‘Let’s walk’: Genesee County Sheriff removes riot gear, joins protesters in march
A video of Genesee County Sheriff Christopher Swanson removing his riot gear and walking with Flint protesters went viral Saturday.
“We want to be with y’all for real so I took the helmet off and laid the batons down,” Swanson can be heard saying in video. “I want to make this a parade, not a protest.”
Swanson said his office could see a mob of protesters moving gradually toward the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office when they began to suit up in riot gear, unsure of the temperament of the crowd they were about to face.
At that point, the sheriff said he knew there was still room for communication between the public and law enforcement. Swanson removed his riot gear, going against almost all of his training, and approached one of the leaders of the movement.
“And I said, ‘What else do I need to do?’ and he said, ‘Walk with us.’ The best moment of my police career is when I said, ‘Let’s walk.’ And we walked over a mile back to where it started and I could feel an instantaneous peace on both sides,” Swanson said. “That would not have happened if they had not wanted to listen to what I had to say as well, so it is mutually agreed upon that I need to hear what they are saying.”
Hundreds of protesters in cars and on foot began moving down Miller Road on Saturday in Flint Township as part of a nationwide response to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Swanson said the 8-minute, 46-second video showing Floyd struggling to breath as officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck during an arrest undoes decades of good police work in an instant. Swanson told the crown Chauvin “is not one of us.”
“Because I believe it, he is not one of us, you can’t justify that kind of nonsense,” Swanson said.
Protests across the country have gone from peaceful, organized events to violent and chaotic as night sets in. Back to back nights in Detroit descended into chaos, leading to a total of 144 arrests over the course of roughly 24 hours.
Now, Swanson is calling on other officers and agencies nationwide to do the same.
“Police leadership needs to take action on breaking down the first barrier,” he said. “Police leadership, if they’re not doing it already, come from behind your podiums, come from outside the conference rooms and the incident command centers, talk to the people. That is the difference. People that have something to say when nobody listens continues to be enraged and we are not going to fix the divide overnight, but you can see what happened instantaneously.”
Meredith Spelbring is a news intern with the Detroit Free Press. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter @mere0415.