Detroit rally marking Aiyana's death leads to arrests

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit police took six demonstrators — five women, ages 20, 23, 23, 34, and 35 and one man, 22 -- into custody Wednesday after they chained themselves to a police precinct building gate and entrance during a rally commemorating the 2010 fatal shooting by police of a 7-year-old girl.

They were processed at the Detroit Detention Center, given citations, and released Wednesday night, said Officer Shanelle Williams of the Detroit Police Department. Police aren't releasing the protesters' identities because they haven't yet been arraigned, Williams said.

The arrests capped an emotionally charged march and rally on what would have been the 14th birthday of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, the youngster who was asleep on a sofa when police raided her family’s east side home May 16, 2010. Camera crews filmed the nighttime raid for the cable TV show “The First 48.”

Organizers with Black Lives Matter Detroit and other groups who gathered first at Pallister Park about 6 p.m. Wednesday and moved to the Third Precinct building demanded the immediate firing of Officer Joseph Weekley, who led the Detroit Police Special Response on the raid. Seconds after entering the Jones home, Weekley claimed the girl’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, slapped at his gun, causing it to fire and kill Aiyana.

After two mistrials, the charges against him were dropped. In April 2015, he returned to the Police Department on “limited duty” after a five-year absence. This year, Weekley was named co-chair of a police Committee on Race and Equality, which demonstrators decried.

More than 50 people marched to the precinct, where the crowd grew to about 100 people, and blocked traffic on West Grand, calling for a “divestment” of police operations funding and more investment in black education, economic opportunities, transportation, utility assistance and more. More than two dozen officers were at the scene.

“We think that’s way more beneficial,” activist Lauren Jordan said about investment in black lives.

Detroit Police Cmdr. Elvin Barren told reporters he and his colleagues supported the marchers’ rights to protest peacefully, but shackling themselves to a city building forced them to act. “It’s against the law,” he said.

More than a dozen officers remained on the scene handling the crowd. At least one repeatedly insisted they would not harm any of the demonstrators — who peacefully sang, chanted and briefly sat on the street — and avoid using force unless necessary. The police there also claimed those bound to the building violated a disorderly conduct ordinance.

But as a large contingent of officers led away the arrested demonstrators to squad cars, many shouted: “We don’t respect laws that don’t respect us!”

Earlier, while speaking at Pallister Park, Mertilla Jones said her granddaughter’s death underscored a broken system. “We can’t even trust the people who were sworn to protect and serve us for nothing,” she told the crowd.

That, and other slayings led Detroiter Dianne Feeley to join the throng with a homemade sign reading “Black Lives Matter - Dismantle Institutionalized Racism.”

“We’ve got to call more attention to change things,” she said.

Wednesday’s event followed protests over the recent fatal police shootings of two black men — Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in Louisiana and Minnesota. It also came two weeks after a gunman opened fire on officers at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas, leaving five dead.

Law enforcement agencies across the United States have been on guard and tensions have risen between police and black communities after the police killings and the Dallas attack. Protesters view the police slayings as further evidence of the law enforcement abuse that energized the Black Lives Matter movement, which was fueled by the 2014 killing of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Weekley’s brother, Nathan, a Detroit Police Department detective and 17-year veteran, recently was demoted and sparked an internal investigation after a controversial Facebook post in which he criticized the movement.

The Associated Press contributed.