Officials call for peaceful protests after 60 arrested in Detroit

Detroit — After 60 people were arrested and one man was fatally shot overnight in Detroit, local and state officials are urging protesters to express their views in a peaceful and respectful way.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig provided an update Saturday on the events downtown, commending the activists who gathered peacefully Friday and tried to defuse the outbursts.

"We will continue to support protesters in getting out their message," he said. "However, to those who threaten the safety of our community, our police officers and damage property we will not tolerate your criminal actions."

Craig said he instructed police to release tear gas four times to calm down the crowd, each time with a warning, and that the amount of gas released would be intensifying.

"It was the last resort, but our officers took a significant amount of projectiles,” Craig said.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks about protests in downtown Detroit from Police Headquarters on Saturday.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called the Minneapolis arrest of George Floyd a murder. Floyd died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis after a white officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes.

"Chief Craig was the first major city police chief to call out this Minneapolis police officer for what he is, a murderer," Duggan said. "This protest was supported by the members of the Detroit Police Department."

Both Craig and Duggan spoke on how the protests started peacefully, with officers handing out masks, but with a blatant disregard for how front-line workers will continue to struggle during the pandemic. 

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan arrives at a news conference with Detroit Police chief James Craig on Sunday to speak about the violence in downtown Detroit.

"We have been mourning the loss of 1,372 members of our community," Duggan said. "We've had 600 officers on quarantine and our own chief who had COVID-19, our officers felt a kinship with those protesters and wanted to make sure they were safe. But how far will the virus spread in those communities now?"

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrest II issued a statement Saturday saying communities of color across the nation and in Michigan are feeling a sense of exhaustion and desperation.

"Communities are hurting, having felt that calls for equity, justice, safety, and opportunity have gone unheard for too long," the statement said. "We stand in solidarity with those who are seeking equitable justice for everyone in our state. We can’t live in a society and a country where our rights and our dignity are not equal for all."

The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important but demonstrators should still be prepared to battle coronavirus, Whitmer and Gilchrist said.

"Our administration is working closely with local elected officials, public safety, and faith, and youth leaders to encourage communities across the state to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations where people can make their voices heard," state leaders said. "There will no doubt be more tough days ahead, but we must pull together and treat our fellow Michiganders with dignity, compassion, and humanity."

People protest in the Detroit Police Department parking lot.

Demonstrators clashed with shielded police in downtown Detroit who responded by firing tear gas, a scene repeated throughout the country. The protests followed a peaceful march from Detroit Public Safety headquarters into Midtown, with a crowd of several thousand. 

Protesters took over streets in Detroit, Pittsfield Township and others gathered nationwide were charged up over the videotaped arrest of Floyd.

Police said the majority of the people arrested were suburbanites who traveled to the city. Detroit police arrested 45 men and 15 women, many from surrounding suburbs including Ann Arbor, Bay City, Brighton, Clarkston, Dearborn, Hamtramck, Farmington Hills, Plymouth, Warren and West Bloomfield Township.

"Now maybe all of these people come from cities, whose police department are not in need of their voices," Duggan said. "And they felt they had to come down here, or more likely they came here to damage property, and to throw rocks and bottles at our police cars. In many cases, it was our own activists and the Detroit 300 who intervened to keep things from being much worse."

'I wanted to bring the city out together in love'

Detroit activist DeMeeko Williams helped organized Friday’s peaceful protest outside Detroit Public Safety headquarters on Third Street. The event drew hundreds for a speaker event and hour-long march from the police administrative downtown offices to Woodward and Warren in Midtown.

Williams said the program had wrapped up before the unrelated chaos erupted late in the evening.

“You try to make everybody open and inclusive and others will take it far and you can’t control that,” he said.

As Detroit police officers escort protesters on Michigan Avenue westbound, protesters turn and confront officers at Rosa Parks Blvd.

Earlier in the evening, Detroit police worked with the demonstrators, handing out protective masks and gloves, opening up parking lots and clearing the streets to "allow them to march safely," said Williams, who condemned the disorderly acts of individuals police say mainly came from suburban communities.

“What was the point of it? When you don’t live in our city don’t come down here and think you are going to try to bust out our windows and then go back to your little white neighborhood.”

