Southfield protesters push on for change in police departments

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Eric Brown was worried that the demonstrations to protest police brutality and racial injustices would serve the moment across Metro Detroit, then die down once the issues left the headlines.

Eric Pate, center, of Southfield co-organized the Southfield march Sunday.

"We can't keep allowing a death to take place and people get outraged for about two to three months and it dies down until there's another unfortunate death," said Brown, 55, of Detroit. "You keep the momentum going on an ongoing basis and that will go a long way."

That's why he and Eric Pate, also of Detroit, created Black Men Unite as a way to further a peaceful call for equality. On Sunday, the men led a protest in Southfield that started at Hope United Methodist Church on Northwestern Highway and ended at the Donald F. Fracassi Municipal Campus on Evergreen Road, a two-mile walk. 

Protesters march on Civic Center Drive to the Southfield civic center.

The march also gave participants with the opportunity to register to vote and encouraged them fill out the 2020 Census. Marchers were escorted by police cars and a fire truck. 

As about 80 protesters made their way down the John C. Lodge service drive, cars speeding by on the freeway honked in support. 

Pate, 56, said he experienced racial profiling when he was 16 years old. He was arrested, arraigned and spent a weekend in juvenile detention after he said he was falsely accused of committing a robbery by police. 

"Just think what the trajectory of my life would have been had they kept me in there," Pate said. 

Southfield police Chief Elvin Barren, who join the march, said he will hold accountable any of his officers who act against department policy. The department recently revised its protocols for use of force to include a "duty to intervene" policy that requires any officer to stop another officer from using excessive and inappropriate force.

Barren said he would treat any officer who fails to intervene as if they used excessive force themselves. Several other agencies have contacted Barren to learn more about the policy, from other Michigan departments to others, including the Dallas Police Department and the West Virginia Mayor's office. 

"If it happens at this Police Department ... if they violate this badge, I will hold them accountable to termination," said Barren. 

Barren said there should be a ban on police using choke holds, but he is opposed to calls by protesters throughout the United States during demonstrations to defund police departments and use the money to invest in communities, education and housing for marginalized people. 

"I believe that police departments should have standard policing equipment, but not necessarily militarized equipment because it's offensive to the community," Barren said.

"If we just keep pouring more money into policing, into prison, then crime continues, as opposed to investing in people, which can prevent that crime," said Amanda Hill, 29, who marched on Sunday. "I figured at least this police chief is giving the appearance of wanting to change things, and we may believe in different ways of going about that change."

Southfield has had several events related to the marches against police brutality. On Thursday, the city installed Black Lives Matter and Southfield Strong banners along Evergreen between 10 and 11 Mile Roads. The banners are to demonstrate, the city said, that it stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Two weeks ago, another unity demonstration was held in the city and included the Southfield Police Department. Participants held signs while standing along Evergreen and then took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, to honor George Floyd, who died May 25 after an Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck. Floyd's death sparked a national movement and conversation on police use of force against police of color.

Twitter: @arianattaylor