BLM protesters march despite heat
HOUGHTON — The start of the Fourth of July weekend saw lower turnout for Friday’s Black Lives Matter march on the Portage Lake Lift Bridge.
Friday’s protest in 90-degree weather drew about 10 marchers instead of the customary 30 to 40 that have shown up since protests began after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
The protests, which also included one estimated at 1,000 in early June, have sparked discussion and debate locally. In Hancock and Houghton, people have attended city council meetings to request the cities begin defunding local police.
Houghton’s speakers came after the city had passed its budget for the year. In Hancock, only one councilor voted against approving the budget. City officials there brought up that much of the funding comes from the state, and that spending was already tied up in multi-year contracts. In Houghton, City Manager Eric Waara said there had been no discussions about reducing police funding, saying the department was performing well and is well-trained.
At Friday’s march, organizer Tania Levy addressed the arguments that defunding police is unnecessary in a rural area with no reports of racist violence by officers. Levy said police anywhere are “an instrument of capitalist class rule” and that capitalism cannot be separated from racism.
“Who are the people that are arrested or jailed in the local area?” she said. “They are mostly poor people. They are mostly white because the black population in the local area is very small, consisting of mainly college students and professors.”
Levy also said there is no brick wall separating cops locally from those in the rest of the country everywhere, a majority-white police force does not understand the experience of Black and Indigenous people in the U.S., she said. America has also been a “carceral and punishing society,” Levy said, where an ideology of fear has created support for repressive institutions.
“Instead of arresting and imprisoning people, people should be handled with non-repressive means, through other institutions or through conflict resolution, and mutual aid by community members,” she said.
Unlike the previous weekend’s protest, which drew two counterprotesters, there was no organized response to the march. Reaction from drivers crossing the bridge was mixed but mainly positive, ranging from honks (possibly in response to a “honk if you oppose police violence” sign) to middle fingers.
Dayol Carvalho of Houghton called the protests “a great opportunity to change the country.”
“Even with those things that don’t happen right here, it’s important to change the country, starting from the small towns to the big towns,” he said.
Carolyn Dekker said she came out of a concern for justice, both nationally and locally.
“I’m a professor at Finlandia University, and I want our black students to know they’re welcome here,” she said.