Inside the Detroit Freedom March with Joique Bell
Joique Bell is fed up.
He's decided, like many other men and women throughout America, that police brutality and racism can no longer be tolerated.
"Right here. This is why. How do I protect my son? How do we protect our future? I hear George Floyd calling out for his mother. The only thing I can think about is my son calling out for his father," a visibly emotional Bell, with his son Jordan right next to him, conveyed to the crowd that assembled at the Belle Isle Freedom March June 5.
The Benton Harbor, Mich., native, who played in 75 career NFL games, including in 63 with the Lions from 2012-16, wants to be a beacon of light during a dark time in our country’s history.
Protests have taken the United States by storm since the murder of Floyd, a 46-year-old African American man, at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers May 25.
And many current and former NFL players, including Bell, have joined in to voice their displeasure with police brutality and racial inequality.
Bell -- along with the Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department of the city of Detroit, Arielle Johnson and former Detroit mayoral candidate Ken Snapp -- helped spearhead the "Freedom March" that took place at Gabriel Richard Park, located just east of the MacArthur Bridge that connects Detroit to Belle Isle.
"It was definitely a protest, but we wanted it to be peaceful. So, we labeled it as a march," Bell told SI All Lions. "It was a peaceful march all the way across the bridge to pay respect to the people who have lost their lives due to police violence."
Bell also wanted to use the march to bring together and unify Detroit residents with members of the local police force and Michigan State Troopers.
The citizens and off-duty law enforcement officials proceeded to walk in unison in support of the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
"We wanted to show that we (the citizens and police/state troopers) can work together," Bell said. "And we thought it'd be a good opportunity to have officers, the working class and minorities in the same area to kind of bridge that gap and give them that initial encounter with one another so that they could learn more about each other."
Getting the officers in the same place as individuals from the community was something especially meaningful to Bell because of his family's law enforcement background.
His father worked for the sheriff's department in St. Joseph, Mich., his uncle was a state trooper and his brother-in-law works for the FBI.
Then, there's his godfather Maurice Burton, a former state trooper, who would cut up his old police uniforms and give the emblems to Bell to keep in the dashboard of his car in case he ever got pulled over by law enforcement.
Bell is a supporter of the men and women in "Blue," but also believes the good cops need to start more actively speaking out against the bad ones.
"If you consider yourself a good officer but allow something like that to happen (the murder of Floyd), then, you're a bad apple as well," Bell said. "People who don't speak up against injustices are also bad apples, no matter if they have good track records."
Trust in police officers across the country has dipped to arguably an all-time low.
The protests that have occurred not just nationwide but also worldwide have demonstrated that reform is a must in order for the men and women wearing badges to rectify their collective image.
According to Bell, one step that police departments can take to begin the process of rebuilding trust is having their employees get involved in the community -- specifically, when they're off the clock.
"If you're going to police the community, you need to be in the community, interacting with the people that comprise it," Bell said. "Through that, they can see your face and gain a level of trust in you. That was one reason I wanted to bring out the the state troopers and police officers for the march."
Law enforcement officials took on an active role in the march, assisting in passing out water to individuals from the city of Detroit and surrounding communities that came out to support the cause.
Members of the Lions, including kick/punt returner Jamal Agnew, defensive end Romeo Okwara, linebacker Christian Jones and head coach Matt Patricia, also participated in the march.
Bell had the chance to talk with Patricia, and immediately felt his compassion for the unfair treatment and senseless acts of violence the African American community has endured from law enforcement.
The significant level of involvement from the police and state troopers, the Lions organization and people from the city made June 5, 2020, a truly special day for Bell.
"It was a beautiful turnout of people supporting our initiative, and it meant so much to me," he said. "I became a little emotional just because of how much support we had with it, how many people were for our cause and the people who supported what we were trying to do."
Bell, though, understands this is just the beginning of the movement to bring about widespread police reform and change for minorities.
"That particular march was to start the conversation, to get a seat at the table and further our initiative and narrative for police reform," he said. "I want to use my platform to bring about change on every level, from the pay gap currently existent for minorities to police reform and racism in general. I bring love not hate. I put my energy into love, and that's the energy I want to put out into the world. And so, I think that march was the first footstep towards that."
This is the side of Bell that you maybe didn't know but you definitely need to. A man that is fed up with the injustices African Americans have been inflicted with throughout time and is looking to unify Detroit one step at a time.