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Lansing — After a series of events where mostly white protesters carried guns at the Michigan Capitol and drew national attention, a group of armed black demonstrators hoped Thursday to send their own message.

"I want to present myself as an adult black man, fully armed and not a danger," said Stephen Alexander, 46, of Lansing, who carried a pistol outside the Capitol building during the event. "If you are not a danger to me, I am not dangerous.

"It's as simple as that."

Organized by the group Legally Armed in Detroit, the Thursday event drew about 50 people to Lansing in protest of brutality, including the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia in February and George Floyd's death while he was in police custody in Minnesota on Memorial Day.

Among those in the crowd Thursday were many individuals who were openly carrying firearms.

Rick Ector, 52, of Detroit, who helped organize the event, said the nation is still dealing with "the issue of hate." Ector said he hoped to bring together black and other minority individuals who share concerns about violence, especially racial violence.

"If you look at what's happening, you might want to take a more active role in your personal protection," said Ector, a firearms instructor.

Michael Lynn Jr. of Lansing carried a pistol during the event.

"We have to arm ourselves," Lynn said. "We have to be OK coming together exercising our Second Amendment rights, just like anybody else can. We can't keep allowing the murders to happen in the streets."

In the last five weeks, three large protests were held at the Capitol against stay-at-home restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. During them, some participants have openly carried guns, which is legal and has drawn the national spotlight.

An April 30 protest featured armed demonstrators inside the Capitol with some of them carrying guns in the gallery above the Senate floor, setting off a debate about whether to continue allowing guns in the building.

Participants in Thursday's event, which featured speeches, said their protest wasn't a response to the past demonstrations.

However, there is a different perspective when it comes to black people with guns, said Alexander of Lansing, who served in the Marine Corps. Alexander said he wants to change the narrative. Black people don't exercise their rights the same way white people do, he said.

"There's a reason we don't exercise our rights the same way because we don't get the same response when we do," Alexander said. "For me, this is a moment where we are saying, 'We know our rights. We believe we are equal. But we are going to put ourselves out front, knowing we won't get approached the same way.'"

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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