Detroit saw relative calm amid protests. When it didn’t, here’s what police did.


Curfew violators were met with two walls of armed officers on one night of protests in Detroit. The next, they went untouched on a so-called “victory march.”

In even starker contrast to the recent nights of calm were the clashes between police and demonstrators on Detroit’s first nights of protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd.

Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes on May 25 in Minneapolis.

Protests erupted nationwide and in Detroit, police officers took projectiles, leaving one officer concussed, while another officer suffered a shoulder injury and yet another had to undergo leg surgery.

Demonstrators coughed, cried, ran from tear gas and rubber bullets, and other times found themselves facedown on concrete. An officer was seen punching one person on the ground. Another was seen hitting a demonstrator with a baton. 

Detroit did not mimic the images of burning cars or damaged buildings seen amid unrest in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Grand Rapids. The looting seen in New York did not show up in the Motor City. Officers were not shot like they were in St. Louis and Las Vegas, nor have deaths been reported at the hands of police, as was one in California.

But the varied police tactics on the 15 nights since Detroit joined cities across the world with protests have gained both support and criticism from experts, people police hit with tear gas and others they serve.

Civil rights and neighborhood leaders thanked Mayor Mike Duggan and Chief James Craig seated side-by-side at news conferences and standing in a parking lot in the aftermath of arrests, saying they’ve protected a majority-Black city from damage.

But some protesters, attorneys and the leadership of the Detroit and Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild said examples of excessive force could be seen on Detroit’s streets amid the protests.

Police are in a hard position when it comes to the gatherings, said Jennifer Cobbina, associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

Police are managing the crowds. The crowds are protesting them.

Agitators and the innocent

Detroit police acted in response to aggressive actions of suspects during the protests, Craig has said. He wouldn’t use the word “protesters” for those who tangled with his officers. 

Craig called Floyd’s death “murder” before the marches began and expressed support for peaceful protesters, who have called for justice and an end to police killings of Black citizens. 

Addressing the police-civilian clashes seen in Detroit, Craig has cited outside agitators bent on causing chaos, with some coming from as far as Washington, D.C.

He referenced intelligence information his office gathered but said he would not reveal specifics. Duggan, too, has said they don’t yet have the facts to name a specific group or groups who could be the agitators.

Detroit police did the right thing with their response, officials have said. The end results are a testament to years of work by Detroiters and Detroit police, Craig said.

But protesters practicing their rights to assemble and redress were wrongly subject to tear gas, physical force and arrest, said Julie Hurwitz, vice president of the local National Lawyers Guild chapter and partner at the Detroit-based civil rights law firm Goodman, Hurwitz & James.

Two of her organization’s legal observers — who monitor protests for potential civil rights violations — were arrested on the first two nights while bearing witness, she said. Another had multiple tear gas canisters lobbed at her on the third night while identifying herself, she said.

“It is ironic that the mass response to what is becoming increasingly understood as a(sic) unfettered culture of police violence, was met over this past five days — not only in Detroit but around the country — with police violence,” she said, speaking after the first five days of protests. “And their response goes to the heart of what is fundamentally wrong with policing in this country.”

Detroit showed an overreliance on tactics known as escalated force, marked by the use of tear gas, physical force and mass arrests, Cobbina said.

Craig vehemently denied Cobbina’s characterization of the force used. He asked, with railroad spikes being thrown at police, if the researcher thought it better for his officers to stay put and get injured. 

Even amid a protest that turned violent, police behavior that crossed the line won’t be tolerated, Craig told the Detroit Free Press. He previously pointed to his past willingness to investigate and charge officers publicly. 

Twelve incidents and complaints against officers are under investigation, with three involving reported injury, said Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood.

The use of force often doesn’t look good, but attacks sometimes need to be met with equal force, Craig said. 

He recalled working in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots, saying a mob was allowed to take a portion of the city and destruction ensued. A truck driver was even beaten within an inch of his life by rioters.

“We know enforcement decisions — force — is a risk that sometimes we have to take, but to do nothing at times, it’s an even greater risk,” he said. “So we have to balance.”

Day 1

The first day of protests in Detroit, on May 29, was mainly peaceful at first. 

