Local Voices That Matter

. June 9, 2020.
Aunna Lay (center), mother of with Aiyana, age 11, (left) and Romello, age 13, (right). Photo credit: Christy Frank.
Aunna Lay (center), mother of with Aiyana, age 11, (left) and Romello, age 13, (right). Photo credit: Christy Frank.

The Community Solidarity Response Network of Toledo organized a rally on Saturday, May 30 held in front of the Safety Building which houses the offices of the Toledo Police Department.  The rally was to protest unchecked violence against Black citizens. Inspired by the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of people of all ages, races, and backgrounds came together to express their fears, frustrations, sadness and hope. The local rally was the first activity which began several days of protests. Demonstrations continue in Toledo and surrounding areas as well as the nation at large. 

We asked a number of citizens what inspired them to attend the rally and what changes they hoped to see as a result.  Listening to the voices of those who are often unheard highlights the gravity of the issues which underlie the protests and the urgent need for changes in our criminal justice system.

Julian Mack, organizer, Community Solidarity Response Network

Man holding BLM Poster

Photo credit: Christy Frank

“We are dealing with what I’ll call state terrorism, and what this is doing to people’s minds and souls.  People are fed up with an unjust system . . . The way the police system functions is obviously inherently racist, classist, sexist, biased . . . It’s functioning with impunity and no accountability and with entirely too much power. That power needs to be given back into . . .the people’s hands with a civilian police review board (and)  limits on the use of force . . .

(W)e see all the resources that go to (pay for) policing. In most municipalities, over half of their budget goes toward policing, and as far our national budget, most of that goes to militarizing. Yet they tell us to be peaceful. The irony in that!

We need a civilian police review board with actual power . . . where the people can actually hold police accountable. We need to ban all chokeholds. That is not a banned use of force here in Toledo. There needs to be an entire restructuring about how we look at police misconduct. You shouldn’t have to report misconduct of the police to the police. That’s abuse. That’s double traumatizing. . . you cannot have police policing police. . . officers should not use deadly force unless it is their last resort. We’re not seeing that practice.  (Visit) joincampaignzero.org, there is a ten-point platform . . . to take police violence down to zero. 

(T)he Mayor and Police Chief (in Toledo) have been given the playbook on the best tools and policies to make policing work better. (T)here is a path for reform… this ten-point platform with Campaign Zero has been given to those in power who cannot say they don’t know what to do. They can’t say that anymore. Systemically, we can change.”

Nicholas Whitiker, organizer, Hi-Frequency Movement

Photo credit: Christy Frank

Photo credit: Christy Frank

“I feel like its been years and years and years of oppression and racial discrimination and police brutality. Like, this isn’t anything new. I’m just tired of waking up and seeing more of my Black brothers and sisters just be flat out murdered, and no justice is being done for any of the police officers involved. This is a crucial time for our voices to be heard.

With George Floyd, he’s the fourth African-American who was killed within the last two months. And I feel like people are saying ‘enough is enough.’ The last three murders that happened, nothing happened to the police officers or even the two civilians involved, that killed the man running, so I think it’s just like a, ‘we’re fed up’, and peaceful protest isn’t working. People are just tired and angry.

I would like to see the leaders in power actually exercise their power properly and protect the citizens, especially the African-American. Of course, I’m all for reform, I think there needs to be huge police reform in how they train people and how they hire people and doing background checks. Seeing what is going on in their personal lives. I feel like we’re hiring a lot of people without understanding where they’re coming from or what backgrounds they have, religious viewpoints, anything like that that can have them have this bias towards anybody that isn’t the same color as them. I would also like to see us getting more people that look like me, more Hispanics, more people of color, or that identity as anything other than White in these positions of power. I think that would make a huge difference.”

Abelino Ruiz, organizer, Hi-Frequency Movement

Photo credit: Christy Frank

Photo credit: Christy Frank

“When I saw that video it sparked not just sadness, but outrage in me. Because that video clearly showed murder. When you watch that video— and they try to say, well, he was resisting arrest— I watched the whole video, I seen what happened before as well, that man was not resisting arrest. So not only did you have this man cut off this guy’s oxygen supply and blood supply to his brain, make him lose consciousness, you also had three accessories to murder stand idly by. They’re just as guilty. That is why I’m here today. Because I’m angry. I’m very angry. And I’m tired as well.

