A protest against police brutality was held in East Lansing this Sunday. Dubbed “Kneeling for Solidarity,” the protest drew attention to ELPD Officer Andrew Stephenson’s use of force against two unarmed Black men—one in December 2019 and another in February 2020—and remembered unarmed Black people killed by the police across the United States.
With the activity starting just after noon, protestors of various ethnic and racial identities participated, although the crowd was predominantly young and white. At the start, one activist pointed to a woman with gray hair to both celebrate her dedication and to kindly admonish her to take care of herself during the pandemic.
Maurice Calvert, a young Black man in attendance, said the desire to draw awareness to police brutality and racial injustice motivated him to attend.
“I don’t want to have to wake up every morning saying ‘Black lives matter.’ If I need to say Black lives matter, it means Black lives don’t matter right now.”
Micah Rembert, also a young Black man, said that he had not paid too much attention to police brutality in the past. He said that he has a diverse friend group and has not had many interactions with the police, but the killing of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin really made him furious. But, he is trying to channel the fury into energy by protesting.
Calvert spoke to the crowd a little after noon, thanking the many allies in attendance for support before Rane, the woman who organized the event arrived. (Rane, a name she uses on social media, is also name she used in conjunction with this protest.)
Rane also celebrated the protestors, calling for society to treat protestors for racial equity and justice the same way people treat veterans of the military.
The conflict, she said, “is not Black versus White. Let us be clear about that. It is racism against America. It is inequality against America.”
She called for more police accountability, stating, “Kneeling isn’t enough. Call out your partner when he is committing a crime.” She also called for police to protect protestors being harmed by other officers by using their own bodies.
Rane pointed to ELPD’s recent issues with alleged police brutality. On Friday afternoon, the City of East Lansing announced that the Ingham County Prosecutor is reviewing an excessive force complaint against Officer Andrew Stephenson for his treatment of Anthony Loggins Jr. in December 2019.
But, Rane said that the problem of oppression and inequity is larger than police treatment of people of color, pointing to corporations that have hurt people of color with their policies or actions. She encouraged the crowd to consider carefully where they spend their money and to hold large institutions, including MSU, accountable for their actions and their silences.
March on Grand River and through the Bailey Neighborhood
From ELPD’s headquarters, the group of about 75-100 protestors then began a march down Abbot Rd. toward Grand River Ave., then marching east past campus. Several drivers heading westbound beeped horns and raised fists out the windows of their cars in solidarity.
When the group approached the intersection of Gunson Street and Grand River Ave., the leaders stopped and asked the participants to take a knee. The group repeated several chants, including “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” with their hands raised.
As the group rose, one man, who identified himself as Native American, approached the leaders and asked “Don’t Native lives matter, too?”
Rane responded that the group was also marching for him and other Native Americans since they have historically faced oppression and police brutality.
The man said “All lives matter!” Rane responded by asking him to leave if he desired conflict. No further tension resulted.
The protestors continued up Grand River Ave., turning left onto Stoddard Ave. and then onto Beech St.
The protestors were well-received both on Grand River Ave. and within the Bailey neighborhood. Outside the Starbucks on Stoddard Ave., two young women held signs outside their car window with the words “Black Lives Matter” scrawled on notebook paper. In the residential parts of the march, families and young people cheered outside their homes.
Some even joined the march as it made its way back to ELPD’s headquarters. One couple had been unaware of the protest but saw the group while they drove toward campus. They had parked and joined.
Near the corner of Oakhill Ave. and Abbot Rd., the group again took a knee before continuing to ELPD where the protest ended.
After the march, Mayor Pro Temp Aaron Stephens spoke to ELi, stating he had been at the protest to “support, to kneel, and to listen.”
He sees the protests that have followed the death of George Floyd as a breaking point and recognizes that the City of East Lansing cannot simply pass resolutions and wipe its hands clean of equity issues.
He said that implicit bias affects us all, and every community, even East Lansing, can do a better job to combat it.
Stephens believes conversations on over-policing are necessary. Referring to the arrest of Anthony Loggins, Stephens expressed dismay over how a simple traffic stop turned violent. Why, he asked, are traffic stops and fines our priority? Can it be different?
Confluence of pandemic and protest
At the start of the event, Rane arrived proudly in her scrubs, highlighting the work she and her family perform in the medical field. As a medical professional, she said, she must look at the life she must save, not race or color. She must do this while at times hearing derogatory race-based comments from patients and their families.
“I’m here for Breonna Taylor,” she said, referring to the Black woman who was shot in her own home when Kentucky law enforcement executed a “no-knock” warrant at the wrong address. Taylor had worked as an EMT during the pandemic.
Students from MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine attended, telling ELi that their belief that all patients should receive the same quality of care drew them to the protest.
“Everyone will be a patient. We need to treat them the way they deserve,” said one student. The group was concerned that African Americans often receive inferior care and face worse health outcomes.
Another student pointed to studies that show Black patients may be given less pain medication because their pain is not taken as seriously. COVID-19 has also resulted in significantly increased risk of infection and death for African Americans in Ingham County and across the United States.
Who wasn’t there
As with Tuesday’s protest, police presence was minimal. ELi spotted three ELPD SUVs—two marked and one shadow-marked—on the north side of the Grove St. parking ramp. All police vehicles had been moved from the station parking lot in advance.
Police cordoned off roads as the protestors marched, stopping and rerouting traffic to keep cars at bay as the protestors moved up Grand River Ave. and then through the Bailey neighborhood. No uniformed police officers participated in the protest or march, and Stephens was the only City leader to show up. Aside from students, there was no obvious presence from MSU.
Council to take up two resolutions tomorrow
As ELi reported on Friday, Mayor Ruth Beier has placed on the agenda of the City Council’s June 9 meeting a resolution which commits to review and reform the use of force policies of the East Lansing Police Department. The review process is to include “[engaging] our communities by including a diverse range of input, experiences, and stories.”
Council member Mark Meadows has introduced a second resolution for June 9, stating the City Council’s support for Michigan Senate Bill 945, “to promote further training for law enforcement officers to enhance their abilities to better serve their community and address concerns regarding practices that imply racism in law enforcement.” The State Senate passed that bill unanimously; it has yet to be acted on by the House.
ELi has a special section dedicated to our current reporting on East Lansing Policing. See it here.