Hundreds March for Justice in Downtown Ferndale
(Drew Saunders, June 6, 2020)
Ferndale, MI -It is often said that silence is compliance in the face of injustice. On Saturday, over a thousand people from all walks of life gathered in Ferndale to be anything but silent in the face of violence against people of color across the United States. The protest is part of an international movement sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.
This march was organized by young adults from the Ferndale area. One of them was Kyra Newman, who kicked off the June 6 protest and march in the parking lot in between the Ferndale Library and Ferndale police department, fresh out of high school. The march went through Downtown Ferndale, and ended with a rally in Geary Park.
“The U.S. prison system is an industrial complex that profits off the arrests of Black people and other People of Color. There’s a blatant issue with the way police departments are run across the country and it is time that police officers are held accountable for their actions. Not only do we need to hold them accountable, but their fellow officers need to hold them accountable,” Newman said. “It shouldn’t take national and international outrage for someone to be arrested for a murder that is caught on film.”
America has struggled with how to deal racism and injustice in the justice system for its entire history. The latest wave of protests came upon the death of George Floyd, an African American man who was killed by a Caucasian police officer in Minneapolis, who leaned his knee into the back of Floyd’s back for eight minutes and forty-six seconds as he pled for air.
Also recently, Louisville EMT Breonna Taylor was shot dead on March 13 in her apartment by police officers conducting an investigation in which Taylor wasn’t even a suspect. She would have been 27 years old on Friday.
Protests have taken place across the globe, including several throughout Metro Detroit. Ferndale, Royal Oak, Ortonville, Rochester Hills, Farmington Hills, Pontiac, and Madison Heights are just some of the Oakland County communities that held demonstrations.
One protestor who had specific ideas for reform in policing was Detroit resident Bryan Willson.
He said this has been his fifth protest since Floyd’s death; but he has been protesting since Walter Scott at the hands of a South Carolina officer in 2015.
Willson said that previous waves or protests were not effective in creating change, but, “This one is a different story. The amount of white people, this feels different. This is the reason I came to Ferndale, because before at those protests nobody came to Ferndale to see, because no one would be protesting on the other side of Ferndale. Now there’s one in Troy, Ferndale, West Bloomfield. Everybody is outraged across the whole world. This is the best that we, on the other side of Eight Mile, have felt ever, as far as the support from people who are not part of the People of Color category.”
“This has been really empowering,” Warren resident Zaynah Hague said. This was her second protest and she said she felt nervous to go to them because she was unsure what attending a march would be like. But now that she has gone to the protest movement, she’s found that participation “brings a lot of empowering thoughts and inspiration.”
She protested with demands for communities to recognize the racism present in their communities, and to increase police training. She carried a self-made protest sign depicting a raised fist painted in every shade of skin color imaginable. A moon in the corner said “Rest in Power” surrounded by the names of the most recent victims of police violence. She had been joined by Royal Oak resident Isabelle Bubenko.
“Since I started seeing more people coming out and seeing more protests, it’s been inspiring to see people out here and standing up for what’s right and being heard,” Bubenko said, adding that the movement has a “kind of beauty and community that inspires me to join.”
The procession stretched for blocks. Along the way supporters cheered from the storefronts and came out from the neighborhoods to join in.
Speakers at Geary Park addressed supporters in two phases, once in the middle of a large oval of people, then with a series of speeches from the pavilion. One of the first speakers was Samona Tuck, who encouraged everyone to support African-American businesses and use the hashtag #BlackReceipts when they do.
“I am doing this because black bodies are not for a white man’s sport. We deserve to have human rights. We need to de-fund the police and use our white allies to stimulate the black community,” Tuck told the Oakland County Times. “There is no progress until they stop.”
Ferndale’s elected officials were among the last to speak. Mayor Pro Tem Raylon Leaks-May praised the size, diversity, and wide range of ages in the crowd. She acknowledged criticisms on how the city policed itself, and she encouraged attendees to find a historical perspective of learning about African American history.
Mayor Melanie Piana said this was her first public speech since the Stay Home Stay Safe order to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. She said that the statewide shut down starkly exposed racial injustices.
As part of a commitment to combat racism, Piana announced that the council will adopt a resolution at the next meeting to commit the city to anti-racist policies.
The police stuck largely to the sidelines, apart from blocking the roads to allow citizens to march safely down Nine Mile. Ferndale Police Captain Denis Emmi told the Oakland County Times before the march started that he and his fellow officers were outraged when he found out about the death of George Floyd, just like much of America was.
“We understood that it was a terrible use of force, that we don’t teach or condone,” Emmi said. “Certainly if anyone did anything like that in this police department there’d be serious repercussions. It’s sad that someone like that scarred an honorable profession like ours. Our officers have a duty to police each other.”
Newman laid out several things that Ferndale can do on a local level in the future, after an eight minute and forty-six second silence, where organizers and speakers took turns to read out the names and ages of people of color who have died at the hands of police, as well as the city they died in. Suggestions included getting rid of “blue lives matter” paraphernalia in the city, creating a police accountability board with members reflective of the ethnicities that live in Ferndale, and a request that people “be an ally all of the time, and not just when it is a trend to.”
This is the second large demonstration in Ferndale since Floyd’s death, with protestors lining 9 Mile and Woodward earlier in the week.