ADRIAN — During a time of division throughout the nation, a Black Lives Matter protest Sunday morning in downtown Adrian was anything but, bringing together residents of all races, ages and political affiliations in a peaceful demonstration.
The protest was one of many that have occurred throughout the U.S. for more than a week after the killing of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer who held a knee on the handcuffed Floyd’s neck while Floyd repeated that he couldn’t breathe until dying with the officer’s knee still on his neck.
Protesters, numbering about 400 strong, walked on the sidewalk around the courthouse holding signs, chanting and reacting to the horns of passing cars. Others stood on the lawn while holding signs with various messages.
"I'm out here because it's time for us to all take a stand, as one, against the injustices that's being perpetrated against the black lives," Joseph Pauldin, an 25-year Adrian resident who is originally from Detroit, said. "As a black man myself, I feel that it's time that we put an end to the police brutality, we put an end to the injustices, to the racial profiling and to the criminal system itself that's holding us all down. We feel that George Floyd's death was the final spark and it's time for us to move forward. We need law reforms and we need to come together and we'll have to be all one people."
Adrian resident Chris Wall, 23, said participating in the protest was a way for him to contribute toward addressing a “massive,” “global problem.”
"I think change happens on an individual level. So external rules and regulations kind of only address the problem after it happens. But change happens on an individual level,“ he said. ”So I want to see people change. I want to see individuals understand the everybody does matter and to try to be beneficial to all people."
About half an hour after the event’s 10 a.m. start, a long list of speakers addressed the crowd. A group of 13 local religious leaders, white and black, who each took a turn at the microphone, addressed and prayed with the enthusiastic crowd.
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The pastors were followed by more speakers, who included Adrian Mayor Angela Sword-Heath. Sword-Heath finished her speech by introducing the day’s keynote speaker, poet, author, and juvenile justice and violence prevention advocate Hakim Crampton, who spent 15 years of a 45-year sentence in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder in Milwaukee.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer appointed Crampton to the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission, making Crampton the first formerly incarcerated person appointed to a state commission.
Crampton said the group assembled because of the historic inequity that was brought through slavery and segregation in America and that now is another time for all people to stand up to racism.
"There's something broken about our systems that we must address. And we are here today saying, 'Let's address them ... ,'" Crampton said. "... We've seen enough suffering. We've witnessed enough suffering in life. It's enough. Enough is enough!"
Crampton led the crowd in a chant of "Enough is enough."
He was followed by Raisin Township Police Chief Kevin Grayer, the county's only African-American police chief.
Grayer spoke for himself, the sheriff's office and Adrian police.
"I want everybody to understand, I see you, I hear you, I stand with you," Grayer said. "With everything that's going on, we've come to that mountain now. And like Martin Luther King said, it's not about how many steps it's going to take us to get to the top, it's that we take the first step for the journey to get there... ."
Grayer said that it was not about talking, but doing, and the days turnout was exactly what was needed to start.
Grayer was followed by Roberto Torres, director of immigrant affairs and economic inclusion with the city of Detroit.
Torres told the crowd that while there was a lot of unity after the killing of Floyd, many were taken aback by the rioting and looting.
But Torres said that the African-American community have been the ones being looted.
“We responded to looting that evening. Black America has to respond to looting every day. Every day!” Torres said. “When you can't run out on the street, when you can't run out safely, you're being looted. When you can't sit in your home safely, you're being looted. When elected officials come to your town or when elected officials come out to your parties, come out to your festivals, they come out to your events asking for your vote. And yet there are no resources that come out to your neighborhood for housing, no resources that come out for infrastructure, no unemployment, no dollars for training, disinvestment in education — a community is being looted.”
After the speakers finished at approximately 11:45 a.m., the group began its planned march to Comstock Park. Adrian police blocked off parts of West Front, Winter and Maumee Streets and the marchers were led by a vehicle from the Lenawee County Sheriff’s Office.
Marching at the head of the group were the pastors, Lenawee County Sheriff Troy Bevier, Adrian Police Chief Vince Emrick and Grayer.
Chanting “Black Lives Matter, I can’t breathe,” and “no justice, no peace,” along their route, the marchers made it to the downhill part of the park where they stood together and listened to a recording of a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speech.
At around noon, the protest ended and most began walking home.
A handful of young protesters laid down on their stomachs in the middle of Maumee Street for about 10 minutes until they voluntarily left.
"Today's event was a peaceful protest. We wanted to show that we stand with the community. We wanted to hear their concerns so that we can know and address them as we move forward through this together," Emrick said at the march’s conclusion.
Emrick said when Leisha Taylor, the events original organizer, realized how big the event was becoming, she asked him and Bevier to meet with her and Chico Martinez to come up with ideas to keep everyone safe. Taylor asked Martinez to help as the event grew.
"The march was kind of a way for everyone to show unity, to move down through the main streets of Adrian. To be visible, to be heard — that was the idea there," Emrick said.
After the organizers contacted them, he and Bevier believed it would be a good idea to march with the protesters.
"We wanted to be present, we wanted to show our support. And marching with people seemed to be the best way to do that," Emrick said. "Today's event was an incredible show of unity and safety at the same time. Everyone was responsible. Everyone could have their voice be heard. But no one was in danger. So I think that's amazing. I think the protests here and in Tecumseh have been very purposeful."
During the week of planning, false rumors of various groups coming to cause trouble at the protest circulated through social media.
There were no counterprotesters. Rather, there was one veteran who stood on the other side of Main Street from the courthouse, wearing a leather vest with military patches and ribbons and holding an American flag on a pole.
"I'm here to let everybody know that America is a great country and that all lives matter ... ," Brian Peck of Adrian said. "I served in the Marines, I've served with every nationality, creed and color there is, all lives matter."
Peck said that he was not there to cause any problems, rather to show that there are people out at the protest showing respect to the U.S.
Peck said that Floyd's killing was a "crying" shame.
"It should not have happened, and the cops who did it are being punished, which is a good thing," Peck said. "All the looting and rioting has got to stop. You want to protest, that's fine, but looting and righting is not protesting. It's an abomination."
Emily Wyse, 16, of Hillsdale, said she came to the protest with her mom, Taylor, the event's original organizer.
"It's just something that we've been really passionate about because innocent lives don't deserve to die," Wyse said.
Wyse had a sign with names of police brutality victims.
"This isn't even a whole year. This is just a few months," she said. "There's something wrong with that."
Sword-Heath said she also heard from organizers that there was the potential for violent counterprotesters but was happy to see the peaceful results.
Sword-Heath said she immediately accepted the invitation to participate in the event.
"I came to this event because I have many friends and family that are very near and dear to me that are from the black community and they are hurting right now," Sword-Heath said. "I have seen firsthand the discrimination and the injustice and I feel very passionate and wanted to not only show my support … . I'm not only passionate, but I want to call us to action to really put actions behind those words that we are saying and really make Adrian an inclusive environment without discrimination and without the injustice that we are still seeing today."