Genesee County leaders address racial injustice, vow to bring change

FLINT — A group of law enforcement leaders, area pastors and community organizers gathered in Flint last Wednesday to denounce racial injustice and present a message of unity in turbulent times.

During a press conference held at the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, leaders addressed the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man from Minneapolis who died in police custody as a result of excessive force. Speakers also promoted reforms in law enforcement policy and called for an end to incidents of police brutality across the country.

“We know that what happened (to) George Floyd, (is something) we’ve seen far too many times in far too many places,” said Pastor Jeffery Hawkins. “I’m grateful that the law enforcement I’ve talked to, whether it was city, state or county…said that was injustice and that should’ve never happened.”

Hawkins, who helped to lead a peaceful protest in Flint Township on Saturday, applauded local police for stepping in to join the demonstration and allowing it to carry on without any arrests or violence. He said that the outcome of Saturday’s protest is just the first step toward a larger goal of reform in nationwide police/community relations.

“We want to show the world what true change looks like,” he said. “Our plea is let’s come together for the common good.”

Several local law enforcement leaders, such as Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, vowed that what happened to Floyd in Minneapolis will not be tolerated in Genesee County.

“It’s incumbent on every law enforcement officer and official here in Genesee County, across the state of Michigan and in America to open up a dialogue with those that we serve,” Leyton said. “To understand that we share a community with commonalities that demands respect in every single interaction.”

Flint City Police Chief Phil Hart said that his department has already started implementing training procedures to address racial inequities in law enforcement, and that officers will be held accountable if they violate policies.

“Policies are great,” he said. “(But) policies have been in place and people violate policies. So what they need to know is from the top down, it will not be accepted.”

Civil rights leaders also told the crowd that change can only happen if officials and community leaders work together to curb racism in the criminal justice system.

“We’re looking to change systematics,” said DeWaun Robinson, a Black Lives Matter organizer from Flint. “We’re changing structures, we’re addressing structural racism, we’re eliminating white supremacy. We’re eliminating discrimination.

“These are the times when we need to get vocal,” Robinson also said to law enforcement personnel at the assembly. “Police, call out your partners if you see things going on. Follow through and don’t get complacent.”

Following the press conference, a Flint-based Black Lives Matter advisory council met with Concerned Pastors of Flint and local police agencies to discuss issues of racial injustice and explore options for promoting reform.