KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Professor Tracey Brame has been having a lot of conversations about race lately, she said. She’s an associate dean at Western Michigan University's Cooley School of Law in Grand Rapids. However she’s been talking about it a lot outside of the classroom.
“The events of the last two weeks to three weeks or so, between Ahmaud Arbery and Central Park incident, and now George Floyd, I’ve had more white colleagues and friends go ‘wow, you really aren’t making this up,’” Brame said during a Zoom interview.
Brame, who’s also a Civil Rights expert, said she’s often asked ‘what can I do?’ or ‘how can I help.’ She suggested to start by having honest and hard conversations.
“Ask yourselves 'why?,” Brame said. “Part of the question that keeps coming up is, ‘how can we avoid being here again?’”
Brame encourages people to first understand why protests and riots happen.
“A protest is speaking out against a perceived injustice, hoping that your voice is heard,” Brame said. “Rioting probably has several definitions including perhaps the very vocal and violent spill over of frustration and fear etc., or it could be a result of outside agitation trying to disrupt a protest.”
Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, like many cities across the country, have experienced both since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Saturday, thousands of people peacefully marched and chanted on the streets of Grand Rapids. Then later, at night, some of those who remained, damaged store windows, burned dumpsters and cars, and vandalized the police department.
A few peaceful protests were held in Kalamazoo on Saturday and Monday, one in which a group of churchgoers stood silently along the the sidewalk of Michigan Avenue, 6-feet apart, and prayed together.
Later that night, police said a new group arrived and busted windows and looted.
Kalamazoo County Commissioner Stephanie Moore was upset, she said. However she too wants people to look at the reasons why they happened.
“I can’t even speak to the looting and the destruction that happened without talking about why and the root causes of what we’re dealing with,” Moore said during a previous interview with FOX 17. “People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Moore said people are in pain in the Black community and in other communities of color, and it extends farther than mistreatment from law enforcement.
“Racism is the problem,” Brame said. “The problem is it bubbles up everywhere. Like, it bubbles up in education. It bubbles up in the healthcare system. You can see it in COVID, right, the impact of COVID on communities.”
Brame reiterated that having those conversations and acknowledging the widespread institutional racism is key. Her hope is that people will listen to one another, and speak to each other and not at each other.
Moore echoed the same sentiment, hoping those conversations happen even among policymakers.
“What I want is the people who can help change the trajectory of this to come to the table, to realize that this is the voice of people who are tired and rightfully so,” Moore said. “The only thing we can do to bring real relief to them is by changing the system, addressing systemic racism, looking at the oppression and discrimination and how people have been left out and left behind and not counted.”