A crowd of at least a thousand people descended on East Lansing Police Department headquarters this afternoon as part of the nationwide protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota by police there. They moved from protesting at the capitol building in Lansing to here, coming on foot, on skateboards and scooters, and in cars.
Three African American men mounted an ELPD vehicle in the department parking lot and proceeded to smash out the SUV’s windows.
An older African American man who did not wish to be named told ELi he had tried to convince the protestors not to engage in any violent or destructive activity but could not talk them out of it.
A group of three young African American women told ELi, “It was amazing until someone young and immature and ignorant decided to hit a police car with their skateboard.”
“You’re going to put everybody out here in jeopardy,” one man said he told the protestors.
Surra Elum, a Black man from Lansing, told ELi he was at the protest because “I’m fed up with Black people being murdered on the street.” He added about the killing of George Floyd, “at first I was pretty numb to it.” Then, “my heart just broke.”
Several African Americans present were seen actively working on de-escalation, including Talyce Murray, Chair of East Lansing’s Human Relations Commission, which has been working on police oversight concerns for years.
Referring to East Lansing City Council’s recent decision to create a study committee to advise on creation of an independent police oversight commission, Murray told ELi, “We have been working a long time to try to make sure we have the oversight and transparency developing that we need.”
Murray said she wanted “to encourage those that came to protest at City Hall today to apply for the new police oversight task force. This will allow us to have greater diversity at the table as we address issues of police brutality in the City of East Lansing.” (See more on the application process here.)
Like Murray, several protestors specifically referred to two allegations of racist police brutality– cases that have rocked East Lansing, leading to a referral to Michigan State Police for possible criminal charges against ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson, calls for the firing of that officer, and retirement of Larry Sparkes as the Chief of Police.
In videos of a December 2019 arrest, Stephenson is seen kneeling on the neck of an African American man who was handcuffed and face down.
Earlier today, ELPD Interim Police Chief Steve Gonzalez told ELi, “placement of a knee across a neck is not currently allowed.”
Signs held by protestors today included many different statements: Silence is betrayal. Black Lives Matter. It’s not Black vs. White, it’s Black vs. Racism. Tired of this, AmeriKKK. Are you awake yet?
While ELPD officers generally stayed a block away from the protest, with most standing at Park Lane and Elizabeth Street a block north of the police station, several minutes into the protest the Ingham Regional Special Response Team walked as a group south on Park Lane toward the protestors while a helicopter swirled above.
The members of the Special Response Team then engaged with protestors verbally while the protestors chanted the name of George Floyd, followed by “I can’t breathe,” and “No justice, no peace!”
Eventually the protestors began to chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and moved north on Park Lane towards ELPD officers.
The protest march then turned east on Elizabeth Street and south on Abbot Road.
City Council issued a statement minutes into the protest:
“More than 800 people have walked from Lansing to East Lansing to protest police brutality. The East Lansing City Council wants them to know: We fully support this peaceful protest. We deplore the murder of George Floyd by officers with the Minneapolis Police Department. We acknowledge that East Lansing needs to make significant changes in its own policing. We promise to continue our work to make sure that minorities are safe and protected in East Lansing.”
Asked on text by ELi how this statement came to be, Beier responded by text, “I sent it to all [Council members] and expressed the urgency. I asked if any had a problem with it. There was no deliberation and either way, I thought it was vital that we communicate.
She declined to provide any further statement.
Among the Council members, it appeared that the only one who came down to the protest was Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens.
“I am much more happy with property damage than people damage,” Stephens told ELi, after being told no one was hurt but a police car had been smashed.
“I fully support a peaceful protest,” Stephens went on. “Absolutely people have every right to be upset right now – they should be. There was a murder in Minneapolis. There’s a lot of action that needs some kind of accountability. I fully support that.”
A self-identified libertarian, Timothy Teagan from Plymouth, Michigan, came to the Lansing protest today and followed it to East Lansing. Teagan, who is white and was armed, said his concern was to help people protest against the police and government and that he “wants them to feel safe and protected when facing the police.”
He said he had also been at the Lansing protests against the stay-at-home orders earlier this month, and that he was in Detroit yesterday, where he said he was thrown to the ground.
Asked what brought him out, Javier Maltzan of Meridian Township told ELi, “People are feeling lots of tension and emotions.”
“It’s really the ELPD that make people on edge,” Maltzan said. “It’s really hard for people of color down here.”
Maltzan, who has lived in the area for years, said that people of color feel much more concerned about ELPD than the Lansing police.
Jerome Alston told ELi, “There is a whole lot of injustice….Young Black men of America, like myself, [we] want to see something get done. We’re just trying to live. I see a lot of pain here. It’s a younger crowd. If this doesn’t stop, this is what they will be dealing with in their future. This has got to end.”
The event at the Capitol was organized by several individuals, and many people we spoke with saw the event on Facebook and attended as a result of that. The demonstration was not called by any specific organizations.
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