Tear gas, arrests mar third day of unrest in Detroit
Detroit — Call it a riot or an uprising, the conflagration that changed the city in 1967 destroyed the places where people lived.
It’s different in 2020, in Detroit and across the country. Now, as marches turn ugly from San Francisco to Tampa to Grand Rapids to Greektown, violence and vandalism have found the places where the money is — not the wealthy suburbs of major cities, but the business and commercial centers like Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Upwards of 400 people marched through downtown Detroit on Sunday, the third straight evening of protests against police brutality spurred by the death of a Minneapolis man who choked out his final words with an officer’s knee on his neck.
Police resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets late Sunday as a scene that once seemed almost buoyant grew ominous.
Again, tear gas was lobbed by police as crowds amassed on the lawn of Detroit police headquarters close to 9 p.m. Sunday. The protesters gathered in other groups, waiting, watching.
Protesters in Lansing had surrounded the Capitol building earlier. By Sunday night, trash bins were burning near Washington and Washtenaw and many windows were broken downtown, including windows in the Romney Building, where the governor’s office is located, and local landmark Boji Tower across from the Capitol.
Elsewhere, a march in Grand Rapids on Saturday grew so out of control that Mayor Rosalynn Bliss declared a 48-hour civil emergency, called up the National Guard and issued a curfew on Sunday.
The marchers in Detroit faced an 8 p.m. curfew, and ignored it. Mayor Mike Duggan imposed the order after Saturday’s protest devolved into bricks, rocks and M-80s being hurled at police.
At curfew time, some of Sunday’s protesters formed a human chain to keep advancing police at bay away from other protesters near department headquarters. Protesters held their line, as if to keep police from breaching their ranks. As chants arose — “No justice, no peace!” — organizers handed out a Bail Project phone number for those who wanted to risk arrest.
By 8:45, tear gas was wafting and handcuffs were snapping onto wrists. Rubber bullets ricocheted off cars parked on Michigan Avenue.
Later, cuffs were snapped on a Detroit News reporter, who was detained and questioned by police after the crowds had fanned out.
Duggan, standing on a sidewalk as the protests seemed to die down, said he made sure the Police Department had the resources to quell any violence. “Their plan, their execution,” he said of the police response.
“We actually agree with the protesters,” Duggan said. “I’m still outraged (over Floyd’s death).”
Of the 84 people arrested Saturday, police said, three-quarters were from outside the city. The 21-year-old victim of a fatal shooting near Congress and Randolph late Friday night lived in Eastpointe.
In ’67, when 43 people died in Detroit, the spark was local, a police force seen as oppressive, opportunities not seen at all.
The less remembered riot of 1943, with 34 fatalities, was spawned by resentment and rumor as newly arrived blacks and southern whites competed for housing and wartime jobs. In a series of battles around Belle Isle and into the African American district of Paradise Valley, most of the 25 black casualties came at the hands of police.
George Floyd, the latest rallying cry, died Monday, pleading as his life ended that he couldn’t breathe. A few weeks earlier, video had surfaced of a Ahmaud Arbery, a jogger near Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia, shot after two men thought he was a burglar.
In an age of instantaneous communication, causes have become universal. Floyd’s and Arbery’s names were marked on posters Sunday as marchers chanted their way from Detroit police headquarters at Cass and Michigan avenues to the City County Building to the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and beyond:
“Say his name.”
This was not a moment during the 1984 Tigers World Series, when a teenager named Bubba Helms held up a team pennant in front of a burning police car and became a goofy national symbol. That was a civic embarrassment, but not a tragedy.
This was people of multiple races from multiple counties wanting to be heard.
Volunteers handed out water and packaged snacks. Fists punched the air and posters waved.
“I Am a Man,” one placard said simply. Another, with a four-letter directive to “(Blank) the Police,” partially blocked a peace sign and the Hindu greeting, “Namaste.”
Jessica Prozinski of Ann Arbor, a speaker at the rally, had her philosophy tattooed on her right forearm: “Once more into the fray.”
Many of the marchers were dressed in shorts, tank tops, even sandals. Others had read tactical advice and were ready for a potential confrontation, with boots, long sleeves and the homemade antidotes for tear gas-like spray bottles of Maalox and water.
A Wayne State University student who identified herself only as Kennedy was all in black, from shoes to hoodie to gas mask.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I want to go home to my family.”
Police in multiple cities have suggested that outside agitators have been responsible for most of the violence, including the shattering of windows that set of free-for-alls of looting.
In a six-minute video posted on social media Sunday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist amplified the claim.
Whitmer said certain protesters are “abusing this pain to further their own agenda.” She described them as individuals “who came into communities of color under the guise of support, but who instigated violence and vandalism.”
Tristan Taylor, a native Detroiter and an organizer of the local protests, said the deflection of blame is disingenuous, particularly by the Duggan administration.
“They rolled the red carpet out for those white people,” he said, “but now those in power worried about suburbanites coming to Detroit protesting police brutality.”
Sisters Stephanie Paris, 21, of South Lyon and Rebecca Paris, 20, of Milford, said they had seen marchers confront troublemakers set on doing damage Friday and Saturday.
The sisters returned Sunday for the 4 p.m. rally that preceded the 5:05 p.m. march that twisted past years of fury and frustration.
They were back, Stephanie said, “because we’re not done.”