SATURDAY, June 6 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor stood in the street in front of his house last night and listened to the demands of protesters.
And then he invited them into his house to use a bathroom. A long line formed. Schor held the door for them, alternately directing them to the downstairs one and the upstairs one.
And when everyone was done, someone in the crowd shouted, “Thank you for letting us use the bathroom!”
“No problem,” he said, laughing.
And so the sixth night of peaceful protesting ended. They followed a violent night last Sunday, replete with a burned-out car, broken windows and tear gas.
But before they left his neighborhood around 10 p.m., Schor heard loud and clear from protest leader Paul Birdsong just what they wanted. Two hundred protesters, black, white, brown and mostly young, sat on the street in front of Schor’s house and, for the most part, listened without interrupting.
“There’s a lot of racist cops,” Birdsong, 34, told Schor. He said they need to be identified — by combing social media, among other methods — and removed.
Birdsong said the police need “de-escalation training” and “nonviolence training.”
The shutdown Shabazz academies and the old Black Child Family Institute need to be reopened, he said.
Schor said he had no control over schools but would pass along the demand.
Birdsong continued that programs to mentor black youth need to be created. Kids needs to be fed.
Schor took notes on his phone as Birdsong said, “Write this down.” At one point, Schor said he would remember. Birdsong insisted again, “Write this down,” and Schor appeared to do so.
Birdsong criticized Schor for not seeming to know how to respond to questions on a podcast earlier this week hosted by Black Lives Matter.
“I was unprepared,” Schor said. “I apologized. I was the first one to say that.” The mayor was not defensive.
Apparently assuming Schor was uncomfortable, someone in the crowd shouted, “How you feel right now — that’s how we feel every day.”
Schor, in a t-shirt and shorts, stayed calm. So did the crowd. Birdsong talked, and Schor mostly listened.
Birdsong pledged that the protesters would return every day till their demands were met. To drive home his point, he said, “You want us to leave your house, right?”
Schor: “You're welcome to stay.”
That seemed to lighten the mood.
“We’ll be here tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and the next day and the day after that,” Birdsong, polite but firm, promised. “I don’t care if it rains.
“Nice to meet you, mayor. Thanks for your time. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As Schor approached his house, a protester shouted, “Can I use the bathroom?”
Schor said yes and invited anyone else who needed it to come in.
The line formed from his front door to his driveway.
While Schor directed bathroom traffic, Birdsong yelled from the street that they will be on the way to his house at 4 p.m. tomorrow.
“Good to know,” Schor said.
Earlier, on a beautiful June night, protesters walked from the Capitol to Schor’s house, on Moores River Drive across from the entrance to the Country Club of Lansing.
They stepped off at 7:42 p.m. They headed south on Capitol Avenue, then west on St. Joseph to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
While they walked, an SUV backed out of the driveway with the Schors’ 14-year-old daughter. She had been home alone, but a neighbor chauffeured her away.
At 8:02 p.m., a single police car arrived, with one officer inside. He continued past the house, went down a hill, turned around and parked on the south side of the street, facing the direction the marchers were expected to come from.
By telephone, the mayor said he and his wife were out for the evening.
Birdsong told the crowd that he and Lansing City Councilman Brandon Betz planned to knock on the door together.
“We’re not gonna leave until he comes outside,” Birdsong said. “I don’t care if its midnight.”
At 8:35 p.m., marchers turned onto Moores River Drive.
Ten minutes later, the marchers arrived. They were followed by a dozen or more cars and trucks, which parked every which way on the street.
The protesters sat in the street and on the County Club lawn across the street.
Near the front was Councilman Betz. He watched as Birdsong and two others rang the doorbell, to no avail.
Betz said he would call the mayor.
“You are a man of the people,” Betz yelled in his phone. “Come talk to the people!”
Then Betz offered the mayor's number to Birdsong.
Birdsong put the call on a mobile phone speaker.
“All you did was scare the hell out of my daughter,” you could hear Schor say.
“Come down here and face us,” Birdsong said.
“Thanks for the advice,” Schor said.
He took it. Schor arrived alone around 9:15 p.m.
Later, after Birdsong talked and Schor mostly listened, and protesters used the bathroom, the protesters marched back to the Capitol, arriving there around 10:40 p.m.
One of them, Alexia Reynolds, 24, a black woman from Lansing, said, “I’m glad the mayor at least showed up. I didn’t know what we were going to do if he didn’t. But he did.
“This is a good night for the people of Lansing.”
She added: “I wonder how long it will take for him to start making actual changes. We’re going to keep sitting here every night if he doesn’t. There are so many people here already, but I bet it’ll just keep getting bigger.”
That was a point Birdsong made earlier to the mayor. He told him that he was alone on Monday when he protested at the Capitol. Then others joined him, as they have each night since. Tonight’s crowd was the biggest since Birdsong took charge.
Another protester, Darren Brooks, 20, a black man from Lansing, said, “It was fun to watch the mayor squirm when we asked him questions. Like someone in the crowd said, now he knows how black people feel every day: uncomfortable. If we can’t make him a little uncomfortable, then he’s not going to do anything for us. It just won’t happen.
"So I’m happy about tonight.”