Detroit police make arrests after standoff with protesters
Detroit — Demonstrators protested Tuesday against police brutality and social injustice in America for the fifth night, as peaceful marching ended with skirmishes with police after some refused to go home after curfew.
As the 8 p.m. Detroit curfew began, the group already had split into two camps: one headed back to the starting point downtown; another forged ahead, insisting they were free to walk the streets of their city when they choose. Cops warned over megaphone they would make arrests, saying it had been "declared an illegal assembly."
By 8:30 p.m., riot police were present. An armored vehicle was stationed near Connor. Police began arresting protesters in a parking lot of a Family Dollar store shortly after, pushing dozens of marchers to the ground and using zip ties to tie their hands behind their backs.
"We advised they would be arrested. Some complied, some didn't. Some offered some resistance, and so they were taken into custody," police chief James Craig said. "... We don't want to arrest, but if we have to, we will."
Craig said warnings were issued first about 7:50 p.m., about an hour before police moved in, Craig said.
“I would have preferred that this not happen," he said after the arrests. "Clearly I would have liked to reported to you that it was a peaceful protest, there was compliance, but we have a curfew in effect.”
The mayhem swept up media, too. The police also attempted to detain more than one member of the press, who are exempt from the curfew. A Detroit News reporter who had a press credential in her hand was rushed by an officer who started to tie her hands before her back.
Darcie Moran, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, said she was placed on the ground and an officer began zip-tying her hands, even as she repeatedly said she was media, had two press badges on her — one around her neck and one taped to her back. She was released when her colleagues identified her as a member of the press covering the protest.
At least two other reporters said they, too, were physically handled by police officers, even as they identified themselves as journalists.
The confrontation was short-lived. Craig said the protesters would be taken to the city's detention center and many would be allowed to leave.
Shortly before 10 p.m., police remained on the scene and onlookers had gathered in the parking lot where part of the incident unfolded.
Just before the police entered the crowd to make arrests, cries of “Hands up, don’t shoot!” rang along Gratiot. Above, a helicopter circled and police cars remained ahead of the march, as they had throughout the day.
The crowd cheered and lifted their fists into the air as cars honked their horns, seemingly in solidarity.
Along sidewalks, in yards and parking lots, onlookers observed and documented the moment.
Earlier, marchers walked against a backdrop of iconic city images, past gas stations, apartment buildings, and liquor stores and other shops hit by the pandemic. One sign on the door of a print shop signaled support: Black Lives Matter. Police cars escorted the peaceful crowd.
Others watched as marchers raised their voices and lifted signs. Chants that have echoed throughout the United States during the protests were heard: "Hands up, don't shoot," "Black lives matter" and "Say their name."
Tuesday's march was more than about marching. It was about symbolism and taking a stand, whether from the streets or the sidelines, observers said.
Dionna Crawford watched the march from Mack Avenue near East Grand Boulevard with her 3-year-old son, Aidan. "I feel it's important as a young black man that he sees what's going on even though he might not remember," the Detroiter said.
"These are things I instill in him every day about being a black man in America."
Dennis Pearson, who stood on the sidewalk on Gratiot with his fist in the air and watched as marchers walked past, said he was in Detroit when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched on Woodward in 1963. He's proud, he said, to see young people taking up the cause of racial justice.
"To see 21st century Americans rising up like this, I'm proud of Detroit," said Pearson, 61.
He lived through 1967 in the city and said he thinks Detroiters want to avoid the violence and destruction that accompanied that moment in Detroit's history, he said.
So far, they have.
Mayor Mike Duggan applauded the peaceful, 10-mile march in the city's streets the night before as proof "we can do this without tearing down our city."
"We had a remarkable march to end systemic racism in our criminal justice system and we did it with no violence," Duggan said during a news briefing Tuesday alongside Detroit's police chief.
Duggan set an 8 p.m. curfew Monday that remains in effect but marchers were pushing against that deadline. The group split into two segments: the ones who would head back to honor the curfew, and another, determined to continue.
"Whose streets?" said the crowd determined to forge ahead at 7:35 p.m. "Our streets!" came the response. Organizers urged the group to stay shoulder to shoulder.
Several hundred people began the walk Tuesday through the city at about 4 p.m. near police headquarters near Michigan and Third.
Using megaphones, organizers said the movement is about more than police brutality. They touched on housing injustice, calling on police to stop participating in evictions. They demanded the release of nonviolent offenders from jails. They called attention to lack of access to clean drinking water in some neighborhoods.
“We haven’t had anything like this in Detroit in a long time, and it’s about time,” said Nicole Conaway, an organizer with BAMN.
Conaway, a local teacher, expressed her pride in young people like demonstrator Stefan Perez, 16, who has emerged as a leader when he helped keep the Monday protest calm. “But I gotta say, I need more than just the young people in this city to go home safe every night. I need more. I need more justice.”
She called for justice for George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day in the custody of Minneapolis police. A white police officer, who was filmed kneeling for eight minutes on the neck of Floyd, who was black, has been arrested and charged in his death.
Ashlynn Terry, 23, said she was born and raised in the city, joined the protests for the first time Tuesday.
“Justice for my people,” said Terry, who is black, explaining why.
She said she attended protests in the suburbs in the last few days, something she felt was important because many black Detroiters moved to those communities over the years.
She said she will keep marching in demonstrations because, she said, it’s her duty.
“Black lives matter,” she said as she moved with the crowd along Mack on the city’s east side.
Civil rights group By Any Means Necessary organizer Kate Stenvig said the demonstrations need to keep going in Detroit’s neighborhoods, and pushed back on characterizations by city leaders of demonstrators as outside agitators.
“In reality, those politicians who are calling for peaceful demonstrations ... what they actually want is no demonstrations at all. Because they’re afraid,” Stenvig said.
Demonstrators also called for the movement to pay attention to LGBTQ victims of police brutality. They walked along Michigan Avenue chanting the name of Breonna Taylor, a black woman killed by police in Louisville, Kentucky.
Ben Agosta, 25, came from Berkley to protest because he said he “deeply” regretted not taking part in protests in the past.
“I feel like we have to support our black brothers and sisters out here,” said Agosta, who is white.
The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, a longtime civil rights activist in Detroit, weighed in Tuesday on the demonstrations. Sheffield grew up in the anti-war movement and with a father who knew Martin Luther King Jr.
It was a time, he said, of “great awakening and reforms.” The current national movement for justice has a similar feel, he said.
“This, to me, feels like it may be another awakening,” he told The News. “A major shift. A social and topographical transformation.”
Sheffield, father of Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield, noted demonstrations have been consistent and participants have been broad and diverse.
“Normally, these things last a day and they are done. That doesn’t seem to be the case here,” he said.
In Detroit, unlike some other cities in Michigan and nationally, hasn’t had protesters resort to looting and violence. He credits that to the message being conveyed by community activists and leaders as well as the police department’s mentality.
“I grew up under stress. I grew up when white officers would beat you half to death and send you home,” said Sheffield, 65. “A lot of that has changed. There’s a recognition that there is an outlet for people who have been abused. There is a voice that you can raise and be heard.”
Duggan talked Tuesday about the 10-mile march in the city's streets the night before as proof "we can do this without tearing down our city."
"We had a remarkable march to end systemic racism in our criminal justice system and we did it with no violence," Duggan said during a news briefing alongside Detroit's police chief.
Staff Writer Christine Ferretti contributed.