Sheriff Christopher R. Swanson of Genesee County in Michigan stood before a crowd of protesters on Saturday. They were outraged over the death last week of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police brutality and systemic racism.
“We want to be with you all for real,” Sheriff Swanson said, addressing the demonstrators who had gathered in Flint, Mich., according to footage from WEYI-TV.
He said he made it a point to take off his helmet and that officers had put down their batons. “I want to make this a parade, not a protest,” he said.
As the demonstrators applauded, he shook a protester’s hand and high-fived another. He then acknowledged the children in the crowd. Gesturing to the officers behind him, he asked the crowd what he and the other officers needed to do.
The crowd chanted: “Walk with us. Walk with us. Walk with us.”
And so he did.
Several hundred protesters marched from a Target store to the Flint Township Police station and remained peaceful during the protest, which lasted for several hours, the police said in a statement on Sunday.
“We are walking with you because all you’re asking for is a voice and dignity for all, no matter who you are,” Sheriff Swanson said in a speech after the march. “I love you guys. The police love you.”
Sheriff Swanson was among several law enforcement officials who in the past few days have engaged with marchers and shown solidarity either by marching, kneeling or publicly denouncing the death of Mr. Floyd.
Confrontations have escalated and cities, including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, have seen violence and vandalism targeting the police in recent nights. Videos have shown police officers using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning.
At least five people have been killed so far in violence connected to the protests that started after Mr. Floyd died in police custody.
“I believe we saved lives last night,” Sheriff Swanson said at a news conference on Sunday. He could not be immediately reached for comment.
Quajuan Adams, one of the protesters, also spoke at the news conference. He said the protest was not just about the George Floyds and the Eric Garners of the world — it was about everyone.
“All the police forces need to make sure they are doing things the right way,” he said. “They need to focus on the training, policies, what is considered being combative, what is not being combative and what forces need to be taken in certain situations.”
Sheriff Swanson said people of all ages and backgrounds came from as far as Detroit and Indiana to voice their frustrations about what happened in Minneapolis. But that episode, he said, was not a reflection on all of the 800,000 police officers in the country.
“We became the beacon of light last night, and so we are calling for a national night of peace,” he said. “It starts from law enforcement: Lay down your swords.”
Over 1,000 people have been fatally shot by the police in the past year, according to The Washington Post.
Around the country, law enforcement officials have joined demonstrators protesting police brutality and the death of Mr. Floyd.
In Camden, N.J., a police chief carried a banner and led a peaceful march. In Schenectady, N.Y., police officers marched with protesters through the city’s downtown area. And in Santa Cruz, Calif., police officers knelt with hundreds of protesters to honor Mr. Floyd and bring attention to police violence against black people.
In New York City, officers took a knee in Queens and in Times Square as crowds cheered.
And in Houston, where Mr. Floyd grew up, the police chief denounced police brutality in an emotional speech.
The chief, Art Acevedo, has marched with demonstrators and has called for charges to be filed against the four officers in Minneapolis who were involved in taking Mr. Floyd into custody.
Chief Acevedo took off his mask at one point on Sunday during a Pull Up and Praise event, an outdoor religious service where people worship from their cars. He pumped his arm as those assembled in their vehicles honked their horns in support.
“We have a man, a son, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a Houstonian, a child of God that was killed by servants that are supposed to be servants of God, and they showed no mercy when they put their knee on his neck,” he said of Mr. Floyd.
Manny Fernandez contributed reporting.