We want justice for George Floyd and his family. He has that power. That officer gave him that power to get us out here today. His death never should have happened— but because it did, we’re all out here today across the country. We want justice for his family. We want that officer tried and we want him to have a trial but we want those three others to be arrested and charged with crimes as well. That has not happened yet. We want reform in police training, we want proper vetting, because it’s obvious that what we have today is not working. It’s simply not working. There needs to be a change. We’re not going to wait for this to happen in our community, in Toledo. We’re not going to wait for the next George Floyd to occur. We’re just not! That’s why we’re out here; we want reform in police training and we want proper vetting.”

Maurice Morris, former Lucas County Deputy (13 years)

Photo credit: Christy Frank

Photo credit: Christy Frank

“Recent studies talk about how White police officers view the Black community, especially Black men. They view us as uneducated, violent, and aggressive – so if you come into the police department, go through the police academy, and you come out with that same perspective, what are you going to do when you hit the street? You’re going to violate everybody’s Constitutional rights. And that’s what has happened, that’s what occurred, and that continues to happen. That has to stop and it has to be a positive change. 

I worked in the county jail, so I dealt with pretrial inmates. And I personally witnessed how White corrections officers or deputies in the jail and how they treated Black inmates as opposed to White inmates. There was a disparity, there was a difference, and there was even a couple of my White colleagues that I stepped to and I let them know, ‘I don’t appreciate what you just did and why you did that. That’s wrong, and here’s why it’s wrong: the White inmates that come through here? You don’t treat them like that.’ So there’s a problem. I saw it. I witnessed it myself.

One thing is, you have to hire people to police our communities. You can’t hire those individuals who have that perspective on a particular culture or race in the community. You can’t hire them. That’s one of the things. I know they do backgrounds, I know they do psychological, and some of them – I won’t say slip through the cracks – but they get through. The first thing is, you cannot hire someone who has an issue with a particular community or race of people. That’s the first thing: vetting has to be paramount. It has to be the number one thing that law enforcement agencies do before they hire that next individual, be it Black or White. That’s one of the biggest things – you can’t hire them. Because I don’t care how much training you give them, their mindset is still the same. So when they graduate from the academy and hit the streets, they still think that we’re uneducated, they still think that we’re violent, they still think that we’re aggressive. How do we change that? By not hiring them.”

Remi Zellers

Woman holding protest sign

Photo credit: Christy Frank

I’m an African-American woman. A lot of things that are going on in the United States is unfair. And I feel like a lot of people forget about Black women, how we are victims of police brutality as well. I just want to be out here— all this love, not just for Black people, it’s so beautiful. It brings me to tears, because we feel like sometimes our voice doesn’t matter. To see that it does— and just seeing all the love, all the support— it’s so beautiful.

We need to start holding these people accountable. Start holding them accountable just like we would do anybody else. Just because they have a badge doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable. They were selected to protect and serve, and protect and serve equals all – everybody – not just selected people, not just selected people that look like them –  people to protect and serve all. I want to see more change in who we select as police officers as well. Because if we keep letting it go, keep going, it’s going to be more deaths.”

Leah Willis

Photo Credit: Christy Frank.

Photo Credit: Christy Frank.

“I’m here protesting for my people. Just making sure our words, our voices are heard. This is important to us. We need this. Our ancestors were not able to use their voices, so it’s ours – our time to use our voices that they weren’t able to use. 

I want to see a change happen within the police throughout the country. Because it’s not just one area – it’s completely nationwide. This is a problem. We have to fear our lives every time we get pulled over – it should never be like that. I want to see change. I want to see how the police interact just with people. You’re not above us; you’re here to protect us, you’re here to serve us – the people. Make sure we are safe. Make sure our lives aren’t taken, even if we have to go into custody with you guys. Protect us. I want to see protection. That’s what I want to see – I want to see more protection.

Black Lives Matter!”

Stephanie McNeal

Photo credit: Christy Frank.

Photo credit: Christy Frank.

