Leading the Revolution: An Interview with Trische Duckworth

On May 26, a friend sent Trische Duckworth a video of an unarmed Ypsilanti township woman, She’Teina Grady El, being repeatedly punched in the head by a Washtenaw county sheriff. The same day Duckworth received the video, Sheriff Jerry Clayton came out and spoke to a small group of reporters to say he, too, was disturbed by what he saw in the video. At that time, he promised a full investigation into the incident. 

On May 29, Sheriff Clayton released the police body cam footage, during which time he disclosed that Grady El had bitten the deputy sheriff, although at what point is unclear, and told media that deputies may be authorized to use punching as, “a means of control against a non-compliant person, depending on the situation.”

The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office sent the case against the Grady El’s to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, which was accepted on June 18, and now will determine potential charges. The sheriff’s office is conducting an internal review, and the Michigan Sheriffs Association is investigating the deputy’s use of force.  

As of today, no charges have been brought against the arresting officers or the Grady El’s. However, there has been talk of charging the Grady El’s with multiple different charges, including assault of a police officer. No further information on reprimanding the officer has come up.

In response to the incident and as the Survivors Speak founder, Duckworth has organized over 25 peaceful police brutality protests in Washtenaw County and metro Detroit, with thousands in attendance. We got the opportunity to speak with her about her involvement with the Grady El case, her childhood, and what kinds of reforms and actions she thinks are necessary to end police brutality.

Trische Duckworth speaks to protestors in front of the Washtenaw county sheriff’s office in June.  Image courtesy of SURVIVORS SPEAK

Current Magazine (CM): Can you tell us a little about how you heard of the Grady El’s incident?

Trische Duckworth (TD): On May 26th, I came in from a senior shopping excursion for Survivors Speak, when I received a call from Nate Frazier telling me to look at this video on Facebook. I saw an officer pummeling an innocent woman in the head. I was sickened. I left the supplies right there in the middle of the floor, took to Facebook, asking people to meet me at the Sheriff’s office, and it grew from there. So many people were sickened by the behavior of the officer and still to this day, there’s been no justice. 

CM: Can you tell us a bit about growing up? Wasn’t your father a preacher?

TD: I was born in Port Huron, Michigan, and lived there until age 12, when my Dad became Pastor of Rose of Sharon Church in Flint, Michigan. I have a beautiful family. We have grown closer and I’m thankful for that.

We were in one of the strictest religions on the face of this earth, the Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church (AOH). As a kid, I despised their thoughtless rules and rebelled. I knew something wasn’t right, and I would soon learn my childhood intuition was right. I have since moved on from their spiritual abuse and now have my own relationship with God! I feel so free! Great thing, my parents are no longer a part of that religion and for that I’m grateful.

My Dad retired from pastoring in 2013. My brothers are Pastors, Rev. Dr. John E. Duckworth (Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church in Westland) and Pastor Terrence Johnson (Second Missionary Baptist Church in Monroe).

We have a big blended family and truly love each other. I love my siblings very much and we are in a continual building phase to grow closer. Our family prays together once a month. There were eight of us siblings, and now two are gone. One being my rock and best friend, the glue of our family, Ingrid Janelle Duckworth, and the other, our eldest brother, Wilbert Duckworth.

CM: When did you form Survivors Speak, and what is your organization’s mission?   

TD: Survivors Speak was formed in February 2018. We’ve been on the frontlines fighting against corruption, mainly in the area of Prosecutorial Misconduct, among other injustices. The fight has since intensified, as the need to fight has, and racist-filled times have intensified. We don’t necessarily like the attention because we know that, historically, Black leaders have either been jailed or killed. So being out front puts a target on your back, but it’s a part of it. And we’re committed to stay the course, in spite of anything that comes our way.

In addition to protesting, we are working to recall folks from office, helping folks get in office, putting reforms in place, and educating, all while offering empowerment within our communities. 

We believe that strong reforms can be implemented and, through holding folks accountable, we believe that we will see change. The inherent structural racism in law enforcement and society may not be completely eliminated, but we will send racists into hiding if they won’t stand down. Public shame will accomplish that. No open racist is safe around us. We will fight the right way to end racism and its effects in our society.

Our motto is: “Be A Threat To Injustice.”

CM: How do you see the national and local protests? Do you think they can be an effective means for change?

TD: We believe that protests are powerful, and we can see great change from them, like we did when the Mayor of Ypsilanti resigned. We just have to remain consistent. We believe that allowing love to lead will conquer all the hate we see. We will continue to fight the right way to accomplish the mission!! We thank everyone for standing and we encourage us all to STAY THE COURSE!!!

Survivors Speak is a grassroots organization and thrives off the kind donations of community members. We would be honored and grateful to accept any donation that folks are kind enough to give. Folks can donate through Paypal, survivorsspeakest2018@gmail.com, or CashApp, $SurvivorsSpeak.

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