Where is my speedy trial?
Photos from the Oct. 24, 2020, march in Shelby Township, Mich. | Courtesy of Anna van Schaap

Back in May 2020, as the George Floyd uprisings first began, Shelby Township, Mich., Police Chief Robert Shelide made racist and violent remarks toward Black Lives Matter protesters on his personal social media page. In these comments, he referred to protesters as “wild savages” and “vicious subhumans” that deserved to be in “body bags.”

This vile and racist language evokes stereotypes of Black people that have emboldened right-wing violence towards the BLM movement like the attacks carried out by Kyle Rittenhouse. After only one month of suspension for his comments, the Shelby Township Board of Trustees voted 5 to 2 to allow Shelide to resume serving as chief.

This type of leniency welcomes and encourages right-wing extremists to become more and more comfortable carrying out violence—not just in Macomb County, but throughout the nation, for example, as they did on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.

After months of protesting, Detroit Will Breathe united with the Shelby Township BLM organization, SHIFT-Suburban Solidarity for Social Justice, to contest Chief Shelide’s leadership, as well as demand accountability for the Jim Crow-style climate of racism in Shelby Township and Macomb County.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, the two organizations led a non-violent march to demand Shelide’s removal or resignation. Our march was immediately attacked by five different police departments, K-9 units, and SWAT operatives that attempted to trample over the basic right to protest. In addition to being met with riot shields and brutality, five protesters were charged with felonies, and others received tickets for misdemeanors.

Throughout the march, we were stalked and harassed by armed civilian militias who were not met with any of the aggressive force that we as BLM protesters were. This sent a clear message that not only are Black and Brown people unsafe and unwelcome in Shelby Township, but that right-wing extremists have an ally in the Shelby Township Police Department.

This type of allyship between right-wingers and the police is something we have seen throughout the country in both red and blue states. Just as activists denounce the white supremacy and racism perpetrated by the police, we must also speak out against the silence and inaction of elected officials and representatives who are complicit in the violence perpetrated by the state and its right-wing allies. It seems that Shelby Township representatives only represent white supremacy.

On Jan. 25, 2021, six additional activists, myself included, were served warrants for our participation in the October 2020 action, three months after the fact. We view these charges as political violence and retaliation against us for the backlash Macomb County officials received following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by fascistic and reactionary forces.

Those who participated in the events at the Capitol were lightly reprimanded and told to go home, whereas Black and Brown people, and anyone who stands beside us, face severe consequences for exercising our right to peacefully assemble.

The Movement for Black and Brown Lives launched a struggle to get all charges dropped, but Macomb County Prosecutor Peter Lucido, as well as other local officials, have chosen to endorse the Jim Crow segregationist tactics and behavior that were utilized against protesters in hopes of silencing the BLM Movement.

In May of 2022, Tristan Taylor, founder of Detroit Will Breathe, filed a motion to have the charges dismissed; Judge Edward A. Servitt, Jr., not only denied the motion but then admitted he didn’t review any of the evidence and continued to compare the organizers to terrorists in the movie Die Hard.

As court proceedings have dragged on for nearly two years, some protesters pleaded no contest and accepted a non-reporting probation, which varies in length for each defendant. A couple of others and I, however, are still fighting to have our charges dismissed. Court has repeatedly been adjourned as the prosecutor has often been unprepared, and the judge continues to offer more time. More than once, I have been misidentified in evidential videos, which screams racism to me, since Lucido apparently thinks all Black people look alike.

My next, and hopefully final, court date will be on the two-year anniversary of our initial march—Oct. 24, 2022. I wonder what happened to my speedy trial? How many times can the prosecutor show up to court and ask for extensions? Why has it taken this long for the court to be concluded for my two misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace and refusal to obey a traffic order?

Two years is too long, and I demand that the remaining charges against myself and others be dismissed. While I am still hoping to fight this clearly racist political attack, I also find myself lacking optimism when it comes to Macomb County doing right by Black people. This ongoing case and the City’s refusal to address racism are one more chapter in the history of Shelby Township as a “sundown town” that will do anything it takes to maintain and guarantee white supremacy.

As with all op-eds published by People’s World, this article reflects the opinions of its author.


Sammie Lewis
Sammie Lewis

Activist Sammie Lewis is a member of the Detroit CPUSA. She organizes and speaks on local struggles over housing and racist policing, as well as against U.S. imperialism and U.S. military intervention abroad.