“Black lives matter! Everybody’s lives matter! We all need to come together, just need to stop, as long as we stick together, it’ll go away! It’s not just Black people, it’s for all colored people. And I have sons – I’m a mother – to get that phone call, I don’t know what I’d do. So I came out here to support everybody. I brought my granddaughter, even though she fell sleep – but we here!

I have four sons. They’re all grown, they all work – I just, I don’t want to get that phone call. I grew up with a White mom and a Black dad, so I have all kind of feelings. I’m not racist. I have good family – it’s just sad. Police officers – we supposed to trust them. We sitting here, we watch them – all you had to do was take your knee off his neck, put him in another position. He didn’t even do that. And the other ones just stood there and watched. They didn’t say – I mean, you work with him – you could have said, ‘Okay, that’s enough. Put the cuffs on him.’ It’s like they don’t care. It’s sad.

Everybody come together – that’s it. That’s it. And if everybody don’t come together, I really don’t know what else to say. We’re all equal – so what, we different colors? Just get along!”

Artisha Lawson

Woman holding a poster saying I'm Tired

Photo credit: Christy Frank.

“Well, unfortunately, there’s just been a very public history of just racism – and not to mention sexism, but we’re going to focus on racism today. I mean, I have all brothers. I’m the oldest of eight. So to see, time and time again, that I have to fear that something is going happen to them – I mean, we already got to have that conversation about driving while Black, how to express your anger to the public while you’re Black – but, it’s one thing to tell them in a theory and it’s something else when you SEE, especially with the murder that happened in Minnesota, how that officer showed no remorse. 

Growing up here in Toledo, I have become so unemotional about crime, but that brought me to tears. I can’t even watch it. Because it’s just so blatant that he had no respect for what happened to that man. And people are upset, how bold he was – and all I keep hearing is how people are upset about property damage. It’s a cause and effect! It’s a chain reaction! And we need to stop trying to sugarcoat and make people feel comfortable. I’m tired of making people feel comfortable with my Blackness. No other race has to bring down how proud I am of my own race simply because of who I am. 

I’m here because I’m tired – I’m tired of crying, I’m tired of being upset, I’m tired of people treating this like it’s a fad or a photo-op. So I’m looking for real change – systemic change – change that makes actual policies that are fair and not just good on paper.

It’s so hard to pinpoint on what actually is change. But something immediate that I can see in the City of Toledo is to actually create committees that have power to make authority changes. Stop putting people at the table that are just there for photo-ops, and the community should speak for itself. Just because you were elected to a position does not mean you speak for me. Because you don’t. And that’s what ends up happening – those that are buddy-buddy with somebody else, they’re invited to the conversation. You need all types of people. And once that group of people come up with actual steps that are tangible, that are strategic, and that can be done in a timely fashion, we have to put it into metrics that are measurable, and not just feel-good theories. Because that’s what I’m tired of seeing – I’m tired of seeing government committees made up of people that have no authority to do anything, or made up of the ‘yes people’. And I’ve actually had experience in that myself – I’m not going to go into detail – it’s going to take actual people that maybe you don’t want to listen to, that maybe are rough around the edges, but they represent a segment of society. People are forgetting that there are 18-, 20-year-olds that are first-time voters, and nobody’s talking to them. Nobody is getting their opinion. When you have individuals of a certain generation dominating the conversation, you’re leaving others out. That’s the only way I can see actual change happening.”

Aunna Lay

Aunna Lay (center), mother of with Aiyana, age 11, (left) and Romello, age 13, (right). Photo credit: Christy Frank.

Aunna Lay (center), mother of with Aiyana, age 11, (left) and Romello, age 13, (right). Photo credit: Christy Frank.

“My children have to grow up in this world, and they’re biracial. They’re Black themselves, and that means a lot to me. The racism just needs to stop. I worry about them. After what happened here with George Floyd – somebody’s got to stand up. Somebody has to make their voice heard since they don’t hear their voice, and the only way that seems to be is to protest, to fight against racism.

I’d like to see a whole lot of things change. They have to get better laws, better tactics than what they’re doing now, than what they’re serving. The tactics that they give are murdering our people, it’s not helping us. We need justice! Anybody that commits a murder, anybody that even tries to hurt any other person, not just Black folks, but all races. 

Unity. Come together as one. Make peace. Let’s do what’s right. We’re all one. We breathe the same and we bleed the same.”