'I think that this will go on until people see a drastic change,' Detroit protester says

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — It didn't take long for James Montgomery, attending his first protest downtown on Thursday, to give a quick prediction on how long the young demonstrators will continue to march against racial injustice.

Juan Patrick, 25, of Detroit, left, and James Montgomery, 24, of Farmington Hills ride scooters on Woodward Avenue in Detroit on Thursday.

Indefinitely, said Montgomery, 24, of Farmington Hills.

"I think that this will go on until people see a drastic change," said Montgomery, who is black and a car porter for a suburban car dealership. "It started off with the George Floyd case but it's going on all around the world right now. And it's just not his life that's still in jeopardy."

While the crowd on the 14th straight day of protests was less than 200 people, the fever pitch as protesters snaked through downtown streets continued unabated and was expected to continue into the summer.

Those who attended say they do not see an end in sight in the age of COVID-19, where many lives still are stalled, until issues such as police brutality, poverty and inequities in housing are addressed with speed, care and money. From Warren to Birmingham, the daily protests have featured movements such as Black Lives Matter as well as white protesters from the suburbs.

Along with talk nationally of defunding police departments, the protesters also spoke about how African Americans still are viewed as dangerous, and how that image needs to change to solve the crisis in police overreach.

The protests mostly have been peaceful with police escorts driving behind the protesters, who chant "No justice, no peace" and hold signs decrying racial profiling and injustice. On Thursday evening, tensions flared among a few protesters jockeying to get their messages across; no violence was exhibited.

Some were first-time protesters like Montgomery. Others, like Maura O'Meallie, 32, of Ferndale has protested seven times with her boyfriend.

"This is something they've been ready to stand for, for a long time," O'Meallie said.

O'Meallie said she's been to a number of rallies in her life, but these protests have "so much push behind it."

"I don't see people dropping out. A few, maybe," she said. "Humans are humans. I still don't understand how black people aren't recognized as human." 

O'Meallie, who runs a yoga studio in Ferndale with her boyfriend, Joseph Dugan, 30, who also lives in that city, said they cancelled most classes to attend the protests around the region.

"We need to see people standing up to do this," she said. "This is where our efforts need to be. If you can show up at 7 o'clock to go do yoga in the park, get your ass here."

Organizer Shawn Vaughn, 28, of Detroit, left, waits patiently while JoAnna Underwood speaks on the mic. Protesters meet near Detroit Public Safety Headquarters before marching against police brutality in Detroit on June 11, 2020.

She added: "Honestly, I assume that I will be out here for months."

During a speech to the crowd after the march, "Baba" Baxter Jones, 64, of Detroit, who uses a wheelchair, told the crowd about the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycotts during the Civil Rights movement that took many months of constant pressure and protests.

"It's not a sprint, this is a marathon," Jones said. "The people who they are protesting against have their heels dug in. There's money involved. I think these young people out here, they are very much like we were in the '60s."

Rafael Mojica, 34, of Detroit said the protests will be sustained during the coronavirus crisis by people willing to press for solutions to the issues they care about.

"We've had a public health crisis going on in this city for a long time; we've had racial inequality going on for a long time," he said. "There's economic inequality going on. When it comes to Detroit, in some form or fashion, it's going to continue on."

Megan Scholler, 27, a hairstylist, came to the protest alone. She wants the marches to continue so the issues "don't get just pushed over like it has in the past."

"I think it's real important that we keep pushing," said Scholler, who has spoken to friends of color who have taken various precautions with police to stay safe. "Things that I would never think to do, things you don't really think as a white person."

"It needs to change," she said. "Everyone should just be treated equal."

The thought about how long these protests would last has been on the mind of Lauren Barker, 34, of Detroit. She has attended at least five protests over the past weeks, she said.

Barker said that while some of the protests have had dwindling numbers of people, she's been encouraged by the larger crowds on other days, and the diversity. With summer months approaching, she doesn't see an end.

"I think that this movement has more momentum behind it than like previous movements have," said Barker, a speech pathologist. "I think it's amazing how many cities you see it in. It's not just in Detroit. It's in Ferndale, it's in Royal Oak, it's in Livonia. I've been impressed with how long it's been lasting at this point."


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