Royal Oakers Gather at Courthouse to Protest Racism
(Crystal A. Proxmire, June 4, 2020)
Royal Oak, MI – On the steps of the courthouse in Downtown Royal Oak, person after person shared stories of how racism has impacted them.
One speaker talked about the fear of sending her children off into a world where they can be seen as suspicious just because of the color of their skin. A world where they have longer sentences and higher bail. A world where they are more likely to be injured or killed in encounters with the police.
Lakeesha Morrison said that her family was the first African American family to settle in Royal Oak after escaping slavery in the south with the help of people along the Underground Railroad. At the mic she proclaimed the need for economic reforms, justice reforms, healthcare reforms, and an end to racism. She called for people not just in the big cities, but in suburbs like Royal Oak, to continue to speak up until real change is made.
A white woman spoke of how nervous she feels getting pulled over. “I have to pay a ticket, my insurance might go up. So I’m nervous,” she said. But for a black person, she explained, the fear is much worse. To the black members of her family, a traffic stop feels like it could be the end of their life.
Another woman, married to a black man, talked about the fear her husband had of being part of a protest at all, given the scenes of police using rubber bullets, pepper spray, riot shields, and batons in protests happening around the country.
Though in Royal Oak, like many other suburban protests in the area, the police intentionally demonstrated kindness. Police Chief Corrigan O’Donohue spoke to reinforce the department’s commitment to the fair treatment of all. Officers were also on hand greeting people coming and going, and offering bottles of water and face masks.
Several times speakers noted that their anger was towards the justice system as a whole, and not the Royal Oak Police specifically. One black man said he’d been in trouble with the law several times and each time he was treated with respect, and that the police helped him to get his life back together.
In the midst of the stories, examples and speeches was a painful silence of eight minutes and 46 seconds.
That’s the length of time that Minnesota resident George Floyd was pinned to the ground with Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on his neck as he moaned that he couldn’t breathe. He died on Memorial Day, and his death has sparked protests across the nation and the world.
“He called out for his mother,” Morrison said, saying that when people die they see their deceased loved ones as they get closer to death. “Mamma. Mamma,” she repeated his words while the crowd stood with their heads bowed, and several sitting on the ground or kneeling.
At about three minutes Morrison reminded people of how short the time had been so far. Not even half way through. And not even being trapped on the ground with someone’s knee on your neck.
After eight minutes and 46 seconds, the speeches resumed, with two hours worth of stories and expressions of anger, sadness, fear, and hope for a more equitable future. Other protests have taken place in Ferndale, Madison Heights, Troy, Farmington Hills, Rochester Hills, and other suburban cities, as well as a series of protests in Detroit.