Students organize local protests for Black Lives Matter

Andrea Elsholz, Print Editor in Chief

After George Floyd pleaded for almost nine minutes while Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, many gathered across the nation to protest Floyd’s eventual death and police brutality.

“We came together to protest police brutality and how it affects the black community,” junior Alexis Walker said. “In recent years, this has become an increasing threat to us. We want reform in the criminal justice system because these murders can not continue. But we were also protesting racism in general against the Black community and police brutality is just one form of racism.”

Walker attended the Grand Blanc Black Lives Matter protest on June 6. The protest was organized by students and featured a few different ways of honoring Floyd and Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT who was fatally shot when officers conducted a no-knock search of the wrong house. 

“We started in the Kohl’s parking lot and some Grand Blanc youth who organized the protest said a few words,” Walker said. “Some read poems, some spoke on their experiences of being Black youth in our community. We followed by singing happy birthday to Breonna Taylor— it would have been her 27th birthday. Following that, we had a moment of silence for George Floyd and knelt. Our march took up the majority of the protest and we chanted different sayings as we walked down to the Grand Blanc Police Station.”

Youth have also had an active role in the Fenton protests, which have occurred downtown on June 1 and 2. 

“I think [the rise in student activism] shows there is good in our community and that people care about how others are treated,” sophomore Ashley Jackson, co-organizer of the June 2 Fenton protest, said. “We organized the day, time, place and how far we were going to walk. We also posted about it on social media. There weren’t any conflicts while we were walking, but we did have a guy show up in front of the police station who was not happy.”

The June 2 protest marched from Bush Park to the police station on S Leroy St and back. The Fenton Police Department coordinated with the student protesters, acting as escorts and blocking traffic to ensure student safety.  

“We are very blessed with our police department in Fenton,” Student Resource Officer Thomas Cole said. “We have a lot of officers that are police officers for the right reasons. Our department strives to be ahead of the curve when it comes to a lot of things: defensive tactics and being aware of your situation and knowing when it is a good time to de-escalate in a physical encounter.”

Walker describes the protests having given a platform to the Black community.

“We have been isolated and silenced for years and now is our time to come together and bring awareness to the struggles we face every day,” Walker said. “As a country, we are all fighting for equality and that’s really what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about.”

Protesters are calling for justice and reform in police departments across America, including petitions to defund police departments or invest in more rigorous officer training programs. 

“I don’t think there’s any question that what sparked this was wrong,” Cole said. “The reform they’re talking about, mandatory training and more money for [officer] training, quite frankly, police officers don’t get as much training as they should and I think any officer will tell you that. I’d love to have more mandatory training, and not only defensive tactics but de-escalation and verbal skills.”

Recent protests in Detroit have become increasingly tense, with more than 100 people arrested on May 31, many of whom were not from the Detroit area. To prevent possible complications brought by protesters from outside Fenton, Cole advises organizers to have contact with a law enforcement official. 

“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes to assure protests are safe,” Cole said. “We don’t know how many people there will be or if there are other people that heard about it that don’t agree and are going to show up and try to do harm. [The Fenton protest] had close to 70 people; peaceful, open conversation and the Chief of Police walked with them. Unfortunately, I think there’s bad people in organizations trying to mingle in with people with good intentions. Like I cautioned our protesters, make sure you know who is coming and watch what they are doing because they may try something that turns a peaceful protest into a riot.”

While there doesn’t appear to be any more upcoming protests in Fenton, those who still want to support the movement can donate to organizations such as the Black Visions Collective, Unicorn Riot, Campaign Zero and Reclaim the Block.