Updated at 2:28 p.m.

America owes a ‘due bill’ for racism, Black Lives Matter leader says

A small, enthusiastic crowd shows up at the Capitol for protest

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MONDAY, June 29 — Black Lives Matter’s demands represent a “due bill” owed to victims of American racism, the head of the Lansing chapter told protesters at the Capitol today.

“We are not asking,” declared Angela Waters Austin. “We are not begging. This is a due bill.”

“Defunding the police” is the first demand, Waters Austin said. The others are investing police funds in “Black lives you have starved, oppressed and brutalized for 400 years plus. We will build a system of public safety that values us.”

Earlier, Waters Austin said 20%, or about $9.6 million, of the city’s police budget should go to the Black community because it represents about 20% of the city’s population.

The other demands are for President Trump and Lansing Mayor Andy Schor to resign.

Referring to Schor, she said: “You have lied about what you have done to serve the community.  You have put out a bunch of propaganda.”

She said Schor has been “exposed for only showing up to photo ops,” a possible reference to Schor’s appearance at the head of the NAACP march June 10. It was the first protest – and only – protest in which Schor has participated.

The protest was sponsored by the Lansing and Michigan chapters of Black Lives Matter; the Lansing nonprofit One Love Global; and Liberation PAC.

About 100 people were on hand for the noon kickoff. That compares to about 1,000 people who participated in a peaceful rally and march sponsored by the NAACP June 10 and a similarly sized protest on May 31 that turned violent.

But the crowd was building as the event continued.

Waters Austin, welcomed the crowd, which chanted, “No justice, no peace.”

Among those attending were Paul Birdsong, who has led almost daily protests in Lansing all month, and Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz. Birdsong carried a rifle.

There were vendors selling t-shirts that said “Anti racism” and “peaceful protester.” Firecracker Foundation, a local nonprofit, offered consultations on mental health.

Native American speakers pointed out America’s history of “genocide and systemic racism.”

Ferrin Mitchell, the artist who created the Black Lives Matter mural painted on Capitol Avenue in front of the Capitol , said that in defunding the police “we are not talking about getting rid of the police. We’re talking about reallocating those funds to places and systems that will support Black lives.”

She encouraged listeners to patronize Black businesses and have conversations with non-Black family members.

“Have candid conversations where you’re open to hear what people say,” she said.

Local activist Michael Lynn repeated the demands, then told the crowd: “There’s no middle ground any more. Either you’re with us or against us.”

Lynn said, “It’s a joke in my community that if you need the police, jump in your car and drive down MLK. You’ll see them posted up waiting for a broken tail light or air freshener.”

On Saturday, Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green referenced the same issue when he spoke at a civil rights protest at the Capitol. He said he and City Council members were looking into concerns about police seizing on minor vehicle violations.

Said Lynn, a Lansing firefighter: “I still get scared, I still get nervous. I turned down music when I passed a cop the other day. I don’t want a reason to get pulled over. That could result in death.

“Growing up in my neighborhood, the police were never our protectors. I don’t believe wholly that (Chief Green) can control the system beneath him.

“Cops only come to clean up messes or chase down curfew violations.”

Added Lynn: "Defunding the police means overpolicing will become impossible. They just won’t have the resources for BS.”

Lynn also attacked Schor, saying, “We don’t have time to teach this mayor to be anti-racist and he doesn’t seem to want to learn.”

He added the city’s deputy mayor, Samantha Harkins, and the Human Resources Department to the mayor as those who should resign. “They’re complicit and they got to go too.”

The city of Flint’s chief health adviser, Pamela Pugh, told the crowd that Blacks are “dying disproportionately” in the coronavirus pandemic. “We are the frontline workers,” said Pugh, who is also vice president of the state Board of Education.

Many in the crowd were wearing masks. However, social distancing was harder to find.

Tashmica Torok, who heads the local nonprofit Firecracker Foundation, lumped Schor and Trump together, saying: "If you’re talking to him or Donald Trump, the only thing they need to hear is a demand to resign.”

Torok said the police enforcement cannot be reformed “when it was created to brutalize us.”

Meanwhile, as the protest wound down, a dozen or so men, some armed, gathered in the 1500 block of East Michigan Avenue, near Lathrop Street, in front of two buildings owned by Chris Garno, who operates Garno Property Management. One building prominently displays pro-Trump signage.

Garno said the men were there to protect his buildings. He said that during the May 31 protest, which turned violent, bottles were thrown at his property and a threat of a firebomb was posted on Facebook. Protesters marched by his building to and from East Lansing on May 31.

Protesters at the Capitol have not said if today’s activities will include a march.

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