Genesee County sheriff takes off body armor and marches in protest

"I want to make this a parade, not a protest."

A split second decision by Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson diffused tension between protesters and police over the weekend - when he joined a march.

"I knew that vulnerability - although it was the worst tactical move you could do - (that) they needed to see my heart," he said. "They needed a police official, someone in leadership to go in."

Swanson says protesters remained peaceful while marching for several hours on Saturday- but when they turned towards the Flint Township Police Department -  the mood changed and anger reached a boiling point. 

"When I heard the radio traffic and saw myself included put on our ballistic helmets and grab shields and batons and we set up a line and we saw crowds move towards us by the hundreds," he said. 

But when the protesters met police, they exchanged fist bumps and hugs. That was when Swanson knew this protest could end peacefully, and took a chance by walking unarmed into the crowd. And what followed changed the course of protests in their community. 

The crowd chanted "Walk with us."

Shoulder to shoulder- Swanson and police walked with protesters supporting their message. 

"That moment the whole mentality of both the police and protesters and the hearts changed - because they wanted a voice and we marched," he said.

Swanson says they haven't had to arrest anyone during protests, no one has gotten hurt and no fires have started. he believes it’s all because protesters and police found common ground amidst the chaos. 

"My heart breaks for other to communities - Detroit, Kalamazoo, Lansing that they are fighting on a day to day basis," Swanson said. "We need peace in this country, we need folks to lay down their sabers and talk with their communities and restore trust. It has to start with police first." 

The sheriff says they will continue marching with protesters at future protests and keeping them safe.