Protesters launch 'victory march' in Detroit as city eases up on curfew
Detroit — Led in part by a 37-year-old activist fresh from a night in jail, the city witnessed a sixth night of marches to protest police brutality, this night with no arrests or mayhem.
One of the organizers of the marches, Detroiter Tristan Taylor, made clear from the start of the Wednesday that, having spent a night in detention allegedly for resisting police and ignoring orders, he was unequivocal about marching past another curfew.
He relayed his intentions to the crowd. They understood.
"It's great to be free today," he said. "I'm ready to march."
Taylor said just before 9 p.m. the city wouldn’t enforce the temporary curfew. Marchers declared victory.
Taylor stopped the group, which was headed east on Jefferson Avenue, just short of Belle Isle, saying that they would head back in a “victory march” after police Chief James Craig told him “there is no curfew.”
“(Craig) said that he wasn’t going to move in on us … not so long as things were kept peaceful,” he said. “Things were kept peaceful. We’re going to have a celebration march back.”
Detroit police could not immediately verify whether the curfew had been lifted.
Another group, which split from Taylor’s early in the protest, decided to abide by the curfew and marched into southwest Detroit and back by the deadline for being off the streets.
Several protesters who stuck by Taylor during the march were irate over his arrest Tuesday night. They said they were strong followers of Taylor, whom they described as genuine and charismatic.
“He believes in the cause,” said Connie Bernstein, 33, of Novi. “That was terrible (about the arrest).
Demonstrator Diane Gould said she wasn’t going anywhere, either, Wednesday night.
“I’m gonna be locked up if I have to,” she said.
Gould, 23, of Troy said she had never been arrested before.
“Always a first time,” she said.
Detroit police Chief James Craig rode beside the protesters. He declined to comment and only waved when asked how long he would allow the marchers to continue past curfew. He said he supported the protesters and called Wednesday a special day because of the arrests of the four Minnesota officers.
The protests have been galvanized by the death of George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day during an arrest by Minneapolis police. A white police officer, who was filmed kneeling for more than eight minutes on the neck of Floyd, who was black, has been arrested and charged in his death.
On Wednesday, prosecutors filed tougher charges of second-degree murder against Derek Chauvin, who was caught on video pressing his knee to Floyd's neck. The three other officers at the scene were charged for the first time with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, the Associated Press reported. All four have been fired.
Earlier, a portion of the 1,000 protesters who gathered near Detroit police headquarters on Wednesday split and moved in different directions through the streets to demonstrate for the sixth night.
Taylor said he was released from jail about 2 p.m. Wednesday, went to his lawyer's office and return for another day of protesting. He said he didn't know what took so long to be released from police detention.
"It showed disrespect to me, Detroit and the people of Detroit," he said.
About 700 demonstrators had congregated briefly at City Hall before moving on to the Joe Louis fist at 6:50 p.m. Pedestrians were joined by cyclists and skateboarders as the crowd chanted "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now."
Just before 7 p.m., police with shields and zip tie cuffs on their belts were staging positions on the grass in front of safety headquarters, a signal that police were prepared for violations of the city's curfew.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the city continues to see marches with 65% to 70% of people from out of town.
“We know that gets really dangerous after dark as we learned on Friday and Saturday, but a combination of the pride of Detroiters and the professionalism of the Detroit Police Department has kept us safe so far,” Duggan he said. “We’ll see how tonight goes.”
In response to the group outside the mayor’s mansion, Duggan said, “this is America” and “they are entitled to protest.”
“I knew the house protest was coming,” he said, noting a similar demonstration outside the house of Chicago’s mayor. “I respect their right to do it.”
He defended the curfew saying other cities that have them did it after the fact.
“I made a decision to take the criticism to protect this city,” he added
Duggan said 28 other states have called in the National Guard but Detroit hasn’t.
Duggan said the cost associated with protecting the city is “going to be expensive” but it’ll be “a lot less expensive than cleaning up a city full of fires and broken windows and looted buildings.”
Nobody from the Police Department wants to be making these arrests.
“But I’m afraid if we don’t draw the line in the daylight I’m afraid we’re going to get up in the morning and say we lost the city,” he said.
Duggan said he’s willing to sit down with leaders of the protests and discuss their demands.
After the protesters split, a couple hundred peaceful protesters remained at the corner of Michigan and Third next to the public safety headquarters building Wednesday evening, taking turns speaking about the need for change and chanting “black lives matter.”
Earlier, pizza, baskets full of snacks and bottled water were passed around.
Around 6 p.m. they headed toward southwest Detroit with a plan to return before the city’s 8 p.m. curfew, said Stefan Perez, an organizer of the event.
The group continued chants as they headed west down Michigan Avenue. Some rode bicycles while others carried signs. Police cars trailed behind the group to control traffic as they approached Corktown.
Perez said he supports Taylor and the push for justice but not Taylor’s Wednesday night goal of violating the city’s rules.
“I agree with their intentions. I don’t agree with the repercussions that people have to deal with if they are hurt," Perez said. "We have to take accountability for our actions. My action is I am going to get them here, I’m going to get them home.”
After curfew, he said, “there’s no guarantee.” Violating that, he said, isn’t going to cause change.
“This is not the time,” he said.
For Laura Brandon, it was the first night joining protesters.
The Detroiter, 31, who grew up in a rural area near Flint, said she moved here seven years ago. She said there wasn’t enough diversity there.
“It makes me sad. It makes me cry. I wish I could do more,” she said. “I want to help bring change around me.”
Jenna Michlin of Ferndale rejoined the demonstration after being out Tuesday. She was part of the group that split off to return back, not toward Eastpointe, a city that does not have a curfew.
She said the police have been aggressive with protesters and said tear gas and rubber bullets deployed when she was out on Sunday were “unprovoked.”
“We continue to come out to show support for black and brown people in our community,” she said. “We will not be intimidated by the police. They can send their choppers and their snipers ... we are peaceful protesters. We have no other goal than to be peaceful.”
She’s fighting for police reforms and to address systemic racism, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“Racism is the world virus,” she said.
Drivers honked in support as the group passed Onassis Coney Island and the former Detroit Tiger’s stadium.
The protesters began gathering just hours after Detroit police Chief James Craig held a news briefing with command staff and community leaders, recapping events from Tuesday's protests and detentions. A demonstration also was expected outside the Manoogian Mansion, where Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan resides.
The group Tuesday marched from Michigan and Third to the city's east side and were warned four times that they'd violated the city's 8 p.m. curfew before officers began making arrests.
Craig said a supervisor deployed a small canister of tear gas after he was pulled into the crowd. Overall, 127 people were arrested. Six were from out of the state and 37 were Detroit residents. The rest were from Metro Detroit, Craig said.
Craig said his department doesn't want to make arrests but the goal is to reduce the likelihood of violence in the city.
"The neighborhood has spoken," he said Wednesday. "They don't want it here."