16-year-old Stefan Perez found himself at the center of a large Detroit protest over the death of George Floyd on Monday as he encouraged activists to comply with the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.
Police were equipped in riot gear prepared to disperse the crowd of protesters, just as other officers in cities around the country were getting ready to deescalate chaos. Demonstrations have been occurring since Thursday night after the death of Floyd, who died May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes, according to video of the incident.
Holding a megaphone minutes before the citywide curfew was to take effect, Perez spoke to the crowd and urged activists to respect the curfew put into place to avoid rioting and violence.
“The fact that I was able to put my hand up and stop everybody from causing trouble here tonight, I look back and smile at that moment,” Perez said in a statement to the Detroit Free Press. “The people followed me into battle and I’m glad that I was able to get them home safely.”
Other activists and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan applauded Perez’s efforts to quell potential chaos.
“[Mayor Duggan] called me and said that he thought the kid was remarkable and said he brought tears to his eyes,” said Toson Knight, a former staffer for the mayor who attended the protest.
Perez plans to participate in demonstrations throughout the week and continue protesting racial injustices.
“I had plenty of help today. But I’m here. I’m alive,” he said. “I woke up today enough to do this. I’m just glad that I’m here. I’m glad I was able to take a knee, put my hand up and say ‘Black Lives Matter.’”