More than one hundred protesters gathered on the state capitol steps Sunday marking a week of protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man, by a white police officer.
The group marched to Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s house for the second day in a row with a message: they don’t believe a word of what he’s saying, and they won’t stop marching to his house until he delivers on their demands. It was the latest in Schor’s string of tense interactions with protesters as more focus is directed toward defunding the police.
“Respect our wishes or resign”
On Saturday the group chanted, “Respect our wishes or resign,” outside they mayor's house. On Sunday, Schor was shouted down at the Capitol as he stammered to give a crowd-pleasing number when protesters holding “Defund the Police” signs asked how much he would strip from the nearly $47 million 2020 police budget. On Monday protesters called into the public comment period of the Lansing City Council meeting echoing calls for his resignation after he proposed allocating $170,000 dollars to a racial equity and anti-racism fund.
The mayor’s inability to please protesters is not unique. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey drew early praise after swiftly calling for the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd to be arrested, but was told to by protesters “go home, Jacob, go home” at protests over the weekend when he expressed reticence to defund the police after a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis City Council members pledged to dismantle the city’s police department.
When Schor floated the idea to protesters of winnowing $100,000 “to start” from the city’s police budget on Sunday he was met by a chorus of resentment and cries of — “‘You’re our mayor, Andy.’ ‘Defund the police!’ 'What are we here for?’ 'Resign!’”
Paul Birdsong, who’s become a de facto organizer of the nightly capitol protests towered over Schor as he spoke into a bullhorn, “We don’t want it two years from now,” and “We ain’t asking.”
Schor’s reputation has dimmed over the course of weeks of nationwide protests after his appearance on a Black Lives Matter Lansing webinar last week ended with calls for his resignation from the chapter’s co-founder, Angela Waters Austin.
“Again, I got it all down…I’m getting from you guys, I’m getting from others by email and on Facebook wherever. We’re taking it all very seriously,” said Schor, who’s pledged to have a town hall organized by his diversity and inclusion task force.
Protesters' confrontations with Schor have been at times freewheeling, with Birdsong doing most of the talking and protesters, appearing to be mostly teens and people under 30, encouraged not to talk to the media.
A protester who refused to give his name Sunday said that’s because, “One of the first protests we got gassed and we’ve been told that we’re looters, rioters, and terrible people, thugs. Trump’s talking about shoot if they loot all this extra stuff. So, why give the media a chance to spin our message when we can all stand united and have a clear-cut message that doesn’t need to be spun—that’s ready to be put on air.”
A reinvestment in community
The group’s central demands include: police non-bias and de-escalation training that the public can watch, Shabazz Academy (a charter school modeled on the teachings of Malcom X) reopened, and weekly local mentorship opportunities offered in parks.
Birdsong he wants to see trainings “where minorities from the community are involved, interact with the police. Where we can see and scrutinize what they’re doing. Where we have a voice in that training."
He added, “Having a black police chief do the training don’t mean s--- to us.”
The group also called out for mental health evaluations for officers, weeding racist officers out of the force, and police training from mental health and healthcare professionals.
“What we really need instead of a police force, we need a public safety force,” said Birdsong.
Tamilkia Foster, a nurse who came to protest added, “We want the same justice as anybody else walking down the street based on whatever color, whatever gender, whatever sexuality anybody have. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be protected and we deserve to be safe.”
Foster said she didn’t agree with the style of the protest, equating it to verbal abuse, but she agreed with many of their demands.
“I run under the philosophy of Martin Luther King with a little bit of Malcom X that we must do change by any means necessary, but we have to do it in order for people to hear it. And if we keep yelling, nobody hears you but the yelling. You got to talk where they understand you. That’s where you enact change.”
She added more dollars from the police budget should go into the community.
“I think that something needs to be done, more than the $100,000 that he proposed. I mean—we got to give 10 percent at church, at least raise it up to something 10, 20 percent. And at least let it be known that ‘we are here for the community,’” said Foster.
The group also confronted Schor over the use of chemical agents, similar to tear gas, to disperse the crowd at a previous protest.
Schor admitted, “I struggled with that,” before being cut off by protesters and posing a question:
“How do you directly prevent someone from hurting someone else and destroying things? We don’t use rubber bullets in Lansing. We don’t. And I know others do. You don’t want—we’re all against police brutality. I don’t want the police officers going in then all of the sudden something happens. So the question really: how do we do that better?” said Schor.
— Devin Anderson-Torrez (@TorrezDevin) June 8, 2020
Protesters from the Capitol steps drowned out his response yelling, “Putting up a curfew is carte blanche for the police to be brutal to people” and “It just gives them a time to start doing it.”
Birdsong added, “How about you don’t make them feel like they’re gonna get murdered in the first place. I think that’s the root.”
"If you don’t have police brutalizing, murdering people—you have no reason for the tear gas, you have no reason to riot. The rage hit’s home so hard because it’s happening to us here too,” said Birdsong.