OWOSSO — The Owosso Black Lives Matter group was back at Owosso City Hall Saturday calling for equal justice, waving signs, marching down Main Street and later gathering in a downtown parking lot to hear guest speakers.
While the group’s first protest on June 6 drew hundreds of people, less than half of that number showed up for Saturday’s 1 p.m. demonstration, shouting slogans such as “make America great — love, not hate” and asking passing vehicles on Main to “honk if you’re not racist.”
Several cars honked in solitary, many passed quietly and a few people hollered such anti-protest messages as “go away, commies” and “you dumb-a****.”
“We’re here today to bring everybody together and create a safe space for our discussion about racial issues, and to educate our community,” Owosso BLM organizer Kimberly Baltimore said.
No violence was reported, but a tense moment took place when a local Facebook blogger pointed a video camera at protesters and peppered them with questions. One protester shouted at the blogger not to touch her, aiming a small spray can in his direction as he threatened to “send (her) to jail.”
“We’re here for equality for all, we’re not here for violence,” Baltimore said. “We’re just a group of people who want to have their voices be heard and to discuss our personal experiences with racism in this community.”
Just before 2 p.m., the protesters stepped onto Main Street, forcing traffic to halt as they marched east down the right-hand lane of the street. Most walked down the sidewalk.
Baltimore said on June 6 Owosso police assisted the group with the march but declined to do so Saturday due to the high cost of manpower.
Owosso Public Safety Director Kevin Lenkart noted that it was a smaller group Saturday than on June 6.
“We support everyone that comes out here,” the chief said. “We just don’t have the personnel today.”
The protesters headed toward Comstock Park, and planned to stop at a house one BLM member’s historical research revealed as a refuge for runaway slaves.
Angela Allen of Okemos, formerly of Corunna, said her historical research of the area showed a Ku Klux Klan march in Owosso in the 1920s. She said she believes the current local education system fails to adequately educate students about racism.
“When I was in school, I was taught about slavery and how they fixed racism,” she said. “They didn’t teach us there’s still a problem with racism in America.”
At 3 p.m., speeches took place in the parking lot at Main and Washington Street, presented by Andrea Garrison, a Democrat running for District 85 state representative; Robert Hinojosa, Democrat running for Shiawassee County prosecutor; and DeWaun Robinson, member of the Flint Black Lives Matter.
“I believe in providing safety, justice and a diverse America, and I want to speak about those topics,” Hinojosa said.
Most — if not all — of the protesters were sporting face masks Saturday but social distancing measures did not appear to be taken.
“The pandemic is a concern,” Baltimore said. “We’re following the governor’s orders, but at the same time our sheriff said he’s not enforcing them.”
After Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently made an executive order requiring most people to wear face coverings in public, Shiawassee County Sheriff Brian BeGole issued a press release encouraging people to wear masks but also saying his deputies were not going to be asked to enforce the order.
BeGole marched with Owosso protesters June 6. Saturday’s protest was one of many demonstrations that have taken place across the state and the country against police brutality following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May. Most have been peaceful but some have erupted in violence.
Officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck, has been charged with second-degree murder while three other officers who were on scene have been charged with aiding and abetting, second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. All four officers were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. If convicted, they could face up to four decades in prison.