Hundreds of people gathered outside the police headquarters in Flint Township, but instead of clashing with them, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson removed his helmet and lowered his weapon in front of the group.
In a video that has since gone viral, Swanson told the group he didn’t want violence, he wanted to make it a “parade” to honor Floyd, not a protest.
“We want to be with y’all for real,” Swanson said, as officers took their helmets off and laid their batons down. “I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” he said.
“The only reason we’re here is to make sure that you got a voice—that’s it,” Swanson said. “These cops love you—that cop over there hugs people.”
The sheriff said he would do whatever the people wanted him to do, prompting some in the group to chant: “Walk with us! Walk with us!”
Swanson smiled at the group and agreed, high-fiving some as he joined the peaceful march.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” he said, as the cheering crowd proceeded. “Where do you want to walk? We’ll walk all night,” he added.
The sheriff walked with hundreds of peaceful demonstrators in a march that lasted for several hours, the Evening Standard reported.
Later that night Swanson described the march as “magic,” saying that nobody was arrested and there were no reports of damage in the city that day.
Protests have been held for days in cities all over the United States in response to the death of Floyd, an African American who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested last week. He has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin was held at Ramsey County Jail before being taken to the Hennepin County Jail on Sunday.
At least five people have been killed and dozens injured so far across the United States as demonstrations turned violent. National Guard troops were deployed in 15 states and Washington in an attempt to quell the violence.
However, Saturday’s event in Michigan offered a welcome contrast to violent confrontations.
“This is the correct response from police #WalkWithUs,” Gwen Campbell posted on Twitter to champion Swanson’s actions.
‘Together We Are Stronger’
Police officers in one of New Jersey’s largest and most violent cities were praised on social media for marching alongside protesters.
Camden County Police Chief Joe Wysocki, who has been working in the city for decades, joined the front line of a march in Camden on Saturday afternoon, sporting his uniform, a protective mask, and a peace sign.
“Yesterday was another example of our ongoing engagement, and a very real dialogue, that we are having with residents throughout Camden that has made our agency part of the fabric of this city,” Wysocki said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.
Since Camden’s police force disbanded and reformed in 2013 as a county agency, officers there have been hyper-focused on community policing. It’s not strange to see them on walking beats or attending neighborhood block parties like the one Saturday night where two officers grilled up hamburgers and hot dogs.
“We know that together we are stronger, we know that together, in the city of Camden, we can create a space where policing is focused on deescalation and dialogue,” Wysocki said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.