Protesters end Day 13 of march just as storm hits Detroit

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hot and humid weather that threatened thunderstorms made for a lighter but no less passionate turnout for Day 13 of the Detroit protests against police brutality.

Melvin Sylvester of Detroit was one of the first dozen demonstrators at Third and Michigan Wednesday afternoon. He said he’d like to see funds spent on the Detroit Police Department spent instead on education and homelessness. 

‪As far as the heat and severe weather that was expected, “my ancestors endured a whole lot more, so that’s just an encouragement for me to come down here.” 

Organizer Tristan Taylor speaks near Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, as protesters meet before marching against police brutality in Detroit on Wednesday, June 10, 2020.

A few hundred protesters, notably fewer than in recent days, launched the march just after 4:40 p.m.  Chants of “Whose streets, our streets” and “Hey hey ho ho, these racist cops have got to go” soon followed.

After a few rain drops as the procession marched along Woodward toward Jefferson, the sun was back out as the group moved toward Michigan Avenue. By 5:15 p.m.,  the weather cleared to make way for the marchers. 

Nakia Wallace of Detroit Will Breathe addressed the growing crowd just after 4 p.m., saying the march would start earlier and be shorter than usual because of the weather. She highlighted a few triumphs that the movement had this week, including the end of curfews and the recent procession to the Algiers Hotel. 

Wednesday's march lasted about 35 minutes and ended just before downtown was briefly hit with rain and hail. 

"I've always been short, but I've always been mighty," Wallace said. "Even though our numbers today were shorter ... we were mighty." 

She and fellow organizer Tristan Taylor told the crowd that while they encourage others to march at 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, as protesters have been daily for 13 days, the Detroit Will Breathe organizers will not be marching and will return at 4 p.m. Saturday. 

"People will be out here tomorrow at 4 o'clock as they should be, obviously we support that," she said. "Detroit Will Breathe will not be here tomorrow. We're going to take some time to write up some reports, because we promised y'all reports. We're going to take some time and get a little bit better organized."

Also on the mic Wednesday was Jah-T, who addressed Tuesday's disagreements among activists

“We don’t want people to think their voices are not heard because that’s the reason we’re all here ... because people are not being heard,” said Jah-T.

Jah-T of Detroit speaks near Detroit Public Safety Headquarters as protesters meet before marching against police brutality in Detroit on June 10, 2020.

“The important thing is to stand firm and say “Black Lives Matter” because they do. We should all be proud that we are here.”

Later in the march, Jah-T, 24, talked about the 20 or so demands the protesters have, including ending of Project Greenlight. He called the video surveillance program one that is “inaccurate and disproportionately targets black people.” 

“That has to go,” said the Detroiter. “It is based on systematic racism. It definitely is a pillar of how the police’s systemic racism is still alive and well.” 

He said he’s heard a narrative growing up in Detroit that residents restored the police force from one of the “worst, racist police forces in the entire country, let alone in this area.” 

“We kind of look at our police force through rose-tinted glasses, but through those rose-tinted glasses, we don’t see that the policies and structure of our Police Department are still very much racist.” 

Jordan Weber of Warren would like to see police funding instead go schools and mental health. She also brought up Project Greenlight, which launched in 2016. 

“Even if you do catch someone who is committing a crime, put them in jail, then what? They just sit in jail or prison, and when they get out they don’t have any resources,” she said. “So another thing is to introduce more rehabilitation services in prison and in school, and don’t just be so quick to throw them in a cage. People can be rehabilitated. It’s not as hard as they think it is, but it’s not profitable, which is why there’s so much struggle to make it happen.”

The protest comes as Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday she supported the “spirit” of efforts to defund the police in the wake of George Floyd’s death last month at the hands of Minneapolis police. Whitmer's office later clarified she is not supporting the elimination of funding for law enforcement.

The conversation surrounding the “defund the police” movement is really about reprioritizing resources, the Democratic governor told The Root in a Tuesday interview broadcast on Instagram. 

“The spirit as you just articulated is really just about reprioritizing and rebuilding communities, not just policing,” Whitmer said. 

State budgets are overwhelmingly focused on law enforcement and criminal justice, the governor told the news website dedicated to issues in the black community, but they should be focused on education, health care, skills training, public transit and “leveling the playing field,” she said.

Twitter: @melodybaetens