Williams said Detroiters are still traumatized about the riots in 1967. The individuals that infiltrated and began to make trouble “makes the city look bad.” But that’s not Detroit, he stressed.

Metro Detroit Political Action Network had called Friday evening for a second gathering Saturday evening. Williams said he will not be participating in actions Saturday night and said it’s unclear whether others will.

“I wanted to bring the city out together in love,” he told The News. “I didn’t expect all of this to go down. I’m disappointed for the outcome of the night.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit branch of NAACP condemned further protests.

“You can protest in your own backyard," Anthony said. "Don’t come down to (cause trouble) and then go back home. That’s putting another knee on the neck of black folk because we got to live here with this pandemic still going on."

Craig said they are making adjustments but feels the department is ready and prepared for anything that comes their way. 

Protesters march on Michigan Avenue in front of the Detroit Police headquarters.

'Policing doesn’t appear to be us vs. them'

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, who formerly served as the County sheriff and Chief of Detroit Police, said although officials say the majority of protesters were suburbanites, they could have likely been Detroiters.

"(Plenty) of people who live downtown or in Detroit have an address somewhere else simply because of the high insurance rates," Evans said, adding the situation was hard to watch.

"We don't do the kinds of things we need to to deal with the systemic inequities we face," he said. "Young people want to see something get done, they're not seeing that and they're angry, while the older generation has seen this time and time again."

From his experience, Evans said Detroit policing, from the top to the bottom, is "so far ahead from the rest of the country," it's rare the same type of police brutality would happen in the city.

"Because their policing doesn’t appear to be us vs. them," Evans said. "They lined up to control a community backlash, not as an occupying army."

Going forward, Evans agreed with other officials that protesters need a safe place to express their "understandable anger and frustration over the systematic inequality people of color continue to face and the clear lack of impetus towards systemic solutions."

"We give 'lip service' to the problems and issues but not much more," he said.

Jones: Violence, destruction are senseless

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones tweeted Saturday saying the destruction of city property is senseless, encouraging people to protest in the communities they live in.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield joined protesters early in the Friday rally, speaking of her frustrations over the need to keep marching after African American lives are lost. She also called for leadership changes, encouraging attendees to vote for change in the upcoming elections.

“I do think people came down to Detroit with the wrong intentions, not knowing the culture of our police department,” she said. “I was a bit bothered by that. The part that I attended was a very peaceful demonstration.”

Sheffield said despite what unfolded, she is a supporter of peaceful demonstrations.

“People have a lot of emotion, people are hurt, and people are crying out for change,” she said. “However, it needs to be done in a peaceful and respectful way that does not damage our city. We need allies in this fight, but we don’t need people to come down and tear up and disrupt our city.

Sheffield noted gun violence awareness week is set to kickoff in June and the city and its police force will be focusing on black men losing their lives to gun violence in the city’s campaign. Sheffield said she will be spending Saturday evening on the streets.

“It’s important for me to be hands-on,” she said.

Worthy: Honor Floyd by being safe, civil

The shooting occurred at 11:30 p.m. in a parking lot near Congress and Randolph when an unknown suspect approached a silver Dodge Caliber and fired shots. Inside was a 21-year-old man from Eastpointe, who was shot behind the wheel, and two other unknown men. All the occupants inside the vehicle, including the victim, fled, police said.

The shooter fled the scene in an unknown direction on foot; the victim was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The shooting occurred as a Detroit News reporter was doing a Facebook Live video of the protest. In the video, shots can be heard, prompting people to run from the area as others call out for the police to provide aid.

Craig said one command officer was struck with a rock Friday night and was transported to a local hospital, a second officer on bike patrol was targeted by a driver in a pursuit on the freeway, but he was not injured. Seven police cars sustained varying degrees of damage, he said. 

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said as her office starts to receive information about the violence from Friday's protests, an overwhelming number of people engaged in peaceful protest.

"The death of George Floyd is something that has profoundly affected our nation. Peaceful demonstrations with respect for all is absolutely warranted in this situation. The point of protesting what happened to Mr. Floyd can be lost when violence becomes the narrative of the protest. I urge everyone to continue to honor Mr. Floyd by engaging in safe, peaceful and civil protest of his murder.", Twitter: @SarahRahal_, Twitter: @cferretti_dn