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On 11th day of marches, Detroit protesters pledge to 'keep pushing for change'

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Protesters gathered on the streets of Detroit again Monday, walking with fellow demonstrators for the 11th day of marches against police brutality and injustice.

For hours, hundreds walked along Woodward passing landmarks; others cycled or were on skateboards, shouting familiar chants: "Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go" or clapping in unison and chanting "Black Lives Matter."

The march continued long after sunset and into the New Center area. The crowd reached the former site of the Algiers Motel and Manor on Woodward, where three black teens were found dead in July 26, 1967, a searing event during five days of violence sparked by a raid of a blind pig at nearby 12th Street and Clairmount. Three white police officers accused in their killings were acquitted.

Protesters were joined by activists who fought for social justice in the 1960s and 1970s.

"They gave us the encouragement that we needed to make sure we were on the right side of history and we were going to continue this fight," said Nakia Wallace, one of the protest organizers.

Again, youth turned out, some of them elementary-age children wearing face masks or bandanas to follow COVID-19 health recommendations. Signs filled the street, declaring that "Black Lives Matter," "Silence is Violence" and "Trump Must Resign or Be Removed Now!"

Some carried signs calling for defunding police departments, a national movement that has sprung up in the past week as one of protesters' demands for radical change.

Others, like Gregory H. Groves, showed his support by raising his fist as he watched protesters pass by.

The nearly two weeks of protest is showing signs of action. Before the 12th march on Tuesday, leaders plan to meet privately with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and police Chief James Craig and present a list of demands for change in the city, said Wallace.

That list was expected to cover police and community relations as well as issues such as water shutoffs and a city office helping disabled residents, she said.

"We’re not going to accept any offers or agree to anything," said Wallace, whose activists' group, Detroit Will Breathe, has been leading the marches. "We’re going to take it back to the crowd to be discussed publicly." 

People display signs during a protest march along Lafayette Boulevard in Detroit on Monday, June 8, 2020.

Some demonstrators vowed to continue turning out daily until policies are revised for police departments in Metro Detroit.

“Now, more than ever, we have to keep going,” said Savannah Greenhill, a 24-year-old from Ypsilanti who marched for more than a mile.

Alainna Sepulveda, a health care worker who traveled from Toledo for the event, agreed.

"We need to keep pushing for change and applying the pressure," she said. "This is important. Change has to happen."

Also in the throng after several days of demonstrating was Martin Tilmon of Farmington Hills. He held a handmade sign highlighting George Floyd, the African-American Minnesota man whose death during a police encounter last month sparked protests nationwide.

The 22-year-old viewed his participation as a watershed moment.

"This is me helping being a part of the movement that makes history," he said while marching.

Tilmon noted the large, diverse crowd of fellow demonstrators, flanked by city police cars while passing downtown destinations including the Little Caesars Arena and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall, as a sign the enthusiasm for change isn't waning.

"These are my brothers and sisters," he said. "That's what makes it that more powerful."

Activists say they have already had impact.

Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer seen pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes even after Floyd stopped moving, has been fired and charged in connection with the death. So have three other officers involved in the arrest.

The Detroit protest on Monday came after Minneapolis City Council’s 12 members vowed to end policing as that city currently knows it and as Democrats proposed a sweeping overhaul of police oversight and procedures, the Associated Press reported.

"It gives me tremendous hope," Tilmon said of the developments. "This movement is stronger than anything I've ever seen in my life."

Becky Woodruff, who drove more than two hours from the Thumb region to march with her granddaughters in Detroit, called for the protests to continue "to stop the brutality."

"I hope the crowds get larger," she said, carrying a cardboard sign and wearing jeans emblazoned with a Malcolm X quote: "That's Not a Chip on My Shoulder. That's Your Foot on My Neck." 

"We need each and every one of us," Woodruff said.

Gregory H. Groves raises his fist in unity as he watches protesters march along Woodward Avenue on Monday, June 8, 2020.

Public defenders and other defense attorneys joined the protests earlier Monday in a march downtown to press for changes in the criminal justice system.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday said the city is discontinuing a controversial curfew put in place last week to stem the potential for violence, saying that the actions of some agitators during early demonstrations in the city have waned.