Police in riot gear dispatched to de-escalate a protest in Detroit. (Photo by Franz Knight)
Police in riot gear dispatched to de-escalate a protest in Detroit. (Photo by Franz Knight)

A Springfield father was arrested in front of his children while collecting signatures to form a tenants’ association. “It was very traumatizing,” he said.

SPRINGFIELD, Mich.—Last month, La’Ron Marshall of Springfield, Michigan, was arrested in front of two of his children while engaging in a civic duty, and the 44-year-old Black man spent a night in the Calhoun County Jail, where he says he was housed with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus even after alerting the police to his autoimmune disease. 

Someone called the police, reporting a suspicious person, and a deputy, one of two at the scene, told the father that he was soliciting without a permit, according to a video recording of the Jan. 2 encounter. 

“I was forming a tenants’ association,” Marshall told The ‘Gander. Marshall explained that his girlfriend’s car had gotten broken into, and he had asked nearby neighbors if they had experienced anything similar. According to Marshall, they had, and he wanted to do something to mitigate the vandalism and theft that was taking place in his community. 

“I’m the type of person who likes to push for change,” Marshall said. “I collected signatures to see if I had people on board. I had roughly almost 100 signatures when the deputies interfered with my constitutional rights. I am one of the community leaders that can keep that gap bridged between law enforcement and the community. [The arrest] kind of tarnished what we’re trying to build.”

Not only did Marshall sustain multiple injuries during his arrest, he said, but his two children who were present were also affected. One of Marshall’s children has been having recurring nightmares of police officers coming into their home to “get” their family. 

“It was very traumatizing,” Marshall said. “They’re 8 and 13, and they didn’t need to see that, especially with all the things going on around the country with Black and brown men, especially in the Black communities.” 

“As a Black person, you have post-traumatic stress disorder. You get tired of being targeted. You get tired of being labeled suspicious. Your skin color by itself is like a strike against you. We don’t have the same opportunities and the same rights.”

Marshall continued, “You get upset thinking about the same thing and the same thing repeating itself over again. It’s tiring. You’re scared.”

Marshall’s night in the Calhoun County Jail was just as disheartening as him being arrested. 

According to Marshall, there were no COVID-19 precautions taken. Marshall, who has Lupus, an autoimmune disease, which he shared with law enforcement, said that he was placed in a cell with another inmate who had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being quarantined.

When The ‘Gander reached out to the Calhoun County Jail for comment regarding its COVID-19 policy, an employee who answered the phone Tuesday afternoon said, “We require all inmates to wear masks while they’re outside of their cells.” In the case of incarcerated people who contract the virus, the employee said, “We remove them from the pod and we put then in a different pod from the cell.”

In a press release published on Oct. 26 regarding a COVID-19 outbreak that took place at the jail, the facility said that it “follows cleaning protocols recommended for congregate housing by the CDC, as well as all federal, state and local guidance for mitigating the spread of Covid within facilities.”

During that outbreak, the ACLU of Michigan advocated for medically-vulnerable immigrant detainees to be released from the jail, as Michigan Radio reported.

While he was held at the facility, Marshall was stricken with worry about contracting the virus. (He later tested negative for COVID-19.) He also spent the night thinking about how he could help mitigate police brutality and misconduct in the United States.

“Things need to change,” he told The ‘Gander. “The attitudes need to change. Once the attitudes change. The mindset changes. Once the mindset changes, then we all can start to have an understanding. Come together as a collective.”

Marshall was arrested on a charge of resisting and obstructing police, which is a felony charge. However, the charges were dropped by Prosecutor David Gilbert, as the Battle Creek Enquirer reported. Marshall also received an apology from the arresting officers, which he said was surprising, and a deputy was fired.

Advocating for Change

Even amid those changes, Marshall is advocating for widespread change. “I’m trying to push for criminal justice reform because as you know the majority of incarceration is Black and brown,” he said, “Criminal justice reform needs to be taken seriously” by government leaders.

Heeding a national call from racial justice advocates to take these issues more seriously than his predecessors, President Joe Biden in his first week in office outlined a plan to promote racial equity and signed executive orders that are aimed at police reform. 

RELATED: Biden Takes Aim at America’s Growing Hunger Crisis With Executive Orders

The president prohibited the sale of military equipment to local police departments and ordered the Department of Justice to end its reliance on private prisons and recognize how the government has been instrumental in implementing discriminatory housing policies. 

“We must change now,” Biden said. “I know it’s going to take time, but I know we can do it. And I firmly believe the nation is ready to change, but government has to change as well.” 

Reflecting on the president’s actions, Marshall said, “It’s a start.”

“The entire criminal justice system needs to be reconfigured from the inside out,” Marshall said. “You also have the second half of it, the Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons; it’s all the same thing. And it also has one purpose—to lock us up to make a warehouse of mass incarceration—and that needs to change. The disparity [between the number of arrests of Black people and other groups] is despicable.”