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A tale of two cities: protest organizers from Detroit and Grand Rapids sound off

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Protests over the weekend, like the one pictured here in Detroit on Friday, demanded action against police brutality. The organizers of events that happened over the weekend hope to amplify the voices of their community.

Protesters have marched in all 50 states to demand action against police brutality and mourn the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Stateside talked to two peaceful protest organizers in Grand Rapids and Detroit about what it was like demonstrating in their cities.

On Saturday, May 30, Victor Williams organized an event called “Speak Through the Mask” in Grand Rapids. Victor said the name of the event had a double meaning, encouraging protesters to come with a mask and also to confront their “alternate personality”.

“Really, we are inviting our brothers and sisters across all platforms, white, black, Asian, Latino, to come out and speak to racism to come out and speak against police brutality and speak against the system of racism that we have here in America,” he said.

Protests also swept through Detroit, where hundreds of protesters have been arrested.

DeMeeko Williams (no relation to Victor) is an activist and founder of Hydrate Detroit. He said that in 2020 black Americans are dying from COVID-19 and from “racist police and those who are trigger happy." 

“Well we have to stand up and declare that we [African Americans] are essential. Our lives matter and that we have to make the changes in policy and our government,” DeMeeko said. “It’s not language of the unheard, it’s language of people who are sick and tired of seeing open displays of murder right on TV.”

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Protestors in Detroit have faced intense pushback from the police, who have used dispersal tactics like rubber bullets and pepper spray. Many in Detroit have also been arrested.

Protests in Detroit have resulted in 200 to 300 arrests, according to Julie Hurwitz, vice president of the Detroit office of the National Lawyers Guild, which has been working with those arrested for protesting.

Stateside's conversation with Julie Hurwitz

“The entire method of arresting most of the people who have been picked up has been entirely unprecedented,” Hurwitz said. “ People are being swooped off of the streets simply for being there, simply for filming what other officers are doing, simply for just being in a particular location.”

Protestors have been handcuffed and taken to either Little Caesar’s Arena or the Detroit Detention Center for processing. Once protestors arrive at the processing centers, they are given a ticket and then released from police custody.

Organizations like the National Lawyers Guild and the Bail Project have set up outside these processing centers to help facilitate rides back protestors’ cars and legal aid for those who need it.

Hurwitz says protestors claim instances of of assault by police as they're being arrested.

“I’ve been a civil rights lawyer since 1982 and I have seen a lot of police misconduct in my time, and I have rarely seen anything as blatantly unconstitutional as what I’ve been seeing out on the streets these past five days.”

Victor says he would like to take the energy of the moment and sit down with lawmakers and officials at all levels to influence changes in law that would help deconstruct systemmic racism. But he says dismantling racism often begins among friends, family, and acquaintances.

“We have to make people with these racist views uncomfortable until we weed them out. We need the majority to stand up and to take on this fight and to speak up and speak loudly about it, just the way we have with other fights in this country." 

This post was written by Stateside production assistants Catherine Nouhan and Olive Scott

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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