(This story was updated at 11 p.m.)
THURSDAY June 11 — Dozens of people led by local resident Paul Birdsong, for the 10th straight evening, marched across the capital city last night in protest of police brutality, calling for police reforms and pushing for Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s immediate resignation.
Birdsong and a loyal collective of mostly young residents of all races have marched downtown Lansing every night for more than a week. Last night, after a daily meeting at the State Capitol, the group walked city streets east toward the People’s Kitchen on Michigan Avenue.
“No person or group of people should be able to control the rest of humanity,” they chanted.
Protesters, of course, carry their own perspectives, but the group has voiced a very specific set of demands that strive for a more racially equitable future in Lansing. First: Schor must resign.
The mayor’s plans to divest $100,000 from the Police Department and shift the cash into a fund dedicated toward bridging a racial divide simply doesn’t go far enough when the Police Department accounts for a massive third of the city’s overall budget, Birdsong has contended.
“We don’t want you anymore, Andy Schor,” the group chanted. “It’s a matter of time.”
Birdsong also has a message for the NAACP, which led a march of more than 1,000 people, including Schor and several city officials, from the Lansing Center to the Capitol yesterday afternoon. “Fuck it. Fuck them,” Birdsong said after he was asked for his thoughts.
Several speakers at today’s NAACP rally, sponsored by the Michigan Youth and College Division and promoted by the Lansing chapter, titled “We are done dying,” called for broad-brush reform that has been echoed nationally: implicit bias and mental health training for police, banning violent arrest tactics and more meaningful oversight for police misconduct.
The NAACP march brought out politicians and community leaders like the U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, Bishop David Maxwell, City Council members Peter Spadafore and Patricia Spitzley, Commissioner Derrell Slaughter and Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail. The mayor brought his PR team.
None of them have marched alongside Birdsong. His demands are a bit more localized.
After Schor resigns, Birdsong wants community services like the Black Child & Family Institute and the Shabazz Public School Academy reopened. Protesters are also pushing for police divestment and a shift of any remaining police funding toward mental health and social work.
“The people don’t want you, Andy Schor,” the group chanted. “So we’re going to make you leave, Andy Schor. If you can’t hear us right now, Andy Schor, you will very soon, Andy Schor.”
Lansing’s Black Lives Matter chapter, while also calling for Schor to quit, has distanced itself from Birdsong’s group. No recent protests in Lansing have been endorsed by BLM, including today’s large downtown rally. The group hasn’t organized a physical demonstration in Lansing.
Co-founder Angela Waters Austin responded to Schor’s prominent role in the NAACP march.
“Will march to support BLM protests for national demands but will not support the local BLM chapter demands,” she posted to Facebook. “Not at all cognitively dissonant. Or hypocritical.”
Waters Austin hasn’t responded to interview requests. She only speaks to black reporters. According to a recent Facebook post, she is "only speaking to Black media and journalists during this protest," to "honor and celebrate Black communications professionals."
As a result, City Pulse has only been able to gather her perspectives from social media.
Yesterday’s march was the first public showing from the NAACP in Lansing since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis. The group, in recent years, has kept advocacy relatively quiet in Lansing.
Nationally, the NAACP has tried to stay relevant amid an era largely defined by the Black Lives Matter movement, reports The Undefeated. The demands of a younger generation — like Birdsong’s group and BLM — appear impatient with the NAACP’s style of advocacy, which works within the system to hammer out legislative change over more raucous streetside rallies.
Waters Austin, Birdsong and dozens more also appear to be laser focused on Schor resigning.
“Andy Schor, every night these streets are ours,” the group chanted. “Until we see you leave.”
Local activist, firefighter and “Merica 20 to Life Live” host Michael Lynn Jr. spoke out too. He planned to walk the NAACP march, but turned back when he saw Schor leading the crowd.
“I’m so tired of you fake ass motherfuckers on here trying to buddy up and partner up to get ways and get forward and ahead in life,” Lynn said in a live video. “There’s a whole movement going on and the whole world is shaking, and you ain’t a part of the issue or the solution. I don’t understand why it wasn’t put out in y’all circle that this motherfucker (Schor) just isn’t allowed.”
“I’ve got my issues with (Lansing NAACP) on what they have and haven’t done. They haven’t done shit. I’m calling it out,” Lynn said. “I don’t see any strength in them, so I don’t fucking care.”
Protesters with Birdsong’s group marched along Saginaw Street toward the People’s Kitchen, at times blocking all four lanes of traffic. People laid prone at major intersections like Larch and Cedar streets while demonstrators in cars — some of them armed — escorted the group along.
The building itself doesn’t hold much significance, but the location carries some history.
Malcolm X grew up in Lansing. His father, Earl Little, was a local preacher and reportedly carried some great influence — and perhaps passed on some oratory skills — to his soon-to-be iconic son Malcolm, according to recent historical research from Michigan State University.
In 1931, Little was run over by a streetcar and found barely alive on the corner of Michigan and Detroit Street — just adjacent to the current site of the People’s Kitchen. He died at a hospital. The murder was allegedly perpetrated by the Black Legion, an equally racist spinoff of the KKK.
"We stand here in solidarity with every black person that was shot by white supremacists," Birdsong told the protestors when they arrived near the scene. "For every black person who has been killed by police. For every black man who has been taunted and disrespected."
Cars zipped past protesters as they marched. One driver, who appeared to be a white man, drove close to the crowd and eventually got out and into a shoving match with protesters and Birdsong. Birdsong said he threw a punch at the driver for being aggressive to a woman.
"If you act aggressive with a woman in any way, I'm going to punch you. Period," Birdsong said.
The skirmish ended almost as quickly as it began as both sides went their separate ways. Police parked nearby said they didn’t plan to make any arrests, but kept watch over the scene.
Birdsong and the protesters marched on into the night. And they’ll be back again tomorrow.