‘Walk With Us’: Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters

‘Walk With Us’: Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters


By Katelyn Kivel, Martha Spall, Ellen Chamberlain

June 1, 2020

Genesee’s sheriff said the officer who killed George Floyd was “not one of us.”

MICHIGAN — As protests across the country decry a pattern of police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died last week after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck as he pleaded for air, a different scene unfolded in Flint. 

A Genesee County Sheriff had a message for protesters: “That guy is not one of us,” he said of the officer now charged with Floyd’s death. 

In a scene that went viral, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson removed his riot gear and put down his weapon to walk alongside peaceful protesters over the weekend.

Speaking to Today, Sheriff Swanson said the decision to make himself vulnerable and join the demonstrators came as a moment of realization for him. 

“It made the most sense that when I saw the crowd and felt the frustration and the fact that we were only accelerating the issue, it was time to take the helmet off, go to the … lead organizer, give him a big old fat hug and say, ‘What do we need to do?’  

“That was the tension breaker, and then the next question was the one that made history.” 

“These cops love you,” said Swanson. “You tell us what you need to do.” 

The answer rang out from demonstrators and swelled into a chant: “Walk with us! Walk with us!” 

READ MORE: Minneapolis Police Officer Who Killed George Floyd Charged With 3rd Degree Murder

The sheriff then embraced some amongst the crowd and joined the march for justice. In a Facebook Live video posted on the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office page, Swanson even invites demonstrators to help themselves to grilled hotdogs and bottled water after a moment of silence. 

Law enforcement across the country can learn from his radically vulnerable approach.

“This is the way it’s supposed to be — the police working with the community,” Swanson said. “When we see injustice, we call it out on the police side and on the community side. All we had to do was talk to them, and now we’re walking with them.” 

Arrests in Detroit 

Demonstrations in Detroit took on a different tone. 

Protesters continued chanting “no justice, no peace” into the evening when the city’s new curfew set in. Within an hour, police marched into the crowds, firing tear gas and making arrests. Police gathered near the Rosa Parks Transit Center, firing rubber bullets down Michigan Avenue that could be heard ricocheting off cars, the Associated Press reported. 

'Walk With Us': Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters
Photo by Franz Inbavannan

Police also arrested reporters Sunday, the Detroit News reported. Detroit Free Press reporter Mark Kurlyandchik said he got “charged” by police officers, who knocked his phone out of his hands while he was attempting to report on protests. He noted that those with television cameras were less likely to be harassed by police.

“I’m fine, but it shouldn’t take a big news camera to exercise our constitutional duty,” he wrote.

In total, 60 people were arrested during demonstrations Friday night and early Saturday morning in Detroit. Most of them were not even from the city of Detroit, officials said.

By Saturday, another 84 people were taken into custody, three-fourths of which weren’t from Detroit. Some lived as far away as Tennessee and Ohio, police said Sunday.

'Walk With Us': Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters
Photo by Franz Inbavannan

While the city’s curfew ended this morning, future curfews are possible as protests continue. 

RELATED: Joe Biden Demands Justice for George Floyd, Calls on Americans to Root Out Structural Racism

Detroit Chief James Craig will help Mayor Mike Duggan make the call to eliminate the curfew when people from outside the community are no longer escalating the situation, Duggan explained. Detroit residents going to and from work will be exempt from the curfew and city buses will run their normal routes.

“This isn’t intended for Detroiters,” he said. 

Chief Craig said he feels the protesters’ frustrations, but ultimately he has to protect the entire city.

“We’re patient and we don’t rush it,” Craig said of the department’s evacuation of downtown after the Sunday’s protests. 

MLive reports that some protesters picked up tear gas canisters used against them and threw them back at officers. Public Radio International notes that tear gas is a chemical weapon banned for use in wartime, but is permitted for use on civilian populations in the United States. 

'Walk With Us': Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters
Photo by Franz Inbavannan

Chief Craig authorized police officers to use tear gas to disperse crowds after rocks and an unknown powder were thrown in their direction. He says the goal is never to harm protesters or officers.

“By and large, the protesters we’ve dealt with over the last three days are supported. We support their message. We’ll continue to support their message. But we cannot support a threat to public safety,” said Craig.

'Walk With Us': Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters
Photo by Franz Inbavannan

A Call for Peace to End Brutality 

While a small but aggressive minority of protesters wreaking havoc on towns in America have dominated the media landscape, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports a scene reminiscent of Genesee County. 

“Our posture in Atlanta is one of tolerance. It’s the birthplace of civil rights. We accommodate the folks,” Atlanta police chief Erika Shields said. “We know we’re going to get yelled at. We know we’re going to get spit on. That’s OK. That was our posture as we went into last night’s event.”

That sentiment was also echoed in Camden, New Jersey and Ferguson, Missouri, reports the Daily Mail.

SEE ALSO: CNN Reporter and Crew Arrested on Live TV While Reporting on Minneapolis Protests

In response to the protests, President Donald Trump’s urged the Secret Service to engage in violent clashes with protesters, and CNN reports around 60 Secret Service agents sustained injuries. 

Trump has echoed language of Southern officials during the civil rights era, reported Esquire, calling for vicious dogs and quoting segregationist leaders. Trump also didn’t listen to the family of Floyd when he called them to give condolences, according to Canada’s CBC.

The Washington Post also notes press across the country have been shot with rubber bullets, arrested on live television and otherwise found themselves in hostile conflict with law enforcement across the country. One photographer in Minneapolis has been permanently blinded because of unprovoked confrontation with officers, the report said. 

“Not since the 1960s, when the nation was racked by civil rights demonstrations, antiwar protests and urban riots, has the press been embroiled in so much violence on American shores,” wrote the Post

As the nation prepares for continued protests into a new week, CBS reports governors across the country are calling for peace. So is Floyd’s brother. 

“I’m asking for peace the same way my brother would ask us to if he could see the situation, if he was here. Peace. Peaceful protests. It is the best option we have to bring justice,” Rodney Floyd told CBS. 

And while he understands the pain and frustration of the protesters, Martin Luther King III said an end to the violence is necessary. “Burning down our nation is not the right answer,” he said   in his appearance on Today

“All of the world witnessed a man being killed,” said King. “But when you destroy a building—and that is so tragic and should not happen. Yes, a building can be restructured, redone, rebuilt, but how do you rebuild a human life when a life is gone? You can’t.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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