More than 1,000 marchers wound their way through the city, yelling “Don’t shoot,” and police held back, even as crowd actions started to take a turn. Police car windows were ripped out, and some attendees yelled in officers’ faces, encircled a police car, and yanked the reins of police horses in response to one detainment. 

Police-demonstrator interactions truly ramped up later that night.

Police appeared to block about 100 or more remaining demonstrators from movement shortly before 10 p.m. near the RiverWalk at Atwater and Bates streets. The only apparent way out was on Jefferson Avenue.

Then police in riot gear appeared. Craig would later say the gear was a last resort, as officers know the negative toll it takes on a crowd. 

Detroit Police officers in riot gear watch protesters in downtown Detroit, Friday, May 29, 2020.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

Officers started beating their shields and advancing in the rhythmic, clattering unison of soldiers marching forward. Unknown objects were thrown upon their ranks. Demonstrators held middle fingers before them, approaching the wave of law enforcement rushing forward, then running away. 

The banging of shields is a nonviolent but psychological measure to get a group refusing to leave to move, Craig told the Free Press. Police aimed in part to keep the crowd away from areas where significant damage could be done, or officers could be injured if they were rushed. 

The goal is to minimize injury, he said. 

“When you’re in a situation where a group is not complying, and you start taking projectiles … the idea is to maybe move a violent group in a way that makes it easier to contain,” he said. 

Detroit’s first three nights of protests saw crowds face off with police

Protests erupted in Detroit following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, shown here on May 29 through May 31. Police, city officials, experts and protesters have weighed in on the tactics taken by police as violence broke out.

Detroit Free Press

Altercations erupted, with some members of the crowd carrying a wooden post toward officers and some members of the crowd tackled by police. 

As the group moved onto Jefferson, one reporter heard trash talk spill out from both police and protesters, as they told each other, “Go back to Livonia,” and commented on their weight. 

The crowd and police engaged in a sort of dance, with officers charging and retreating from the crowd, and demonstrators unafraid to approach the armed officers.

Police arrested 60 people that night. They deployed gas. A reporter saw and captured on video one officer punching someone on the ground amid the melee of detainments. A reporter also saw an officer strike someone with a baton. One video also taken by a Free Press reporter appeared to show an officer punching a man as police advanced.  

One person was fatally shot in an incident police say is not believed to be connected to the protests.

More: Two charged in killing near Detroit protest, but one is on the lam

Speaking that night, Sade Brown, 22, of Detroit said her twin sister, Shiann Brown, was one of the people arrested after being pushed to the ground while following orders to back up.

Julia Bradley, 21, of Southfield said she didn’t see rocks thrown but was told by an officer, “You all are part of a group that are throwing rocks.”

A protester throws tear gas shot by Detroit Police back toward the officers at the corner of Third Avenue and Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Saturday, May 30, 2020.

A protester throws tear gas shot by Detroit Police back toward the officers at the corner of Third Avenue and Michigan Avenue in Detroit, Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

More: From coastal cities to rural towns, breadth of George Floyd protests – most peaceful – captured by data

“I said, ‘Throwing rocks and actually murdering people, those aren’t comparative,’ ” she said, referring to the deaths of Black citizens. 

David Robinson, a former Detroit Police officer who now works as a police misconduct victim attorney, shared video of what he says shows officers firing tear gas into a vehicle of a client. 

Police are investigating the facts of the incident and whether officers’ actions complied with the use of force policy, Kirkwood said. 

Officers were attacked, one even hospitalized after being struck by a rock, and another officer suffered a shoulder injury, she said. One person drove their car at officers on bicycles, too.

“I will not stand by and let a small minority, criminals, come in here, attack our officers and make our community unsafe,” Craig told reporters that first night.

Speaking at a news conference the next day with the chief, civil activists railed against outsiders coming to wreak havoc in their city and do damage outside of a peaceful protest. They said if Black lives matter to those involved, they shouldn’t do damage to a city that has already worked to rebuild and address major police concerns.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, president of the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network, said he has protested with groups of all sizes, Detroit police have always been patient and he supported the chief’s calls that night.

