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Monday protest draws hundreds

Protesters walk down Spring Street in Marquette during Monday’s Black Lives Matter March. The event brought attention to the recent killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

MARQUETTE — Monday’s Black Lives Matter March picked up where two weekend rallies in Marquette left off in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd.

Floyd died in Minneapolis following his arrest, with video showing a police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck. Chauvin since has been charged with third-degree murder.

Protests took place on Saturday at Northern Michigan University and in and around downtown Marquette, and again on Sunday, also in and around the downtown area.

These events were largely peaceful, although images of other protests around the nation in recent days depict fires, property destruction and protesters being blasted with pepper spray during protests.

Monday’s local march began around 3:30 p.m. at the Marquette Commons and the intersection of Third and Washington streets, with hundreds of protesters holding up signs with phrases such as “No justice, no peace,” “Privilege is invisible to those who have it” and “Love not hate” while shouting “White silence is violence,” among other chants.

Protesters walk down West Washington Street Monday. (Journal photo by Christie Mastric)

On Monday, protesters started at the intersection of Third and Washington streets, marched westward on Washington Street, making a circuit past the Marquette Police Department along West Baraga Avenue and then back to the intersection — all peacefully — where they continued the demonstration.

The participants eventually stood in the middle of Washington to protest but before the end of the event, they sat and knelt silently for the same amount of time that Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.

City police rerouted traffic at the corner of Fourth Street and Washington during the latter part of the march without incident.

In a way, it was a March on Washington, in reference to the famous protest that took place in August 1963 to bring attention to inequalities faced by African-Americans, with Martin Luther King Jr. making his “I Have A Dream” speech.

One of the organizers of the protest, Northern Michigan University criminal justice student Calyn Franklin, called it a peaceful protest against systemic racism in the United States and injustices “black and brown people face on a daily basis.”

Baring signs, demonstrators fill sidewalks and streets in downtown Marquette on Monday. Area residents joined the protest in connection to the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody May 25 in Minneapolis. (Photo courtesy of Corey Kelly)

Franklin acknowledged Marquette doesn’t have a large population of people of color, but that didn’t stop her from helping to plan the event.

“I felt like I was obligated to do so,” Franklin said before the protest. “This is a very important thing to talk about. My father should be able to buy a house without a white man saying, ‘I don’t want a black man to buy this house.'”

She also stressed the protests mean fighting for people who can’t fight for themselves and to make an “injustice, justice.”

“I believe I can speak for people who are like, ‘Oh, we are for the police, all police are good’ and also my black people as well,” said Franklin, who expressed concern that local police agencies have not come out publicly in favor of people of color in their community.

“It is your civic duty to use your voice and speak up for what is wrong, and we haven’t heard anything,” Franklin said.

Demonstrators sit at the West Washington Street-Third Street intersection in Marquette on Monday for a moment of silence that lasted the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd's neck. (Photo courtesy of Corey Kelly)

After hearing of Floyd’s death, she thought: “Here we go again,” she said.

However, Franklin has an idea about inspiring change, even in a small community.

“Well, as we know, Marquette is a really, really small town, and a lot of people are stuck in their old ways,” she said. “So, if we have people that are from different cities and have different perspectives, then we can reach and try to touch those people who don’t have the opportunity to be around a lot of people of color.”

Another organizer, NMU social media design major Kenna Koffman, said many things motivated her to be part of the march.

“Essentially, it was George Floyd,” Koffman said. “That was obviously a tough video to watch, and I have friends all over the world who experience racism in many different ways, shapes and forms.”

Protesters approach a vehicle passing through the West Washington Street and Third Street intersection on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Corey Kelly)

Koffman said it was important for Upper Peninsula residents to take a stand on the matter and be supportive.

“It’s humbling to be here and to acknowledge and learn about my privileges that I have,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot in the last few days because knowledge is power.”

Statements issued

NMU Fritz Erickson has issued a letter to the campus community regarding the current situation.

“It is with a heavy heart that I write to acknowledge the horrific incidents that have taken place across the country following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed while in Minneapolis Police custody.” Erickson said. “His death, having come on the heels of the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other people of color, clearly illustrates the need for systemic equity. Those with a desire for change took to the streets to advocate for an end to institutionalized racism and a fair law enforcement system for all across the nation. Examples of these peaceful demonstrations were visible right here in Marquette. Although rioters have hijacked some demonstrations, the messages of those peaceful protestors is clear: systemic equity is a goal we must strive for in all sectors of society.

“These inequities remind us of how necessary it is for individuals and organization to address the needs of marginalized and minoritized communities. To that end, the NMU Office of Diversity and Inclusion will be reaching out to interested students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to develop a series of forums. Campus programming, such as the annual UNITED conference, will be re-envisioned to include a strong focus on examining structural barriers to systemic equity in relation to access to education as well as public health, law enforcement, and voting policies.

“Statements like these do not fix deeply rooted issues nor do they heal the pain many of you, of us, are feeling. I recognize that the events surrounding these deaths carry a heavy emotional toll. We care for you. We are here for you.”

Erickson reminded people of support services available to the campus community, which include counseling and consultation services, dean of students, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and NMU’s faculty and staff

Erickson said that the coming weeks, Jessica Cruz, NMU’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, and others on campus will work to identify actionable strategies for moving forward and creating opportunities for dialogue.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, peacefully protesting is even more complicated,” Erickson wrote. “If you gather to raise your voice on these issues, please do so safely in all manners, including ways that limit the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing a facial mask and trying to maintain social distancing to protect your health and others. This will help to ensure we can all participate in the civil discourse on campus in the upcoming months.

“As we continue to navigate the pandemic that has affected us all in various ways, with communities of color facing a disproportionate impact, let us re-commit ourselves to the fight for a just, civil, and equitable society.”

Marquette County Sheriff Greg Zyburt said in a telephone interview that he supports the protesters when they are nonviolent.

“I totally believe in people and support the First Amendment and freedom of speech and people protesting without violence,” Zyburt said. “It’s when they get assaultive behavior or start to vandalize, I do have a problem with that.”

However, he stressed that the Marquette protesters, for the most part, were civil.

Zyburt said Marquette County police departments are taught about cultural diversity when they attend police academies and the subject is also offered at the NMU police consortium. That consortium, he said, is funded through the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards.

Within the last four or five years, Zyburt noted, that funding has been cut.

“So the training is not there as it used to be,” he said.

That training is used for things such as driving, shooting and the use of force.

“When training is cut, these are the type of things that happen,” he said.

Christie Mastric can be reached at cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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