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BLM protests coming to small, rural towns in Michigan too

Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio
Protesters in support on BLM in Pinckney, Michigan on June 12, 2020.

Pinckney is a rural, small town about 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor.

On Friday afternoon, several dozen people, of all ages, held signs and chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace!” on Main Street. Haley Comella grew up in the village of about 3,000, made up almost entirely of white people.

“There’s this piece of Pinckney, you could tell there was this undercurrent of like, we need to do something. We need to do this too. So we watched Howell do it. We watched Brighton, Chelsea, Dexter and we’re here too. Pinckney is here too. We’re supporting Black lives. Black lives matter and Pinckney’s here for it,” Comella said.

But the protesters’ chants had to compete with this one guy, yelling at the crowd.

“Back to Africa! Back to Africa!”

(Video credit Tricia Laesch)

Retired 76- year old John, “I ain’t telling you what my last name is,” says he’s from Pinckney too. He sports a Trump 2020 ball cap and spent nearly six hours in the sun, calling black people “freeloaders” and heckling the protesters.

“These are the kinds of people who are tearing our country apart. These people here, they have no concept about how these ‘blacks’ are tearing this country apart…” he said.

At this point, Comella jumps back in. “This is why we’re in the community, for this specific reason. This is why we’re here today, to get rid of the racism, the rampant racism that’s here.”

“He is determined in his racism and hatred and showing us all of it. But mostly I just pity John because he, I think lives a very unfortunate life and just needs someone to scream at. Right now we’re those people.”

John accused Comella of paying this reporter to cover the event (that’s not ethical, nor something we do) and says the way to solve police brutality is by putting “troops on our streets with a shoot on site order.”

“I’m all for reparations – you know what I wanna give em? I wanna give any one of these liberals, maybe including yourself, a free ticket back to Africa. One way,” John says.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Protesters in support on BLM in Pinckney, Michigan on June 12, 2020.

Ann Arbor resident Josh Smith says John told him he missed the bus back to Africa.

“I mean there’s nothing he can say to us that makes any sense and there’s nothing we can say to him that he will comprehend and really take in and internalize. No reason to really waste our breath trying to reason with him,” Smith said.

Besides John, Smith says he’s happy with the turnout in a community like Pinckney. “It’s great to see in these small towns that don’t necessarily have the largest African-American population, but there’s still the support here. The movement is really making its mark,” he said.

Judy Battuello, another Pinckney resident, apologizes for John. She says she hasn’t been to a protest since the Vietnam War.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have enough black families in Pinckney, but I do have black friends, regardless, and their stories are horrific. I feel so badly… I’m sorry,” Battuello tears up, is interrupted by John and can’t find her words after that.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Claire Donovan holds a sign in support on BLM in Pinckney, Michigan on June 12, 2020.

While Claire Donovan sits in the back of her red pickup truck holding a big, red Black Lives Matter sign, a woman driving another pickup truck stops in the middle of the road to shout at her. She too, feels emotional about the resistance to this peaceful show of support.

“I believe enough is enough. I think the white race, we need to address our violence issues, our problems with racism. I’m hoping this will be a tipping edge to something that’s going to be a bigger movement.”

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Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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