Students organize ‘peaceful protest’ in Farmington Hills

Wearing masks and carrying placards, more than a hundred local residents gathered Monday evening to protest the deaths of George Floyd and other black Americans killed by police.

The peaceful and coordinated event was organized by Farmington Hills students Chelsea Hunter and Cydney Jenkins, along with Grace Saleem, Mallory Kestler, Maya Turner, and Kithma Niyangoda.

At 5 p.m., about 70 people gathered in the southwest corner of Orchard Lake and 11 Mile Roads, while others marched south on Orchard Lake Road from Oakland Community College Orchard Ridge Campus to 11 Mile, where the groups converged.

Nia Smith of Farmington Hills said she attended to “celebrate the life of George Floyd and also push for police reform.”

“I want to see reform, I want to see better treatment of black lives, I want to see equal treatment, and I’m here to push that,” she said.

Melissa McElory of Detroit came to protest for Floyd’s life “and everybody else we don’t even know whose lives got taken away.”

Protest June 1 Farmington Hills
Organizer Cydney Jenkins prepares to walk down Orchard Lake Road during Monday’s peaceful protest.

Jenkins, who in 2018 organized a “March for Our Lives” anti-gun violence rally in Lansing, said she was motivated by the lack of response to recent events in her community.

“Yesterday, I was really fed up with just the horrible injustices I’ve seen the black community go through,” said  “As someone who is biracial, I know two things for sure. The oppression black people face is very, very real, and the privilege white Americans have is very, very real.”

As emotional and chaotic protests spread from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where a former police officer faces charges after killing Floyd, to other states and countries, Jenkins said she felt the time was right to amplify the voices of local youth. After Monday’s event, she plans to work through her nonprofit, World Generation Advocacy, to organize Youth Voices for Change, to bring together young people and political leaders from across the country for an annual conversation.

This year’s topic, Jenkins said, will focus on race.

Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King
Farmington Hills Police Chief Jeff King (center) meets with organizers during Monday’s peaceful protest. (Beverly King)

As protestors walked and milled about, Farmington Hills Police officers monitored traffic at intersections, rode down Orchard Lake Road on pace with walkers, directed traffic, and generally kept their distance. Police Chief Jeff King, who has been in the position just four months, said safety was their “number one goal”.

King said police learned about the event on social media, which the department regularly monitors to stay ahead of what’s happening in the city. He reached out to one of the organizers.

“They were very cooperative, and we came up with a plan to make sure they were safe and their event was a success,” he said.

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‘A duty to intervene’

King called Floyd’s death “extremely unfortunate, tragic for the family of Mr. Floyd, tragic for the city, and tragic for the officers.” He said the incident has caused “significant damage” to local community relationships, but the department, through training, accreditation, and other measures, continually works to establish trust.

While three Minneapolis police officers stood by as George Floyd died under the knee of their colleague Derek Chauvin, King said Farmington Hills Police officers know better.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is we have a duty to act and intervene,” he said. “A police officer has a duty to intervene not only with the public and with any of our officers to save a life, but with any other law enforcement officer.”

One of the protest signs asked about body cameras for Farmington Hills police. King said the department had received a $178,000 federal grant to transition existing dash cameras to a combination dash/body cam system. Everyone from the chief on down will be trained to use them. 

“We are one of the leaders in this, and we’re working to make it happen by the end of the year,” he said.

Editor’s Note: The names of additional march organizers were added to the original version of this post. 

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