Sweltering, nearly 90-degree weather did not deter a crowd of more than 1,000 protesters who took part in a peaceful march down Michigan Avenue Wednesday afternoon to the state Capitol as a show of solidarity against police brutality and systemic racism.
The “We Are Done Dying March” was hosted by the NAACP Youth and College Division and organized in partnership with Sparrow Health and Michigan State University National Panhellenic Council. The organizers led the march from the Lansing Center starting at noon and gave a series of speeches on the Capitol steps.
The demonstration is just one of countless ongoing protests against police brutality happening in Michigan and across the country virtually every day — even in smaller, majority-white cities. The weeks-long national movement to pressure all levels of government to enact structural change, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, shows no signs of slowing down.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after an officer pressed his knee into his neck and pinned him to the ground for nine minutes. He repeatedly told officer Derek Chauvin that he could not breathe. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder.
More protests across Michigan are planned for this week.
Lansing NAACP President Dale Copedge said a lot of planning went into Wednesday’s event, and the Lansing Police Department proved to be a helpful partner in making sure things went smoothly.
Squad cars closed down main roads to make room for the march, and onlooking officers kept their distance on bicycles and on foot.
“We had excellent police presence,” Copedge said. He also praised Mayor Andy Schor’s office for helping the NAACP prep the downtown area for the demonstration, and said that he thinks Schor is “on board” with the NAACP Lansing chapter’s demands for the city government.
Copedge said he is aware that organizers of Black Lives Matter Lansing have called for Schor’s resignation, but the NAACP does not currently have plans to do so. Some protesters earlier this week have marched to Schor’s home to demand change.
The group is, however, looking into allegations made by a Black former staffer at Schor’s office about a dismissive and at times hostile work environment. Natasha Atkinson was fired from her job as an events coordinator by Schor’s office in early February.
“We’re hoping that she reaches out to us and we can get a dialogue to investigate and look closely,” Copedge said.
The organizers provided free face masks, hand sanitizer and bottles of water for participants. A local pizza shop brought a table of free pizza slices. The NAACP had a tent by the sidewalk set up for attendees to register to vote, sign up for a NAACP membership and more.
The Anderson House Office Building across the street from the Capitol was closed during the protest, and a front desk worker confirmed that legislative staffers worked remotely Wednesday. They said the decision to close the building for the day was not related to the NAACP protest, but rather a “security precaution” following an overnight protest outside the building in which around 30 attendees camped out and called for Schor’s resignation.
Lansing resident and professional counselor Beverly Boatley, 56, attended Wednesday’s demonstration to raise awareness for Black victims of police brutality like her grandson, Elijah.
Elijah was 20 years old and visiting his mother in Phoenix last year when he was killed by police, Boatley said. He had been sitting in his car outside a mini-mart when police officers approached the car to arrest him, as he was reportedly a suspect for a shooting the night before.
Elijah exited the vehicle and was immediately shot three times by officers, who claim that he brandished a firearm. Boatley said her grandson was unarmed. He also had aspirations of becoming a lawyer, volunteered as a marine explorer and had performed spoken word poetry on the Michigan Capitol steps just months before he was killed last year.
“It’s a genocide. Almost every day across the United States, somebody is being killed,” Boatley said. “… Disproportionately African American; one every five days. That is genocide.”
Boatley carried a handmade sign to the Capitol with a picture of Elijah’s face on one side and a list of demands for nationwide police reform on the other. Her demands listed included body cam usage, purging of officer disciplinary records and a solution to use of lethal force. But above all else, Boatley said she wants to see the doctrine of qualified immunity outlawed.
“We need this to be a national change, but we also want to make sure that Lansing is on board, too,” Boatley said.
Qualified immunity is a U.S. federal legal doctrine, established in the 1960s, that shields law enforcement officials from being held personally liable for actions performed while on the job unless they clearly violate federal law. In about the last 15 years, the doctrine has attracted scrutiny for its frequent use in cases involving excessive or deadly force by police.
“When I see this [qualified immunity] right here change, this one right here, then I will be hopeful,” Boatley said. “… We can’t keep just sitting here, trying to be nice, trying to be forgiving and loving and allowing people to murder our loved ones.”