Saturday, November 28, 2020

'We're Next': East Lansing peaceful protest aims to provoke community action, change

Community calls for transparency, accountability and an end to injustice

June 2, 2020
<p>Protesters march outside of the East Lansing Police Department at the “We’re Next” protest against police brutality in East Lansing on June 2, 2020. The protest was peaceful and speakers talked about the current state of the nation as well as removing East Lansing Police Officer Andrew Stephenson from his position.</p>

Protesters march outside of the East Lansing Police Department at the “We’re Next” protest against police brutality in East Lansing on June 2, 2020. The protest was peaceful and speakers talked about the current state of the nation as well as removing East Lansing Police Officer Andrew Stephenson from his position.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

When East Lansing resident Farhan Sheikh-Omar saw what happened in Minneapolis, he came to a realization: The same exact thing could happen to his community, similar things have happened in his community and he, his family and friends could be next.

Sheikh-Omar gave the title "We're Next" to the protest held in East Lansing on Tuesday, because he said his community “literally dodged a bullet”, and he wants his community to be proactive and not wait until something happens for change to come.

“What happened in Minneapolis almost happened in East Lansing and we want to continue to bring that awareness and bring that conversation to the table,” Sheikh-Omar said. “This department is known to not sustain public complaints and we want to make sure officers are being held accountable and cases are not just being pushed to the side.”

The protest began at 12 p.m. and went well into the afternoon. Several protesters gave speeches and marched through East Lansing, blocking the road and remaining peaceful throughout.

Those in attendance took three laps around the city in between periods of protest in front of the East Lansing Police Station. The protesters made stops at 7-Eleven, where a part of the reason behind the organization of this protest comes from.

Two complaints of excessive force against the same East Lansing officer have been made within the past few months. State police closed the investigation early this month, finding the officer involved to be exonerated. After the city released video footage of the arrests, one of which happened at 7-Eleven, the city council began progress toward forming a police oversight commission.

Peace was an emphasis of this protest.

“We’re not out here to destroy things. We’re not out here to fight with the police. We’re not against the police,” Sheikh-Omar said in a speech. “What we want is transparency. What we want is accountability. What we want is the end of police brutality. What happened in Minneapolis almost happened in East Lansing.”

Prior to the protest taking place, Interim East Lansing Police Chief Steve Gonzalez issued a statement of support for the protest taking place.

“We fully support people exercising their right to protest over the brutal and senseless murder of Mr. George Floyd,” Gonzalez said. “Mr. Floyd’s legacy will lead to lasting, positive change of the law enforcement profession and how we interact with our community. I assure you: we are listening. We urge people to remain non-violent during these protests and treat each other with dignity and respect.”

When protesters arrived, police cars were cleared from the parking lot, allowing for them to congregate there. Throughout the protest, the only police presence were their vehicles, blocking off roadways and following the march so that protesters could safely walk the streets.

Several protesters of older generations came to speak to the others. They called for change not just in the police system, but everywhere. They asked for change in homes, workplaces and every part of life. They asked to confront racism on all fronts.

Many protesters preached embodying the change they want to see. They told others to sign petitions, make calls to local officials, vote and run for office. They expressed the importance of being united against oppression.

 “We need this to be the generation for change. … Run for office,” one protester said.

The initiative taken by Sheikh-Omar was an echo of the protest on Sunday and showed a connected community working together for the same goals.

“It’s amazing. It shows that everybody here is united,” Sheikh-Omar said. "It’s not black vs. white. It's not even police vs. people. We just want equality. We want accountability, and we want transparency ... and it's so good that the community has come together to show us support.”

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