“When I saw the helmets and the gas masks as well as even the gas being deployed, I knew that we were past a point that we really did not need to be in, so I support it,” he said. “I support the chief in his decisions — all of his decisions — that he made that night to make sure that we in this city were safe.”

Day 2

The second day of protests began peacefully once more, with marchers starting at the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters and going through the city’s southwest Mexicantown. At least one police department member was seen handing out masks to protesters.

One speaker railed against the Detroit Police and another told the crowd to be careful of their actions in Detroit.

“You are going to go home and hang up your signs, but I live Black Lives Matter,” said one. 

Nakia-Renne Wallace of Detroit chants "No justice, no peace" at the corner of Third and Michigan Avenue in Detroit on Saturday, May 30, 2020.

Nakia-Renne Wallace of Detroit chants “No justice, no peace” at the corner of Third and Michigan Avenue in Detroit on Saturday, May 30, 2020.
Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press

One man started spray painting “No justice, no peace,” on buildings in broad daylight. Blatant attempts to do damage reappeared that evening. 

Police reinforcements appeared after one tense moment, but no violence erupted and the crowd dispersed, before, a while later, about 200 people blocked I-375.

A seemingly new crowd of hundreds appeared about 9:30 p.m. at Michigan Avenue and Shelby Street, and with them came explosions of fireworks. 

The crowd threw rocks and fireworks at police, and pounded on the windows of the downtown Nike store on Woodward Avenue, while talking of breaking in. Other civilians tried to stop the effort; the police eventually did.

Still, members of the gathering sprayed graffiti, urinated and defecated on store windows.

The crowd refused to disperse until police fired tear gas, made arrests and fired rubber bullets at some holdouts.

“They began to throw railroad ties, small bricks, and pitched M-80 fireworks at the officers,” Craig said that night. “And that’s when the decision was made to deploy gas, nonlethal, and that effectively them broke up.”

At a later news conference, he showed how a railroad spike was hidden in a box of protein bars. Police also saw trucks delivering rocks, fireworks and railroad spikes supplies to the crowd, Duggan later said.

But some arrestees said they were simply walking to their cars when nabbed by police. Media members, too, were approached and one was pepper-sprayed.

More: Protesters detail what it was like to be arrested in Detroit demonstrations

Yasmeen Ali, 18, of Detroit told the Free Press she was walking about 1 a.m. Sunday near American Coney Island on Lafayette Street when officers came up behind her and threw her to the ground.

When she asked the officers why she was being held down, they told her “For destroying the city, (expletive),” she said.

Police reported 84 arrests. 

Day 3

By Sunday, Duggan put an 8 p.m. curfew in place, with officials saying agitators showed a trend of causing chaos after dark. 

As the hour neared after a hot day on the move, peaceful marchers turned in front of Detroit Public Safety Headquarters to find more heavily armed police than they’d seen all day, dressed in green cargo pants, black tops and bulletproof vests. Some had zip-ties hanging off their belt at the ready.

At first, a few officers told the crowd they couldn’t continue.

A command officer who had walked with the crowd approached a more heavily armed officer who greeted it, and then the group was allowed on the green grass of the headquarters, to cheers. Speakers addressed the crowd from there to shouts, applause and enraptured silence. 

Roughly 10 minutes after curfew, some of the crowd threw bottles at a line of heavily armed officers standing between the protesters and the headquarters. Other protesters yelled for them to stop. A deputy chief knelt in solidarity with the crowd.

After multiple warnings — though some were hard to hear — and obvious use of a megaphone, police deployed gas and started advancing about 40 minutes after the curfew.

Police officers advance on protesters in downtown Detroit on Sunday, May 31, 2020 after they marched for the third day against police brutality and for justice for George Floyd in the city.

Police officers advance on protesters in downtown Detroit on Sunday, May 31, 2020 after they marched for the third day against police brutality and for justice for George Floyd in the city.
Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

Police told demonstrators and media members alike to move throughout the night. At least one media member was briefly detained and police issued large press passes the next day. 

Hurwitz took issue with police response throughout the week.

Protesters must get an opportunity to leave before police action and many were told to go one way by some officers and then told by others they would be arrested doing so, she said. 

