FLINT, Michigan -- As a group of Black Lives Matter protestors marched down Saginaw Street on September 23, Tiara Willingham of Flint left her dinner at 501 Bar and Grill to make a stand.
Willingham, 28, walked towards Flint City Officer Esther Campbell and reached for her hand. Tiara stood gripping Campbell’s hand and cried out, “It’s not about Black or white blood. We all bleed the same blood. We all need to get together.”
Protests spread across America on September 23 in response to a Louisville, Kentucky, decision to charge only one of four officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor with “wanton endangerment” -- for shots Officer Brett Hankinson fired into a neighboring apartment, not the shots that killed Taylor. The Flint Black Lives Matter chapter announced shortly after the grand jury decision that they would be meeting in the flat lot.
Johnie Franklin III cries out for a moment of silence for Breonna Taylor.“It is unfair. It is another unfair and wrongful judgement. This was a missed opportunity to get it right,” said Johnie Franklin III, Vice President of Flint Black Lives Matter. “This protest is specifically in standing in solidarity with all BLM chapters. It sends a bigger message. We want change.”
Supporters marched on Saginaw Street and held a candlelight vigil to show their opposition to the grand jury decision.
Local officers arrived at the protest to protect protesters from traffic and to talk with the BLM-Flint President DeWaun Robinson and Franklin.
Flint Chief of Police Terence Green asked protesters, “What do you want me to do? I will march with you. I will hug you. I will do what it takes to show you we are on your side.”
Under the direction of Franklin, protesters held a moment of silence and lit candles in honor of Taylor. Franklin started the vigil by saying, “I hope for awareness. And I hope that people will continue to support BLM even when our government doesn't.”
A diverse group of people at the rally spoke in unity against injustice.
Hubert Roberts, 64, a Flint resident, stands on the corner of First and Saginaw streets in protest to the ruling in Breonna Taylor’s case. “This is a better way to do something as opposed to doing nothing,” said Hubert Roberts, 64, when asked why he personally partakes in the local protests. “Black people have never had equal opportunity. All we ask is to be treated equally and left alone.”
"I go to the ones [protests] in Detroit very often,” said Dana Sanchez, who is currently finishing her undergraduate program in chemistry at the University of Michigan-Flint. “For a while, I was going there once or twice a week, but now I have been going to them once a month since school started.”
The protests have created a sense of unity for people who continuously attend.
Dana Sanchez, 23, a senior at the University of Michigan-Flint, stands with her sign, “Muslims for Black Lives Matter! Say His Name!”“I go for myself too; it's more of the community aspect,” Sanchez said. “I feel like I met a lot of really good people and made a lot of new friends from different areas. It’s a good place to go.”.
Black Lives Matter rallies have been occurring for years nationwide, but increased in frequency in May in response to the killings of Taylor and George Floyd by police. People in cities around the country have marched, fought, and demanded change and justice for the lives of Black Americans. The cries are similar in every city -- “Say His Name! George Floyd!” “Say her name! Breonna Taylor!” “No justice! No peace! No Racist Police!”
Emily West is one of many community members that refuses to give up and be silent in the face of injustice. She’s been to six protests, including ones in Flushing, Davison, Grand Blanc, and Flint.
Emily West, 28, grew up in Flint. “I want to come up here, use my voice and help out in any way I can.”The reason why I keep coming back is that it is incredibly empowering to see people taking back democracy and taking back the power a little bit,” West said. “People are coming together with a unified message and that does a lot for the Black community. It empowers them and lets them know they are supported.”
The enduring strength inside of Flint residents is a reminder of hope for the future. Students, professionals, different ethnic backgrounds, and different genders all stood in unity on the streets of downtown Flint Wednesday night.
As Tiara stood next to Officer Campbell she cried out, “No violence period!”