“Black Lives Matter” boomed from loudspeakers, echoing across the lawn of the Michigan State Capitol at the NAACP’s “We Are Done Dying March.”
Wednesday’s march was the latest in Lansing as part of a nationwide swell of protests for Black lives and against police brutality in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
The country is now in its third week of demonstrations, drawing out some who have never protested before and others who’ve spent a lifetime calling for justice. Below are some of their stories.
Brandi Whitted & Areeona Clark
Brandi Whitted and Areeona Clark were perched at the corner of Washington and Michigan on Wednesday, meeting a bottleneck of march attendees with open coolers filled with water and boxes of Cheez-its.
They were standing on the cusp of the same roundabout where police had tear-gassed protesters the night of Lansing’s first big protests.
Behind twin blue surgical masks and raised fists, their signs read “Black Lives Matter—Let’s Argue” and “Free For Anyone Who Isn’t Racist”
“Finding your place in a situation like this is important. Because it’s just important for you to know that you don’t always have to be on the front lines of things in order to make a difference,” said Whitted.
Both women drove from Detroit, where they’ve attended protests, because they’re students at Michigan State University. “This is also a city that we should be heard in,” said Whitted.
When asked if they were in favor of the newly mainstream reform of defunding the police—an umbrella term referencing everything from zeroing out police budgets, to demilitarizing police and reallocating funds for use in communities—their opinions diverged. Clark said she thinks there should be more wholesale reforms.
“I feel like it should be reforms in schools, reforms in neighborhoods—everything just needs to change in order for there to be a big worldwide change as in something like police brutality and racism ‘cause racism has been around forever.”
Whitted, disagreed. “I don’t think we can change the police department which is why they say ‘Defund the Police.’ Because if we can’t change it, why are we still putting our money into it? Why are we still giving our tax money to it if we can’t see change?”
Clark is majoring in criminal justice and was on the fence. “If we didn’t have police officers then who do you call when you’re really in trouble, so I’m kind of in the middle,” said Clark.
She added, “Because there are actually good police officers. Like there is African-American police officers who are doing their job trying to work from the inside, and there are police officers who are doing things like they did to George. So, I’m in the middle.”
Both Whitted and Clark agreed they’ll continue protesting until they see change. “I feel like it should continue on and on until we all see a change—an actual change. And, not just everybody telling us they’re going to do what they’re going to do. We want to actually see it happen within the communities,” said Clark.
Nathanael Jefferson has been to several protests in Detroit and Lansing. He’s said he’s not sleeping at night.
“I don’t get a lot of sleep because knowing what is happening to my people across the nation. We’re dealing with the coronavirus and we also have the fear of getting our lives taken by the hands of the police on a daily basis. This is why I’m out here, so Black lives can truly matter.”
Jefferson is originally from the West Side of Detroit, and protesting is nothing new for him. He’s attended protests in Detroit and throughout his time as a student at Michigan State University.
He said he’s noticed a shift in the tone of how police are responding to protests.
“At first when I was going to the protest it seemed like the police didn’t understand why we were protesting. But now I’m starting to see change.”
In his lived experience, he said things are different. He’s been personally profiled by police in Lansing, and he said he sees examples daily on his drives through Lansing on Martin Luther King, West Saginaw, and South Cedar.
“Whenever the police is called, you have three to five police officers for one person. That is a huge problem. That should not be taking place.”
He added, “If I’m not working, you know, I want to pull over my car and investigate the situation and lay down my life for that person. Because, I don’t know what the police is gonna do to them. It should not take five police officers to take care of one individual.”
Jefferson—who was protesting alongside friends—said he’s for a call to “Defund the Police,” before clarifying:
“We’re not saying get rid of the police totally. We need law and order because you’re still going to have some people that are bad apples. But at the end of the day when you improve the community you will not need as much police presence.”
He noted he was also encouraged to see so many White protesters at Wednesday’s march within the racially and age diverse crowd.
“My White brothers and sisters are showing up supporting us and not saying that ‘All Lives Matter.’ Because we realize that all lives matter, but I like to see them at these protests because they know in order for all lives to truly matter, Black lives have to be included into that.”
He’s hopeful White protesters will go home and continue the conversation beyond attending protests.
“If you can have proper dialogue about Black people within your house, so you guys won’t see us as monsters but you will see us as human beings. That’s a start. And, then we can come together and then this country can be truly the United States of America,” said Jefferson.
Fields Family & Beverly Boatley
For the Fields, Wednesday’s protest at the capitol was a family affair. Kaylin Fields and her mom Catherine were decked out in visors and masks to stay cool in the 90-degree heat, and stay protected from the coronavirus in the crowd of hundreds of people.
They taped signs saying “We All Bleed The Same Color” and “Get Your Knees Off Our Necks” to a wrought iron fence circled by pansies.
The Fields dove from nearby Holt to march. Catherine Fields marched against injustices. “Just the injustices against Black people. The murder and the killings—just unjustified, and we just want to be treated just like everyone else.”
Her daughter Kaylin, still wearing braces, said she’s marching, “To show that Black people are more than just slaves and people are going to have to understand that ‘cause we’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to be silent. We’re going to preach what’s right for us.”
Kaylin’s big sister Marchetta Bettis, spearheaded the family protest. When asked what changes she hopes to see in response to the protest her reply is simple, two words:
“The future. I want the future to change because obviously the past and the present’s not working. And so, the future is just to be heard, and to be acknowledged, to be loved, to be honored, to be respected. To not be feared,” said Bettis.
Their mother, Catherine says she wants to see changes that would lift the burdens she feels in her everyday life.
“For me, I want us to be able to walk the streets without fear. I don’t want to have to worry about, you know, my kids not making it home safely. Or, if I’m in a car that I’m afraid when the police is behind me that I might not see the next day. So, it’s important that these changes happen now so we won’t continue to have the same issues with police murdering and violence against Black and brown people.”
Kaylin, the younger daughter, said she wants people to know: “Black people aren’t a threat. We’re not going to hurt you.”
“We don’t want to live in fear that we might get caught or that people are just coming at us. We just want people to understand that we do bleed the same blood. We still are people we should be treated like them too,” said Fields.
Beverly Boatley—a friend of the Fields family from Holt—accompanied them to the protest. She’s carrying a sign with a smiling young Black man on it.
It’s her grandson Elijah Boatley who was shot and killed by police in Arizona. Boatley taps her finger on blue bullet-point reforms pasted to the cardstock centering on the doctrine of qualified immunity. The doctrine revolves around a series of legal precedents that make it more difficult to hold police officers accountable.
“Most people have never heard of this. This is the doctrine that is allowing officers to kill us, at will, with impunity. We need to address this doctrine and we need to address the people who interpret it—who are the judges, the district attorneys, and others,” said Boatley.
Boatley also wants body cams, timely reporting, and easier access to police disciplinary records. But she’s not advocating to abolish the police.
She added, “I am not an angry individual. I don’t hold anger towards these people but I do want them held accountable. And I do have people in my family who are in the criminal justice system. So, don’t think that just because my grandson was involved in this, I somehow hate the police. I wish that the police that are not involved in this type of thing would come out and stand with us and purge the departments from these people.”