Sheriff’s Stunning Response To Local Protestors Sparks Nationwide Movement
His moment of leadership was not lost on a community struggling to be heard.
As protests around the country turned violent over the weekend and police made hundreds of arrests, one sheriff took a different approach to try and ease tensions in his community.
Sheriff Christopher Swanson of Genesee County in Michigan faced a group of protestors on Saturday, but instead of reacting with force, he chose to lay down his weapon, take off his helmet and walk with the crowd in a unified front of peace.
"The only reason we're here is to make sure that you got a voice -- that's it," Swanson said to the group in a video that has been making the rounds on Twitter.
Swanson went on to tell the crowd that the officer responsible for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN is "not one of us," and that he wanted the gathering to be "a parade, not a protest."
The crowd cheered and applauded as Swanson made his way through the crowd smiling and high-fiving with protestors. He asked what the community members needed from him, and they started chanting, "Walk with us!"
Swanson responded: "Let's go, let's go. Where do you want to walk? We'll walk all night."
In a touching display of community and leadership, Swanson put his arms around a few of the protestors as they marched as a group to the police station in Flint, MI. No arrests were made during the protest and no one was hurt.
Sheriff Chris Swanson joined protestors in a peaceful protest in Flint, MI. @jilevin
In a follow-up interview with Today, Swanson admitted his decision to lay down his weapon and join the protestors was unplanned.
"It was probably the worst tactical decision I could make by taking off all of my protection and going into the crowd, but the benefit far outweighed the risk,'' he said. "I'm not trying to be a macho or a hero, I just tell you that that was the best decision to show that I am not going to create a divide, I'm going to show vulnerability and walk in the crowd and make the first move."
Swanson is just one of many local leaders who are taking part in the #WalkWithUs movement to show solidarity with people of color who have disproportionately suffered from racism and police brutality.
Some say Swanson's actions marked the start of the #WalkWithUs movement to encourage those in positions of power to abandon force in support of their communities. @CineMck
"We're looking for those in power that have the ability to make legislative and political changes to the way black and brown communities are treated in this country. We're looking for them to exercise their power," Marc Banks, national press secretary for the NAACP, told USA TODAY.
Justin Cummings (L), the mayor of Santa Cruz, and Andy Mills (R), the town's police chief, kneel in solidarity with local protestors. @Shmuel_Thaler
Swanson says his "heart breaks" for Minneapolis and other cities across the country that have experienced violence and unrest over Floyd's death.
His advice to others in positions of authority? Communicate and take action.
"Everybody talks about change — change comes with action," he said. "I gotta believe that there's folks in those communities that want peace and want action. There has to be a first move, there has to be a first step, and that has to come from both sides."
Police officers march alongside BLM protestors in Newark, NJ. @USMCLiberal