of the spirit of humanity. ”
Pastor Ryan Russel of Woodside Bible Church spoke of how Christians during Pentecost were said to “gather to scatter” faith, meaning people should take the passion of the event and spread it to others out in the world. “Pray that we may experience justice, that we may experience unity, that we may experience restoration.”
Another faith leader, keeping with the unifying theme, said “Unity isn’t holding hands and singing Kumbaya… It’s about real unity, the same level of opportunity for all… We cannot miss this moment to say we cannot move forward in this nation without substantive change.”
He acknowledged the risk of COVID-19 and the impact it has had, particularly in the black community. Members of his church have died from the disease. “As I look out in this crowd, I see bravery. I see courage,” Russel said. “Our seniors are here. They are risking their lives, but they would not miss this moment.”
In addition to the faith leaders, officials from the City and the County were present, including County Executive David Coulter and Sheriff Mike Bouchard. Bouchard arrived with two captains from the Pontiac substation who play an active role in not only policing, but in community outreach.
The Sheriff read a statement that he had released following Floyd’s death, including “The actions of all the officers involved are deplorable. This goes for the officers who caused the death as well as those who stood by and did nothing.”
“We cannot let this define us. As a profession and individually, we must go out of our way to ensure communities of color know this is not what professional policing looks like. All people will be treated with respect and dignity. I know the heart and character of the men and women of policing. They put on a uniform to help people in what is often the worst moments of their lives. They are willing to work holidays, crazy shifts, and face danger head-on because they want to make a difference. That is what must and will rise to the surface.”
County Executive Coulter acknowledged there is “injustice in our healthcare system, and inequality in our economic system,” as well as the justice system.
“These problems go back a long way,” he said. “Just because they’re hard doesn’t meant we can avoid our responsibility to act.”
Pontiac Mayor Deidre Waterman said to the crowd “I am proud to have you on the steps of City Hall. We hear the voices of so many that are part of this uprising… I feel the pain of yet another community that has experienced a street execution…It is a reality that haunts every black family.”
Councilperson Randy Carter told Oakland County Times, “Since we can’t be in church today [due to COVID-19], we can be here and maintain our position. There is love, peace, and organization, even in Pontiac.”
Council President Kermit Williams shared a similar sentiment, saying that the event “was awesome because it showed that even in a time of great pain in our country. People can still come together in Love to confront the small minority that continue to hate.”