TUESDAY, June 9 — Lansing’s civil rights protesters can get their way with the mayor, who offered to divert money from the police budget into social equity programs.
But they can’t control the weather.
Rain interrupted their picnic party at the Capitol tonight. It forced them to pack up their food and take shelter under the overhang on Ottawa Street at Capitol Avenue. They tossed beachballs and set up a “sign making center.” They chalked the sidewalks.
Before the rain, Rage Against The Machine was blasting over speakers. Kids were playing football. Sleeping bags were in a pile. Protesters thought they’d spend the night.
Protest leader Paul Birdsong told protesters — who have no permit — that if authorities “start bothering us, then we’ll go occupy the street.”
Birdsong said they barred them from putting up a tent.
And they were told to be out by 11 p.m.
With some thought that protesters may stay anyway, Birdsong said, “If you do get arrested, just plead the Fifth until a lawyer gets there.”
Throughout 10 consecutive and peaceful nights of protests, starting two Mondays ago, Birdsong has stressed being good citizens. Keep off the grass at Mayor Andy Schor’s house, he told them when they marched there twice. And keep off the other kind of grass while you’re protesting. Twice he stopped pot smoking.
They considered civil disobedience over the tent, but finally they decided no tent. Birdsong polled the crowd and only one protester voted for the tent.
After that, they started the cookout.
Birdsong has encouraged protesters to respect the law even while demanding money be moved from policing into social equity programs. And he seems to know some law. For example, he told protesters to stay 10 feet from buildings when they sought shelter from the rain because, he said, a law requires you to.
He said a Michigan State Police trooper gave him his number and told him to call if he had any trouble.
How did he feel about that? “I don’t know. I don’t trust anybody with a badge.”
Birdsong next turned his attention to the nightly march. With a storm brewing, he led the protesters in circling the Capitol. Half stayed behind to watch the store. “We want Andy to resign!” the marchers chanted.
Reunited on the Capitol steps, the protesters moved on to the main event: a candlelight vigil in honor of George Floyd on the day he was laid to rest next to his mother in Houston, where he grew up.
But with the wind kicking up, they could only light a few candles. They sat in silence for 8 minutes and 53 seconds, a time shouted out by one protester, seven seconds more than it took Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin to take his knee off Floyd’s neck.
“Fuck the police!” someone immediately shouted when the time was up.
With rain starting, the protesters once again moved across Capitol to the overhang on Ottawa. They voted to stay put, thus avoiding a confrontation with the police.
As midnight approached, the beachballs flew.