Members of the East Lansing area gathered outside of the East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD, in protest of alleged police brutality. The event was created following a viral Facebook post by Uwimana Gasito, or Tito, alleging ELPD assaulted him after he filmed the police arresting his friend.
"We're not here to be anti-police. We're not here to start any violence. What we're here for is to ask for transparency and for accountability and that is two things that we have not gotten from this police department, ever, in this case and other cases in the past," Farhan Sheikh-Omar, protest leader, said.
In response, ELPD Chief Larry Sparkes released a statement acknowledging the alleged incident, stating that the department had initiated an investigation into the alleged excessive force.
Sheikh-Omar said he and Gasito have a similar background. He said they are both immigrants and refugees that have called Lansing home for many years.
"In Africa, we don't have laws, we don't have police officers, so to have that here, in America, it's a good thing for all of us," Sheikh-Omar said to the crowd. "So we don't hate the police. We respect the law, but what we don't want is police racially profiling black men and using violence against unarmed black men. Tito has no criminal history, none, and this was the first time he ever encountered police, and this is how his face looks like," he said, pointing to his shirt with an image of Gasito's injuries.
Luke Sciberras, who led chants in the crowd, said he came to the protest to spread awareness of first amendment protections including filming police while they perform their duties in the public.
"The inspiration to come out today in particular was there was an event where a member of the public, he says on a Facebook post he was filming his friend being arrested and as a result, he was approached by the police because he was filming," Sciberras said. "And I haven't seen the footage, I wasn't there for the event itself, but it's discouraging to hear allegations like that."
Ellen DeRosia said she came to the protest because she is a concerned resident of East Lansing.
"I don't like to see the kind of things that are allegedly happening," DeRosia said.
Katie Nepton said the protest was powerful because it included people from multiple counties of all races, religions and ethnicities.
"My rights were given to me by God and if someone's rights are being violated by a government entity we should all support that person and remind the government that ... they can't take away our rights," Nepton said.
The protest largely focused on the alleged incident involving Gasito, but called for accountability from ELPD overall. Sheikh-Omar delivered a message to the crowd as well as to the police department.
"This police chief is not here to defend us. He's not here to defend the city and the people who he serves. He's here to protect this building and the people who work in there, but I have a message for him," Sheikh-Omar said. "You and your police officers are public service, paid by us to be public service, not to be our masters. You work for us, you work in the interests of us."