HUNDREDS OF PROTESTERS of all ages met in front of the Owosso City Hall on Saturday, June 6. This group of local teens represents just a small portion of the crowd, many wearing protective masks due to COVID-19.
Initially, there were early concerns about the planned protest becoming a riot, mostly induced by rumors and fear mongering spread through social media forums. Kevin Lenkart, the Owosso Public Safety Director, was involved early in the process to assist organizers and make sure the community was completely safe. Officers even closed off Main Street so that protesters could march safely.
(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
by Karen Mead-Elford, co-editor
Hundreds of people were in downtown Owosso on Saturday, June 6 to participate in a protest against police brutality and racism in an event organized mostly via social media by local residents. The protest kicked-off in front of city hall just before 1 p.m., and continued to draw in groups of residents, speaking out on behalf of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other African Americans who have become victims of both racism and police brutality. Residents carried signs and participated in chants and also a march that took the group west on Main Street to M-52 and then back east to the Washington Street Plaza.
Floyd was killed on Monday, May 25 in Minneapolis when a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Taylor was killed in Louisville in March, fatally shot eight times in her apartment by members of the Louisville Metro Police Department. Both deaths, combined with many other cases, have led to protests, and even riots, in many parts of the country – both urban and rural communities. No rioting was reported at the Owosso protest, with organizers, community members and local police departments all working together toward the greater goal of having a peaceful protest.
The city of Owosso has a very shadowy past when it comes to racism, though many community leaders are now taking a forward stand. Owosso Mayor Chris Eveleth was on hand for the Saturday protest to acknowledge the crowd and offer a statement against racism.
“I’m very proud of you here, today, and I know that we will keep this very peaceful,” Eveleth spoke. He mentioned how the “country has been very on edge the last couple of months,” referencing the quarantine, and the Floyd and Taylor deaths. “We are here to now stand against racism, but we are also here to now stand for unity,” he stated, encouraging the protesters to work together in their stance against racism. He later shared that the Saturday protest was the largest protest he had ever witnessed in downtown Owosso, and he remained on location for anyone that might want to talk with him.
Police officers from Owosso, Corunna and Laingsburg and deputies of the Shiawassee County Sheriff’s Office assisted with the crowd management effort. The nearly three-hour long protest concluded in the Washington Street Plaza with a number of speakers, including DeWaun Robinson of Flint. Robinson spoke to the crowd about the need to unite, referencing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dream. “We’re not dreaming no more,” he said. “We’re not letting this stuff ride anymore.”
One of the event organizers, Ashley Foster, an Owosso resident, helped lead protesters in several chants throughout the afternoon. A “die-in” was held on the city hall lawn, with protesters laying down for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, honoring the amount of time George Floyd was pinned to the ground by police in a widely watched video.
Approximately five counter-protesters gathered at the corner of Main and Water streets, directly across from city hall. Very little crowd agitation from counter-protesters happened and the protest remained generally calm. By 4 p.m., most people had left the protest, many sharing that they were going to be supporting local businesses as often as possible to show gratitude to the city for allowing them to have a say.