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Floyd killing sparks outrage

Events held at NMU, downtown Marquette

Protesters bearing placards pack into Marquette’s downtown Sunday. (Journal photo by Bud Sargent)
A passing motorist talks with protesters in the intersection of West Washington and Third streets. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)
A demonstration that drew several hundred people was held on the campus of Northern Michigan University Saturday. (Journal photos by Christie Mastric)
Protesters pursue a truck that pushed slowly through dozens of people at the intersection of Third and Washington streets on Sunday. It was one of two tense moments during the peaceful protest of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

MARQUETTE — Several protests spurred by George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody took place over the weekend in Marquette.

Protests in Marquette and across the nation stem from an incident captured on video, showing Floyd, an African-American, being kneeled on his neck by a police officer during his arrest in downtown Minneapolis on May 25, with Floyd saying “I can’t breathe.” Floyd subsequently died. That officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder.

On Saturday, protesters under the name “Public Against Police Brutality” carried signs and chanted by Jamrich Hall at Northern Michigan University, then walked to the Marquette Police Department along West Baraga Avenue to continue their protest.

The event was organized by NMU students Ashley Martinez and Hannah Till.

Violent protests broke out in other parts of the country, including Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities, but Saturday’s event in Marquette was mostly peaceful, although a TV6 news video showed a woman briefly standing in front of a Marquette City Police vehicle in the police parking lot.

Marquette City Police received a report that subjects were hit with eggs during the protest march on North Third Street near Hewitt Avenue.

Another protest took place on Sunday in front of the Marquette Post Office. The organizer was Khadijah Wilson, wife of Carter Wilson, head of the NMU Department of Political Science, who also attended the rally.

“I am a black Muslim,” Khadijah Wilson said. “When George Floyd called for his mother, he was calling for us.”

She said Floyd made that plea to his deceased mother while he was dying.

“It was time for me to get up and do something about it because she’s not here, so I’m doing my part,” Khadijah Wilson said. “She’s my sister, and he’s my son.”

She pleaded for the current racial situation in the country to stop.

“This is not right, you know?” said Khadijah Wilson, who is from the British Virgin Islands. “I wasn’t born here, and I don’t think I would ever become a United States citizen mainly because of this. I refuse, I simply refuse, only because of this.”

The Sunday protest, which blocked some of the normally busy intersection for several hours, was largely peaceful.

However, around 2 p.m. a westbound truck on West Washington Street slowly pushed through a group of dozens of protesters near the intersection of West Washington and Third streets before speeding away in a cloud of thick black smoke.

The other incident occurred at around 3 p.m. — near the end of the event — when protesters knelt on the sidewalk, spilling into the crosswalk at West Washington Street and Third Street while a volunteer directed traffic at the intersection. A man driving a small sedan eastbound screeched to a stop, nearly hitting several protesters, and then got out of his car and began arguing with protesters. Several protest leaders intervened and were able to diffuse the situation. The driver eventually left the scene.

No injuries were reported in regard to either incident.

More protesters made their way to the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office to rally on and along Baraga Avenue.

Marquette Mayor Pro Tem Jenn Hill was on hand at the Sunday protest at the post office.

“This has been going on in our country for a long time,” said Hill, who wore a hat bearing the name of Ida B. Wells, who was an African-American newspaperwoman who reported on discrimination. “People need to speak up.”

Marquette Mayor Jenna Smith posted a statement on the Marquette protests on Saturday on Facebook and on YouTube.

“There is a great deal of unrest after the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis,” Smith said. “As a white person, I am aware of the significant privilege I have and I am constantly trying to educate myself in ways to improve racial equality. There are no quick and easy answers on this front. I believe we must put in the work to understand the disparity.

“Some of the ways I do that are by reading books such as ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas or by reading books to my children with diverse characters. I am not perfect, but I am trying, and if you’re in a position of privilege and not sure where to start, I would encourage you to try these things too.

“There have been demonstrations in Marquette already and there are more planned. I’m proud of our citizens who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.”

Smith encouraged anyone involved in future demonstrations to keep the protests peaceful and please follow appropriate social distancing guidelines.

“The city of Marquette Police Department has always had a great relationship with the public,” Smith said. “I think Marquette is a special place, our police officers live and work in this community and they take pride in the work they do. I am very proud of the work they do day in and day out to keep our community safe.

“I know this has been a difficult and stressful time for everyone. Please remember to be kind to one another as we navigate our new normal. We’re in this together, Marquette.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II on Saturday issued the following statement encouraging communities across Michigan to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations:

“As Americans, this is one of the most challenging periods in our lifetimes,” they said in the statement. “People in communities of color across the nation and right here in Michigan are feeling a sense of exhaustion and desperation. Communities are hurting, having felt that calls for equity, justice, safety and opportunity have gone unheard for too long. We stand in solidarity with those who are seeking equitable justice for everyone in our state. We can’t live in a society and a country where our rights and our dignity are not equal for all.

“The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important, and in this moment when we are still battling a killer virus, it is crucial that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully, and in a way that follows social distancing guidelines to protect public health.”

The said their administration is working closely with local elected officials, public safety, and faith and youth leaders to encourage communities across the state to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations where people can make their voices heard.

“There will no doubt be more tough days ahead, but we must pull together and treat our fellow Michiganders with dignity, compassion and humanity,” they said.

A Black Lives Matter March planned by another group of organizers is scheduled for today at the Marquette Commons, 112 S. Third St. The march is set to begin at 3:30 p.m., but “the idea is to march at 5 p.m. and stop the 5 o’clock Marquette ‘traffic,'” according to a Facebook post by the organizers. People also will have the opportunity to speak publicly before the march.

Participants are asked to wear masks and respect social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and protest in a peaceful manner, organizers said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at cbleck@miningjournal.net. Lisa Bowers can be reached at lbowers@miningjournal.net

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