Hundreds of people, including many teens and young adults, chanted "no justice, no peace," "I can't breathe" and "black lives matter" as they marched against police brutality in the streets of downtown Kalamazoo today, beginning and concluding their journey in Bronson Park, where speeches urged a stop to the violence against people of color.
"I'm an African-American female, and I'm tired of me and my people getting racially profiled and killed in the street. And I want to be part of the change," said a young African-American woman moments before she spoke on the bandshell stage. She did not give her name.
"Even though I'm young, that doesn't matter. I'm still doing what I need to do because I noticed that it needs to be changed."
The demonstration was called "Youth PEACEFUL Protest for BLM" (Black Lives Matter) in a Facebook event page inviting teenagers and young adults to come out at noon today, although lots of adults and families with their children participated as well.
According to the online post, Kalamazoo Central High School students organized the protest to show support for the idea that "Black Lives Matter," which has become a hashtag as well as an international group working to end violence against black people. Local nonprofit Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative assisted the students.
The Memorial Day death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, has sparked protests in Michigan and across the world. As Floyd lay handcuffed face down on the street, he repeatedly said: "I can't breathe." Four Minneapolis officers have since been fired, and charged in connection to Floyd's death.
There have been multiple protests in southwest Michigan, including in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Marshall and Oshtemo Township.
Today was the first large-scale demonstration by youth in Kalamazoo since the recent protests began. The crowd was diverse.
Bailee Brown is a sophomore from Vicksburg.
“I want justice for George Floyd and I want justice for all the lives that have been taken for no reason,” she said.
“It’s tiring,” she added, her voice cracking. “It’s exhausting. As a black person, to constantly see a black man be killed for no reason on TV. It’s just tiring.”
Catherine Dunning goes to Hackett Catholic Prep in Kalamazoo. She says she hopes white people will, in her words, “wake up” to police violence.
“I hope that honestly kids are listening or watching because, I’m pretty young. This matters to me a lot, hopefully it will matter to them. It should,” she said.
Adults marched too. Standing in the park at the end of the rally, Susma Mahato said she marched to encourage other South Asians to stand up for black people’s rights. Mahato, who says she immigrated to the U.S. from Nepal, says immigrants owe a debt to the U.S. civil rights movement.
“I want South Asians to speak up against this racism. Usually, we don’t say anything and we think this is not our fight. But that’s wrong. I want to show that is our fight also, like in my South Asian community.”
Public safety kept a low profile at the march. Some demonstrators say the department mishandled protests earlier in the week.