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Flint organizers hope protests will keep the pressure up for real reforms

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Tarrell McDaniel leads protestors in a chant

Flint protests got national attention after a clip of the Genesee County Sheriff choosing to march with protestors went viral.

Organizers say they appreciate police participating in a march - but it is no substitute for real reforms.

More than a week after Flint protests first made headlines protestors are still showing up.

At a protest this weekend some said they had traveled to the city because of its reputation for peaceful demonstrations.

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Markus Brown and his son, LJ

Dana Willford is a former Flint resident who now lives in Belding. She said she drove two hours to participate.

“Honestly, because this is one of the only places that have all peaceful protests. And it’s home.”

Other protestors, like Flint resident Canisha Bell, said they’re grateful they could bring their kids.

“Just seeing the protests and seeing how peaceful they were and just wanting to be in that crowd and help spread that awareness.”

Organizers of the protest said their role is to keep the pressure on police and lawmakers to enact real reforms.

Before marching, organizer DeWaun Robinson reminded protestors of that role.

“I want to encourage you to be consistent, we’re talking about changing the course of history," he said. "It’s not going to happen overnight. This is something we have to be dedicated to for a lifetime.”

Protestors said they are looking for real reforms not just in the city, but in the region.

Tarrell McDaniel is a Flint resident. He was reluctant to criticize city police and said he has seen more problems with both the Genesee County Jail and the Michigan State Police.

“Most of these guys who are Flint police they are neighbors," he said. "They are Flint residents. More than likely we have problems with the State Police around here and the Genesee County Sheriff's department. It’s more of the county jail we’re having problems with. The situation inside of there with black men that is going on inside the county.”

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The county jail has received criticism for overcrowding and extensive delays in inmate cases. The Detroit News reported in December that in some instances inmates have gone four years in jail without a conviction.

Black Lives Matter has been meeting with local, state, and county Police to talk about reforms they’d like to see.

Johnie Franklin III is with Black Lives Matter. He declined to discuss specific policies being pursued but said the first meetings have been productive.

“In Flint, we need to see real deal reform change in how police officers deal with us,” he said.

Franklin added that while he appreciates the county sheriff’s decision to march with protestors - it’s not enough.

“Are you walking with us in our ask for change, too? It’s not just walking with us out here. That looks good for the cameras, it looks good for how it’s supposed to be, but are you going to walk with us when we ask for the policy? Are you going to be with us in the rooms where we’re trying to tell you what is wrong?”

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Johnie Franklin III

Franklin said, ultimately, there need to be mechanisms for holding officers, and even the sheriff himself, accountable.

Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, for his part, said he does believe in reform.

“When I look at police reform we need to make sure that when there are bad acts, which there will be, we either train it out, discipline it out, or cut it out.”

But, Sheriff Swanson said, that burden largely falls on police. He said he will continue to meet with Black Lives Matter because their voices need to be heard but…

“We’re not going to get everything we want, they’re not going to get everything they want, the public isn’t going to get everything it wants, but together we’re at least talking.”

Whether those conversations alone will be enough for Flint organizers remains to be seen. In the meantime though, they’ll be protesting in the streets, trying to keep up the pressure for real reforms.

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