U.S. Rep. John Lewis died from pancreatic cancer on July 17. He was 80 years old. Named one of the “Big Six” leaders of the civil rights movement, Lewis was an original Freedom Rider, an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, and an organizer of the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The latter is what cemented Lewis as an American icon, Atlanta magazine says. And it led to the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting.
In 2013, the Supreme Court overturned a key part of the legislation. Now, Democrats are pushing to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act in honor of Lewis. The bill would restore the protections the court voted to remove from the 1965 act seven years ago.
The news is among the latest developments to come from Black Lives Matter-related happenings across the country. Additionally, Americans are remembering the life of Rev. C.T. Vivian, an early civil rights organizer and adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. who also died on July 17. He was 95 years old. And, the nation is watching as armed federal agents push back against Portland protesters by deploying large amounts of tear gas, throwing demonstrators into unmarked vehicles, and more. According to The New York Times, the city’s mayor says it is “an attack on our democracy.”
Here’s a look at what’s happened in Michigan over the past week.
Suburbanites continue to organize
About 200 protesters gathered in Harper Woods on July 15 to demand answers in the death of Priscilla Slater. The 37-year-old Black woman who was found dead in her holding cell at a police precinct in the city. The march was organized by the Detroit chapter of Community Movement Builders, a national nonprofit dedicated to community organizing for the Black community. Detroit Will Breathe also led the march. [Detroit Free Press]
A 15-year-old Black Groves High School student was sent to juvenile detention in May for violating her probation by not completing her online schoolwork. Her attorneys say they are unaware of another case involving the detention of a minor for failing to meet school requirements during the pandemic. According to ProPublica, the teen lives in a predominantly white community and a disproportionate percentage of Black youth are involved in the juvenile justice system in Oakland County. More than 200 cars gathered on July 16 at the Oakland County Circuit Court parking lot to protest the teen’s incarceration. [ProPublica // Detroit Free Press]
A Black Lives Matter fundraiser was scheduled to take place July 18 at Monument Park in Dexter but was canceled after the mayor rescinded the event’s permit. Mayor Shawn Keough said he misunderstood what the event was when he approved it and thought it was a protest instead of a fundraiser. He revoked the permit on July 13, saying that the fundraiser could draw too large of a crowd during the pandemic. Event organizer Georgia Frost says the event planned to follow guidelines from Gov. Whitmer and the CDC and that social distancing would have been possible. Mayor Keough apologized for the mistake. [MLive]
Detroit garners national attention
The Detroit Youth Choir released a new version of the song “Glory” in a nearly five-minute video shot in the city. John Legend, who wrote the song with Common and Rhymefest for the 2014 film Selma, called the performance “beautiful” and “powerful” in a recent tweet. [Detroit Free Press]
The Detroit Institute of Arts is facing criticism following claims by employees that the museum director, Salvador Salort-Pons, skirts conflict-of-interest rules to grant favors to friends and family, conducts inequitable hiring practices, and lacks knowledge of race and diversity issues. Salort-Pons says the claims are not accurate, and a story in The New York Times reported that the director said, “his European background meant that initially he had had a limited understanding of the Black struggle in America but was taking steps to improve diversity.” [ArtNet News]
President Trump said on July 13 that he may send more federal law enforcement to cities across the country, including Detroit. Agents are already in Portland and have been clashing with Black Lives Matter protesters over the past week. [WXYZ]
Greater Michigan demonstrates
A Michigan State University employee named Mark Geahan, who worked in Strategic Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, has been suspended without pay for making racist comments online. Geahan, who was under investigation for about three weeks, will retire at the end of the year. [Lansing State Journal]
Rockford Public Schools students led a Black Lives Matter protest on July 15 at North Rockford Middle School. Teachers also joined the demonstration, which organizer Adele Peterson says was likely the first of its kind to take place in the city since the death of George Floyd. [MLive]
Protesters gathered outside Pronto Pup, a corn dog stand in Grand Haven, on July 16 after the owner of the business, Carl Nelson, shared comments on Facebook that denounced anti-racist activism and coronavirus masks. The demonstrators said they were there to call for a boycott of the business. Counter-protesters gathered across the sidewalk to show support for Nelson. [MLive]
Michigan leaders honor John Lewis
Following the death of John Lewis on July 17, Michigan leaders such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer; Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit NAACP; congresswoman Debbie Dingell, and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist paid tribute to the civil rights icon. “John Lewis is truly one of the most courageous men I know, and yet he kept that,” said Dingell. “He would say go get in trouble, but the good trouble. He never believed in violence, he believed in love. He would always teach me not to hate.” [Click on Detroit]
Whitmer also ordered the lowering of U.S. and Michigan flags in honor of Lewis. The flags within the State Capitol Complex and public buildings across the state were instructed to be brought to half-staff until July 19. [WXYZ Detroit]
A look at local elections and lawsuits
The Michigan Court of Appeals has approved two class-action lawsuits against the Michigan State Police. The suits claim that the agency’s testing and hiring practices discriminate against Black applicants. The lawsuits were filed by attorney Leonard Mungo on behalf of nearly 700 Black applicants who sought employment as Michigan State Police troopers. [The Detroit News]
In an interview on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson on July 15, Oakland County Executive Dave Coulter made a case for his first term. Coulter, who is running as the incumbent in the Oakland County Executive primary race, spoke about several issues, including police reform. He said the country is at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement and equity needs to be crucial in future decisions. [WDET]