Walk with us, part two: A protestor’s perspective —the story of Quajuan Adams - Front Page Live

Walk with us, part two: A protestor’s perspective —the story of Quajuan Adams

Quajuan Adams and Chris Swanson looking to the left

Courtesy of Quajuan Adams/ Ramonica Anderson

When Quajuan Adams arrived at the demonstrations in front of the Flint, MI police station, he didn’t know that he was walking into history.

It was a moment that started a dialogue between the protestors and the police force and led to Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson laying down his baton and walking with the demonstrators. Adams “helped project” a voice that turned into a rallying cry.

Quajuan Adams was ‘raised right’

Quajuan Adams and Ramonica Anderson sitting on the ground with their fists in the air

Courtesy of Quajuan Adams/ Ramonica Anderson

If you ask Quajuan Adams to describe his childhood, he’ll tell you he was “raised right.”

Now 34, born and raised in Flint, Michigan, Adams is the youngest of three brothers. His parents were GM workers and “provided everything that was needed in the household.” He graduated from Grand Rapids Community College with an Associate of Arts degree and is most proud of his work as a DLA Contractor Materials Management/ Site Supervisor in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

He’s also proud that he did what his Mom told him and stayed out of trouble.

For Adams, part of staying out of trouble synonymously meant staying away from the police. Though there was a lot of violence in Adams’ neighborhood while he was growing up, “a lot of shootings, a lot of murders,” it became ingrained in Adams that the police, the people who were supposed to protect him, were not on his side.

For example, Adams remembers hearing gunshots outside his window when he was a kid, and though his Mom called the police, they never came.

“There was always a feeling of, they are not with us, so do everything you can in your power to stay away from those flashing lights.” Adams became meticulous about making sure his seatbelt was buckled, and his blinkers were working before he drove. He was always mindful about what kind of car he was driving in what neighborhood, that he wasn’t laughing too much or playing his music too loud.

“Once they get you pulled over and they find the littlest thing that’s it, then they’d start to nitpick. It’s like, if you’re in the ocean and you see a shark, you know what that shark’s intention is most of the time. You think to yourself, ‘I gotta swim fast and get out of this water. If not, I’m going to be lunch today.’ ”

A quiet person

Adams and Swanson standing side by side

Courtesy of Chris Swanson

Perhaps in part because of this level of diligence, Adams describes himself as a thoughtful man, more of an onlooker or an observer.

“I’m usually the quiet person in the room. I like to analyze people. I don’t like to say too much in front of people because people like to take things and turn them a certain way. I like to analyze before I speak.”

However, Adams will be the first to speak up if he notices someone being treated unfairly. For example, while he was working in Afghanistan, “I saw military people treating Indian guys like they weren’t human. I never stood for that. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t see colors, but underneath what I see is human. I protected them. I said, ‘They’re scared of you because you have weapons, but I’m not. You can’t talk to my guys like that.’ “

It’s this trait — speaking up for those quieter than him — that put him in the spotlight during the Black Lives Matter protest in Flint, Michigan on May 30, 2020. Before George Floyd’s death, he says,

“I’ve always thought about things like this, but I always thought nothing was going to change unless the system and the people running the system are going to change. I thought it was a waste of breath. Then George Floyd said, ‘I can’t breathe…’ He was literally dying to breathe. He wanted his breath so bad. And I started to really think about what our breath is worth.”

‘Walk with us’

Ramonica Anderson with her fist raised

Courtesy of Quajuan Adams/ Ramonica Anderson

These were his thoughts as he showed up late to the protest that night, searching for his girlfriend Ramonica Anderson in the crowd.

“I knew that if I saw the police do anything wrong, I was not going to allow it. If somebody put themselves in harm’s way and they break the law, that’s their problem, but I was willing to put myself on the line for people protesting. I was not going to let anything happen to the people who are innocent.”

Once they got to the police station, they saw the police in their riot gear spread in formation in front of the station. Adams saw a man who looked like he might be having an argument with a police officer, so he walked over to see what was going on. He heard someone say something like, “Put down your weapons, we are coming here in peace.” That’s when Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson took off his helmet and asked the protestors what the police could do to offer support.

Someone next to Adams said quietly, “Walk with us.” Adams saw that Swanson didn’t hear it, so Adams said he, “Helped project this voice.” With that, the rallying cry took over, and the rest is viral history: the officers laid down their batons, took off their helmets, and walked with the protestors.

Adams fell in line with Swanson, and their conversation began almost immediately. Adams asked Swanson about police rankings — why couldn’t the other officers with Derek Chauvin have spoken up? How long was too long for an Officer to put his knee on someone’s neck? What kind of training did the Flint officers have, were Black people in Flint at the same kind of risk as the Black people in Minneapolis?

Adams and Swanson spoke at length about how easily the tension between the police and protestors just a few minutes earlier could have turned into something violent, as it had in so many other cities.

“I was the person that Chris received. That’s when my friendship with Chris began. I don’t want to take credit for anything. I was just amplifying the voices of those around me.”

Quajuan Adams is telling his truth

Walk with us, part two: A protestor’s perspective —the story of Quajuan Adams 4

Courtesy of Chris Swanson

Now, Adams is working as an activist and liaison between his community, Black Lives Matter, and the police. He and Swanson, as well as other community leaders, meet once or twice a week.

“I’m telling my truth and the things that I hear people say that they want. I’m gathering everyone’s ideas and thoughts together. I’m giving people information about when the protests are happening. If you’re talking behind the scenes and you feel like you have answers, then propose them to us – if you think you know better than the person trying to fix the problem, then you have to get off the couch and be a part of the conversation. We have action.”

And what does that action look like?

Goals agreed upon by Adams, Swanson, and other active community members include zero tolerance for unwarranted and aggressive assaultive behavior by police officers, a public registry of police officers that document abusive and unwarranted behavior so that officers cannot simply be rehired to another police force, and, should a police officer be found guilty or responsible for gross negligence and/or deliberately operating outside the performance and protection of their job, that police officer is liable and exempt from immunity from civil litigation.

In the meantime, diverse community boards, not just “people in uniforms and suits,” are being formed and weekly de-escalation meetings are happening. Adams also wants to make sure there are options for kids to keep them out of trouble.

“It shouldn’t be the color of someone’s skin that determines their opportunities, their interest rates, their access to grants and loans. We need more programs in our neighborhoods, even if it’s more trade programs or summer programs for the kids so that kids are not in the streets – we’ve got to give them options, keep them occupied.”

When I ask Adams if he feels his relationship to police has changed, he pauses.

“It’s a hard thing to say. I don’t want to discredit the relationship that Chris and I have now. Honestly, it’s one of those things, should it really have to be publicized like this, should it have had to get this bad, for people to organize and pay attention like this? No. There are still a lot of bad apples, and they need to be filtered out. And police need to be out in the neighborhoods more. Get to know the demographics and mindsets of the people in your community.”

However, what has changed is, “I know now that if I have a concern, I can pick up the phone and say, ‘Chief Swanson, this is an issue,’ or ‘Pastor Hawkins, this is an issue,’ and I’ll be heard.”

Adams is still a humble person, not one who seeks the spotlight. “I’m not the person who I thought was going to speak out. It was an act of humanity for me.”

However, Sheriff Chris Swanson sees it differently: “Had he not said, ‘Walk with us,’ I wouldn’t have said ‘Let’s walk’ and together we wouldn’t have walked. He may not have organized the protest, but Quajuan Adams started the movement.”

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