As police and protesters clashed over the weekend regarding the killing of George Floyd, some members of law enforcement did the unexpected: They joined marches to decry police brutality.
On Saturday, Camden County Police Chief Joseph Wysocki joined protesters in Camden, New Jersey, as they marched for Floyd, 46, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, 44, kneeled on Floyd’s neck while restraining him. It was caught on video by a 17-year-old girl who was walking by.
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“Watching Floyd’s murder unfold on video, every cop in the country is sick to their stomach,” Wysocki, 49, who held a banner that read, “Standing in Solidarity,” tells PEOPLE.
“Good cops are hurt by what they saw,” he says. “So I thought it was important to walk with the protesters.”
In the video, Chauvin kneels on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes with his hand casually in his pocket as bystanders urge him to get up.
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Visibly distressed, Floyd repeatedly asks for help, saying, “I can’t breathe.”
“Momma!” he called out before he died. “I’m through!”
Shortly after, Chauvin was fired from the Minneapolis Police Department. He is charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He has not yet entered a plea.
As the police chief of a city notorious for its decades-long high crime rate, Wysocki said, “My whole goal was to bring down the tension.”
The same thing happened in Flint Township, Michigan, on Sunday, when protesters marched to the Flint Township Police Department Headquarters and found themselves faced with police in riot gear.
With tensions riding high there, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson stepped in and diffused the situation by saying, “We want to be with y’all, for real.”
He shocked onlookers when he said he was putting down his helmet and said the officers there were laying down their batons.
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“I want to make this a parade, not a protest!” he told the crowd, CNN reports.
When they started chanting, “Walk with us!” that’s exactly what he did.
“Come on!” he yelled.
As they walked together, amid cries of “George Floyd!” protesters talked to the sheriff about how they felt when black men are the targets of police brutality.
Later that night, Swanson declared the march a success. “Not one ounce of damage, nobody’s arrested, nobody got hurt. This is the way it’s supposed to be.”
Over the weekend, officers from Queens, New York, Coral Gables, Florida, and Ferguson, Missouri, as well as other places kneeled with demonstrators during rallies and protests.
In Santa Cruz, Police Chief Andy Mills knelt down “in memory of George Floyd” and to bring “attention to police violence against Black people,” the department tweeted.
In Dallas, Police Chief U. Renee Hall caught people’s attention on Twitter when she was seen on a video Friday night talking calmly to protesters.
“You got the sidewalks, the streets,” she said. “We are blocking the streets so no car will hit you. But don’t hit my officers. Don’t do that. You can walk all night long and we going to be out here. But don’t hit my people.”
Treating the protesters with honesty and empathy is key, she tells PEOPLE. “They know I respect them,” says Hall. “They know that I honor their case and support what they are doing and at that moment they heard me.”
Going forward, she says, “We have to acknowledge the fact that there has been a divide and oppression in the black and brown community by law enforcement for many many years.
“We have to work alongside our community to put policies and practices in place to ensure that these things don’t happen again.”