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With no arrests in 2 days, cooler heads prevail at Detroit protests

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — On Thursday, for the second straight night of the seven straight nights protesters have taken to the streets of Detroit, a redress of grievances that on past night had been marred by violence, the destruction of police cars, the deploying of tear gas, and mass arrests, instead in peace.

Protesters put out a 23-point list of demands Thursday. Though the action began and ended at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters downtown, and extended beyond the city's temporary 8 p.m. curfew, the day ended without enforcement action yet again, as it had Wednesday.

More:March ends peacefully, past curfew in Detroit

The second half of Thursday was bookended by protests traveling on Woodward Avenue.

In Highland Park, hundreds gathered outside of city hall in a unity march between clergy, politicians, police, and the people all three groups serve.

More:Whitmer speaks at Highland Park march: 'We must move forward together'

Among the attendees in the political world were Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Highland Park Mayor Hubert Yopp, and Detroit City Council president Brenda Jones.

Jones said it was important to offer a protest of a different character on Thursday, one marked by unity.

“Unfortunately, we have seen protests that have not been peaceful protests,”  said Jones, the council president. “Most of those people were not from the city of Detroit. So I say to them: If you do not want a peaceful protest. Go back to your own backyard and protest, because here we are protesting peacefully.”

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones prays before the start of the rally in Highland Park in honor of George Floyd, a man who died last week while being arrested by Minneapolis police, Thursday, June 4, 2020.

Rev. Charles Ellis III, pastor of Greater Grace Temple on West Seven Mile, sounded a similar note, about the need to distinguish the 11 a.m. gathering, which was replicated by clergy and politicos and law enforcement in other Michigan cities, from the more violent night-time protests.

"It was a black church that created the nonviolent peaceful protests, at least in America," Ellis said. "I don't know when we turned into thugs and rioters and looters, and all that. We're the ones who showed the world."

 That crowd marched the southside of Woodward into Midtown Detroit, at Wayne State.

The nighttime crowd took Woodward north, starting downtown. 

Stefan Perez, 16, has been a staple at the protests. 

He said "Detroit's on the map" for being able to have largely non-violent protests, in contrast to other cities.

Perez is wary that some join the action for the wrong reasons.

“If you’re protesting just to come and be in front of the camera, if you’re protesting just to come and start a problem in the city, then don’t come," Perez said. "But if you’re coming to actually march and fight and stand for something, do that."

Protestors on the 7th night of demonstrations march down Woodward Avenue in Detroit, Michigan on June 4, 2020.

Activist Meeko Williams, 35, helped organize together the first protest last Friday, outside of public safety headquarters. Though there had been violence in earlier nights, which he blames on "infiltrators, Trumpers, libertarians" intent on causing trouble, he has problems with the 8 p.m. curfew.

"There is no way there should have been a curfew implemented on black Detroiters," said Williams of Detroit. "That is unfair. I don't see one in Warren; I don't see see anywhere where they have a curfew."

Tuesday's arrest total, 127, was the highest yet. The night before, 40 people were cited for violating the curfew. On Wednesday and Thursday, no one was arrested, though both marches went beyond curfew.

"They should've been doing that in the first place," Williams said, referring to police allowing people to speak out regardless of the time of day, so long as they are peaceful. 

Mary Sheffield, president pro-tem of Detroit City Council, said Friday that when she saw tear gas deployed and mass arrests being made on Tuesday, she left home and went to the scene herself.

"I saw that there seemed to be a situation where individuals were being arrested who were peacefully protesting," Sheffield said. "I had a real problem with that." 

On Monday, Sheffield led an anti-police brutality rally of her own. 

More:Mary Sheffield, Trick Trick, Royce Da 5'9 urge peaceful protests in Detroit

Backing up Sheffield on vocals were Detroit-based rappers Royce Da 5'9 and Trick Trick. Both expressed concern that the weekend's protests had gone off-script, manipulated by people with ulterior motives.

"While we're marching, we need to realize that we are representative of Detroit," said Royce Da 5'9. "We got a lot of provocateurs and anarchistic groups coming in with the wrong agenda."

 Trick Trick announced a "no fly zone" policy to be directed toward anyone coming to riot in Detroit from outside the city.

"You can't cross my lines with your bull," said Trick Trick. "To all those folks coming across Eight Mile, coming across county lines to be disruptive in my city ... I will roll up on you. I am patrolling these streets daily." 

"It could have been worse," Sheffield said of the early days of the protesting. "The protesters who were out, who were truly Detroiters, we decided that we're not having it. We are not going to tear the city down."

"From the chief, to the council, to the community organizations, to the Detroiters who were out there in the streets, all of us said 'we are not having this,'" Sheffield said.

Sheffield credited the police for a more laid-back approach, too.

"I think there was a tone from the police department that, 'you can rally, you can protest, so long as you don't do it in a disrespectful manner,'" Sheffield said. "There is a sense of collaboration when DPD is allowing people to express their concerns."

Detroit Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

jdickson@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @downi75