A sheriff in Flint, Michigan, on Saturday, joined a throng of people who gathered to protest the death of an unarmed black man while being arrested in Minneapolis.
Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, who is white, walked with protesters, talking with them about the George Floyd situation and asking residents how law enforcement can work better with them.
At one point, he gave an impromptu speech, a video of which has gone viral.
“We want to be with you all, for real,” Swanson said. “So, I took my helmet off, we laid the batons down. I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” he said, prompting cheers.
“These cops love you. That cop over there,” Swanson said, pointing to a deputy, “hugs people. So, you tell us what we need to do.”
The crowd began chanting “Walk with us! Walk with us,” and Swanson said, “let’s walk!”
Hundreds of protesters shut down a major road in Flint Township on Saturday, demanding justice for Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after a police officer arresting him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes on May 25. Videos shot by bystanders shows white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck, even as Floyd repeatedly said he could not breathe. Several other officers are seen nearby, but none took action.
Protesters carried signs that said “Black lives matter,” “White silence is violence,” and “Racism is still the biggest pandemic we face,” MLive reported. “Chants were heard, including ‘No justice, no peace, no racist police,'” the site said.
After more than two hours, the march was led to the Flint Township Police Department, where protesters were met with a line of Flint Township officers and Genesee County Sheriff’s deputies wearing riot gear and holding batons.
Protesters initially sat down to show their peace, and after conversations sparked between police and protesters, common ground was found. High-fives, hugs and fist bumps were exchanged.
That’s when Swanson took his helmet off and put down his baton, talked to the crowd, then joined the march, along with others in the sheriff’s department.
“This is the way it’s supposed to be — the police working with the community,” Swanson said as he walked with protesters. “When we see injustice, we call it out on the police side and on the community side. All we had to do was talk to them, and now we’re walking with them. … The cops in this community, we condemn what happened. That guy [Chauvin] is not one of us.”
“We can’t forget on all our police cars across the nation it says, ‘protect and serve,’” Swanson said. “That means all people, that means all people deserve the same dignity. If you can’t call out what’s wrong, try to make it right. And that’s the magic we saw tonight. Nobody’s arrested, nobody got hurt. This is how it’s supposed to be.”
At the end of the march, in the dark, Swanson addressed the crowd again.
“Hey, I want you to hear this. In my entire career, I will never forget this night. Because what I saw is what the entire nation saw when they see people that are angry, people that feel like they don’t have a voice, turn in a second when the police listen to them when the police understand them.
“And when I asked what I can do — because police condemn what happened in Minneapolis — that’s not who we are. There are good people that love you that need to hear what you have to say. And once we did that — I asked one question, ‘What do we need to do? and he said, ‘Walk with us.’ And here we are, walking with you. Because all you’re asking for is a voice and dignity for all. No matter who you are. I love you guys, the police love you,” the sheriff said. “Enough is enough on our end, and we’re with you.”
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