1st BLM-organized rally brings thousands to Lansing in peaceful celebration of Black lives

Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in Lansing, June 29, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

At the largest rally yet in defense of Black lives in Lansing, thousands of attendees gathered on a hot Monday afternoon for four and a half hours of live music, talks about racial injustice and calls to action on the Capitol lawn.

More than 2,000 people showed up for the event, the first of its kind in Michigan organized in collaboration with Black Lives Matter itself. More than 4,000 people indicated on Facebook that they were either going or interested in the event.

Angela Waters Austin, CEO of the Black-led social justice community organization One Love Global and a Black Lives Matter Lansing organizer, was just one of a slate of Black and Indigenous community organizers who spoke at length about injustices and what needs to change.

“Red land plus Black labor equals white gold. We don’t want to just decolonize our system. We are here to indigenize our system,” Austin told the crowd.

Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in Lansing, June 29, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

Like the NAACP protest earlier this month, Monday’s event was entirely peaceful. But unlike the NAACP event, in which organizers worked closely with the Lansing Police Department to shut down roads and collaborate in the event’s security, Black Lives Matter organizers had their own security detail, although police were present, as they often are at large gatherings.

BLM security was handled by a group of armed volunteers who were largely unaffiliated with any group in particular.

Speakers criticized Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Lansing police for stepping aside and allowing right-wing protesters with guns to spill into the state Capitol and intimidate lawmakers during session in April, while deploying tear gas on peaceful protesters and not protecting people of color who are being “terrorized” by white supremacists on their own streets.

Members of the Michigan/Meta Peace Team with yellow vests on were also stationed around the crowd. The nonprofit group focuses on creating a safe space for those involved in conflict through active nonviolence and conflict de-escalation.

Black Lives Matter protest against police brutality in Lansing, June 29, 2020 | Laina G. Stebbins

The event also designated a special, fenced-off healing space specifically for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) to rest, relax, grieve and be together as much as social distancing would allow. The Firecracker Foundation offered blankets out on the grass, words of inspiration, and altar to lives lost to police brutality, candles, essential oils and more.

Organizers came with a list of demands that were also scrawled across many protester signs. The top two demands: Defund the police, and put that money  into the Black community.

Organizers said those funds should be used to invest in the Black lives that have been oppressed and brutalized for centuries, while allowing more peaceful community policing practices to take root.

We keep us safe. We will build a system of public safety that honors us, that respects us, that values our lives, and that will put to shame the system of slave patrols that you call police,” Austin said.

Demand three: President Donald Trump’s resignation. Organizers said Trump emboldens white supremacy and has only furthered oppression and violence toward POC.

Demand four: Schor’s resignation. Austin echoed the remarks she made earlier in June during a Black Lives Matter webinar with Schor, in which she confronted the mayor, claiming he hadn’t taken action to help the Black community in Lansing. She criticized empty promises and photo-ops without action.

“We’ve been told that you refuse to resign,” Austin said. “… You are already gone. We do not respect your leadership. Your word means nothing. And you need to resign. Make it official — submit your resignation today.”

“Merica 20 To Life” podcast host Michael Lynn spoke along similar lines. Lynn said he has tried to work with Schor and help him understand, but he now feels it a lost cause.

Ingham Health Dept. declares racism public health crisis, BLM activist calls for Schor to resign

“We don’t have time to teach this mayor how to be anti-racist, and he doesn’t seem to have the want to learn,” Lynn said. “… Andy Schor, I’m tired of explaining this to you. The work you need to do to learn how to be anti-racist is gonna need you to be on your own time. You will need to do that as Mr. Schor, no longer Mayor Schor.”

Organizers also want racism to be declared a public health emergency in Michigan. Speakers pointed out that Black Michiganders are four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their non-Black counterparts, along with other racial health disparities.

The Ingham County Health Department had a tent offering free COVID-19 testing nearby.

“True allies will stand no matter where their feet are planted. So thank you for planting them here today,” said Shanell Henry, a community organizer with One Love Global. “… We are here to protest together. But it can’t stop today. It can’t just be for a photo opportunity. We must continue to fight for justice.”