Washtenaw County Protest Keeps it Peaceful Amid National Unrest

Nationwide protests have been building since white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, caused the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man. The incident was caught on camera and now Chauvin has been arrested and is appearing in court to face the charges. Rage has spread across the nation with protests addressing local incidents of police violence in addition to the death of George Floyd while in police custody.

Approaches to the issue, from both protestors and law enforcement, has varied from state to state. In D.C., thousands of protesters assembled outside of the White House, forced their way into the Treasury Department, and spray painting buildings. More than half of the nation’s governors have called in the National Guard and at least 45 million Americans have been under a curfew beginning on Sunday night.

While some police agencies have responded to the protests with increased aggression, some have responded by supporting the call for an end to police brutality. Many officers have photographed themselves kneeling in support of protesters. Officers in Camden, New Jersey helped carry a banner with protesters reading, “Standing in Solidarity.” 

Black Lives Matter poster during the Ann Arbor protests.

Michigan is experiencing a wide range of responses to the ongoing crisis of police brutality with a series of protests across the state. In March, East Lansing’s then police chief retired while apologizing for the department’s mishandling of an internal investigation regarding excessive force. Last weekend, protesters surrounded the Lansing police department and damaged a police vehicle.

Although some cities continue to increase their use of force on protesters, others are not. On Saturday, Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson addressed protesters, then asked law enforcement to lay down their arms and join the protesters for a night of peace.

A Difference in Washtenaw County

In Washtenaw County, protests have been starkly different from the rest of the country. That difference is largely due to the steady hand of the Survivors Speak organizer, Trische Duckworth, who continues to organize daily protests in response to the videotaped incident of police brutality in Ypsilanti township last week.

The local incident involves a  bystander video which exposed a white Washtenaw County deputy sheriff repeatedly punching a black Ypsilanti township woman, Sha’Teina Grady El, in the head as another deputy uses a stun gun to taser her husband, Dan El. Sha’Teina was arrested and taken to jail, where she was then transferred to Wayne County jail on an outstanding warrant.

According to Duckworth, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton has been in open communication with organizers since day one. Protests were held in front of the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s office Wednesday through Sunday of last week and continued on the UM Diag.

Last week, Washtenaw County protesters were not met by police in riot gear. Rather, protesters were supported by county sheriffs who blocked off Washtenaw Ave and stood by while hundreds of people marched in the streets.

William Amadeo, attorney for the Grady El’s, said the Michigan State Police arrived in a “rather aggressive manner” on the first day of the protests, but then county sheriffs declined State Police assistance. There was also great concern over Grady El’s well-being prior to being released. Grady El has medical issues that were not being treated, and there was some concern about her having a concussion from the police attack.

Grady El was released from police custody this past Friday, apparently largely due to the protests on her behalf and direct advocacy by community supporters with law enforcers. Sha’Teina Grady El arrived at the protest on Friday with her family, spoke to the crowd, then joined the march.

Sha’Teina Grady El speaks to the crowd Friday May 29 with husband, Dan, beside her.

Grady El has charges pending in Wayne County, and Duckworth wants those charges dropped. “We want an independent investigation,” she told the crowd on Friday. “We do not want the police, policing the police.”

“My heart is so full right now,” Sha’Teina told the crowd, with her husband by her side.  “I would have never expected a turn out like this for little old Tina. I’m mentally and physically broken from this assault. We’re all here today to address the inequality that’s going on.”

She spoke about the hypocrisy of the police. “If you’re violating something, they are going to come and get you. They’re going to make you pay for it with your body; they’re going to make you pay. So again, I want to say thank you. I love y’all. You made me cry when I saw how many people were on that video, I said for little old Tina?”

“Yesterday I got really emotional; I was like, ‘I’m here (in jail). I know we all have our own path to travel, we all have our own path to travel, and sometimes that path is not clear. It’s rocky sometimes, but we all have our own path to travel. And I was asking, ‘what is your purpose, Tina? Why are you here?’ And you know what I came up with?

“Nothing happens for no reason; there is a purpose behind everything.”

The protest in support of the Grady El’s continued on the University of Michigan Diag and on the steps of the library at 913 S. University Ave in Ann Arbor.

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