Police gave multiple warnings and the opportunity to leave throughout the demonstrations to protect innocent protesters and give them the chance to leave, Craig said. Arrests aren’t the goal. 

The Rev. W.J. Rideout III of All God’s People Church in Detroit, who knelt with the deputy chief, was exposed to the tear gas himself on Sunday. 

His glasses were wet as he spoke that night, saying those in attendance shouldn’t have thrown bottles.

“This is not the police department that put their knees on anyone’s neck to kill anyone,” he said.

Downtown resident Sharon Richardson, 64, was outside with her granddaughter after police moved the remaining protesters past her building. 

She has protested some, too, and said police have done a great job protecting downtown.

“If everybody stays in order, it doesn’t have to be done,” she said of tear gas deployment. “Because police have to protect themselves as well.”

Damontae Daniels, 21, of Detroit said he left the demonstration roughly about 9 p.m., cut through an alley and was walking to his friend’s car when police slammed him to the ground.

He’d been arrested the prior night, too, and showed a cut on his wrist from the zip-ties.

“If the police are targeting you because you’re looting and you’re doing vandalism, that’s completely different,” Daniels said.

Police reported 110 arrests that night. 

Day 4

The next night, marchers turned toward police headquarters after curfew to find rows of police and at least one armored vehicle already there. A 16-year-old boy got the crowd to disperse without police contact.

Police reported 40 citations for curfew violations. 

More: 16-year-old emerges as a leader at Detroit’s Monday protest: ‘I felt I made a mark’

Day 5

On the last night of reported arrests — Tuesday, June 2 — some protesters peeled off while those keen on breaking curfew marched northeast up Gratiot Avenue and past their city-allotted end time. After several warnings, they saw a battalion of officers on the horizon of Gratiot, walking their way. 

Eventually, a line of officers appeared at their back, too, along with an armored vehicle in front of a Family Dollar store. The crowd of 100 or so turned to meet the closest officers, linking arms, shouting “Don’t shoot,” and yelling a phone number for bail assistance.

No projectiles were seen by reporters on the ground but struggles ensued as officers started latching onto individuals to arrest.

Detroit police enforce a curfew on June 2, then relax enforcement

Protests erupted in Detroit following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. After several days of peaceful protests turning into violence, police, on June 2, 2020, enforced a curfew on a group keen to violate it. The next night, curfew violators were allowed to keep marching.

Detroit Free Press

More: Detroit protests, Day 5: Group on eastside defies curfew, police box in and make arrests

Protesters strained against the reach of officers. Skirmishes broke out and police tackled protesters and media members to the ground and the grass.

One officer was pulled into the crowd and, unable to get out as protesters kept pulling him, deployed CS gas, Craig said. The officer had minor injuries.

At least one protester was seen bloodied and another was loaded into an ambulance for what Kirkwood later said was eye irritation.

After the arrests, police and their chief knelt as a show of solidarity. Some members of the community fist-bumped officers afterward. Another yelled, “F*** that.”

Experts would later point to this night with both concern and credit to police. It was a high point for the number of arrests each night at 127. 

Day 6

Police took a new approach on Wednesday, June 3, and no arrests have been reported since.

That night, Craig arrived on the scene of protesters still marching on Jefferson Avenue. The curfew was discretionary and it was a time for celebration, with more officers charged that day in George Floyd’s death, he said. He let the group continue.

One of the protest leaders, Tristan Taylor, called it a victory. They’d sought to get the curfew lifted, calling it unjust.

More: Activist Tristan Taylor released after being arrested by Detroit police during protests

Asked the following days about the decision to confront one peacefully protesting group on June 2, but not on June 3, Craig noted he might not characterize the two groups as similar, despite having the same leader. 

Craig said police had knowledge reporters on the ground might not have, but declined to divulge details. 

“It’s no secret just … two days prior we were dealing with attacks on police officers, property damage to police vehicles, as an example, and then watching the trend across this country,” Craig said. “I watch what’s going on because I’m seeing similarities, so it’s real important for me to always stay ahead and so, again, I think it worked as intended.”

Tristan Taylor of Detroit leads a group of protesters along Woodward Avenue during the sixth day of protests against police brutality on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.

