$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

Police chief says officers being faced with 'deadly weapons' on front lines of Detroit protests

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — Police Chief James Craig held up railroad spikes and a package of fireworks used as ammunition against his officers at a Sunday protest as he detailed efforts to stem late-night violence that evolved during the event.

"As you can see, the size of this, it can create a lot of damage," Craig said during a Monday news briefing. "It's a deadly weapon if used in a certain way."

Detroit police chief James Craig holds up a railroad spike during a press conference June 1, 2020, that he claimed was hidden in a box of food to be used as a weapon against the police during protests in the city Sunday evening.

Detroit police, Craig said, are being spit upon and struck with rocks, bricks and carts loaded with boulders and other "sizable weapons" as part of efforts to incite violence from a small group infiltrating larger, peaceful gatherings. 

The department made 110 arrests Sunday by the close of the third straight night of massive protests downtown that culminated with officers deploying pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse crowds on the first night after city officials imposed an 8 p.m. curfew in an attempt to keep order. 

Craig said one officer is still out of work recovering after being struck by a boulder on Friday. Another officer's shoulder was injured by projectiles and a third has a knee injury that will require surgery.

One individual, he said, was arrested Sunday night after tossing a firework into a scout car.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan joined with Craig to reiterate the violent acts carried out during the last several days have been perpetrated mainly by individuals who are not Detroiters. Nearly 80% of those causing trouble Sunday weren't residents, he said.

"We were tracking what they were doing. We knew they were coming and we were ready for the confrontation at police headquarters," the mayor said.

Duggan added Detroiters have been standing up against the violence, saying "your'e not going to tear us down."

Duggan said Monday that the curfew will remain in place for now, but he has amended it to allow residents to visit commercial businesses for the purchase of goods or services.

Other permitted activities include travel to and from home and work or for an emergency.

The protests in Detroit are part of a national movement to take a stand against police brutality in the wake of the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was black, died after a white officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes. Some cities across the country and in Michigan, including Grand Rapids and Lansing, have seen fires, looting or violence. 

On Sunday, more than 400 people marched through Detroit's downtown. Police ultimately resorted to tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Craig said officers gave the crowd multiple warnings and exercised "extreme patience" before ultimately deploying gas about 55 minutes after the curfew elapsed. 

Duggan stressed Monday that in Detroit "before we turn to the National Guard, we turn to each other." He said the city's leaders have done well so far and will "continue to fight back" with "love and support."

Multiple Detroit journalists reported on Saturday and Sunday evenings that they were targeted with pepper spray or shoved by officers as they worked to document tense standoffs between police and resistant protesters. An investigative reporter from The Detroit News was briefly handcuffed late Sunday as she filmed an arrest at Grand Circus Park.

Duggan said Monday that he admires the work of journalists and has apologized to the publishers of both The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press over the incidents reported this weekend.

He noted the type of badge worn by reporters for access into press conferences isn't the kind a police officer in riot gear would have the time to carefully examine. The city is working with news outlets on an identification system that will help keep them safe, he said.

Demonstrators march down Fort Street in Detroit Sunday in protest against police brutality while chanting Black Lives Matter slogans on Sunday afternoon, May 31, 2020. (John T. Greilick, The Detroit News)

Law enforcement has been gathering intelligence on people who have come to the city to stir up violence, including two that came in from out of the state, Duggan and Craig have noted. 

The mayor said Sunday that about 65% of people arrested during the initial protest Friday were from outside the city. On Saturday, about 75% weren't Detroit residents.

Pastors and activists, including the Rev. Wendell Anthony of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, have denounced the violence among protesters, saying it counters the message that peaceful demonstrators have attempted to convey.

On Monday, Anthony said those angered by Floyd's death need to attack the root cause of the problem. 

"It's not enough for us to have a moment in time ... if we don't deal with the ramifications of what creates it in the first place," Anthony said. "This is not going to be the last time we see this madness."