Tristan Taylor of Detroit leads a group of protesters along Woodward Avenue during the sixth day of protests against police brutality on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

Taylor, who this week met with Craig and Duggan, said police relayed they had intelligence information and were surprised to find protesters did not have weapons on June 2.

Duggan denied this at a news conference this Thursday and Craig pointed to the days of prior violence. 

Hurwitz took issue with both the curfew and the idea of a “discretionary” curfew.

It could lead a person of color to be targeted for enforcement while a white person is not, she said.

Hurwitz said lawful activity is not always comfortable activity, and she claimed the right to assemble was violated in Detroit, which Craig denied in speaking to the Free Press, pointing to how the crowd was allowed to block streets and march.

Enforcing the curfew one night but not the other was a perfectly executed game-play that showed police willingness to adapt, said Bob Stevenson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and a former Livonia police chief. He didn’t see a problem.

“Would the complaint be: We put out a curfew just to stem the violence, then we enforced the curfew order, and then after that, there was no more violence?” he said, later adding: “I don’t think that from looking from the outside, that the leadership in Detroit is getting the credit that they should be getting for adapting and ending all the violence.”

Asked about enforcement when no violence took place, he said: “Isn’t that argument much like, ‘Well, the speed limit was 55 and I was going 155, but I didn’t hurt anybody.’ “

Cobbina, who focuses on issues of race, crime, policing, protesters and use of force, takes issue with what she called the heavy-handed tactics and militarization she has seen in Detroit and across the country. 

Escalated force can beget more violence and injuries, she said. The best approach is negotiated management, to allow some level of disruption. 

Bad actors need to be sought out specifically, she said.

“For instance, if someone throws a bottle at an officer, there is a continuum of force that police should be using and going right to tear-gassing everyone in that vicinity is considered to be extreme,” she said.

Craig said his officers showed restraint and gave warnings before action was taken.

There is a responsibility to protect the rights of everyone in the community, including those who have businesses or, amid an emergency, find their street blocked by protesters, Craig said.

Normally, police sit down and make plans with protesters, he said. The dynamic was different this time, and violent. Police were thinking of the safety of everyone in the community. 

“What would you be asking me if we had had a number of people hurt?” he said.

Protests continue

Protests have continued in Detroit in the wake of Floyd’s death, but no more arrests have been reported and officials allowed the curfew to expire.

Detroit Police reported arresting 421 people during the first days of protests. Of those, 136 were from Detroit, 275 were from metro Detroit and 10 were from out of state.

Police are investigating 12 incidents and complaints against officers, Sgt. Kirkwood said. Three of those include complaints of injury not involving chemical spray.

While investigations remain underway, some officers have been removed from the detail or moved to an administrative capacity, and one has a change of duty status. The Free Press has requested more information.

If Craig and his critics agree on at least one thing, it’s that George Floyd shouldn’t have died.

Asked what made Detroit different as unrest exploded elsewhere in the country, Craig and supporters in and out of the community highlighted Detroit’s neighborhood connections, years of work to improve police relations, police training and the existence of a civilian oversight board in the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. 

Though some refuted it, some speakers at the protests even said they don’t have an issue with police in Detroit.

Protesters march along Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit during the eleventh day of protests against police brutality on Monday, June 8, 2020.

Protesters march along Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit during the eleventh day of protests against police brutality on Monday, June 8, 2020.
Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press

Cobbina emphasized policing’s historical link to slavery as people reflect on the protests.

“When people see the badge, particularly when Black people see the badge, they are seeing the history,” she said. “The history of injustice and oppression, (and) racial subordination that has taken place from the very foundation of this country — that this legacy of racial injustice is entwined in the very fabric of this nation.

“And you now see Black people standing up against this oppression that has existed for centuries.”

Editor’s note: On June 2, while newsgathering for this article was already underway, reporter Darcie Moran was briefly taken to the ground and detained by police at the scene of a protest. She was identified as a member of the media and released. 

Reporters Miriam Marini and Angie Jackson contributed to this report.

Contact Darcie Moran: Follow her on Twitter @darciegmoran

Credit: Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here