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'This nightmare must end,' protesters say of black deaths by police

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — No one can say how many days of marching in Detroit it will take to stop hundreds of protesters from marching through the city. 

It is not a timed event, they say.

“It’s a fight for human rights,” said Stefán Roche, who has marched in the city for the past 17 days.

“This movement has taught me what I need to stand up for in my life and I know now that the roots of the problem go deeper into this government system than we want to believe,” said Roche, 20, of Highland Park. 

More than 300 people joined the 17th day of protests in Detroit on Sunday, many saying they intended to return every day until there is significant change in the county's policing system. 

Demonstrators march down Woodward in Detroit on Sunday, the 17th day of protesting racism, police brutality and the death of George Floyd.

Speakers in the local movement urged the need for continued participation, saying "creating change can be exhausting" but they "must persevere." The marches began following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer held his knee to neck of Floyd, who was black, during his arrest. Protesters pointed to the death Friday in Atlanta of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old African American father who was fatally shot by a white officer, which rekindled fiery protests over a black man's death by police.

David Douglass, 32, led a pledge at Detroit Police headquarters Sunday to keep protesting before the march began and declared a new civil rights movement, one set apart from political party affiliation. 

“This nightmare must end,” said Douglass of Detroit. “Following Trump’s proposition, and our other leaders' actions, we must stay independent of the Democratic Party. 

“Martin Luther King Jr. never affiliated with a party. He knew the movement would go in the direction it needed to as long as that movement stayed in the street,” he said. “This is a new civil rights movement.”

Before taking to the streets, organizers debated whether to take the marches into southwest Detroit communities to protest Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies targeting undocumented immigrants. The move comes as President Donald Trump moved to restrict legal immigration, raising the bar for asylum seekers to enter the country.

The police-escorted protest broke off into two marches, some heading downtown and another to Clark Park and through southwest Detroit.

A demonstrator celebrates after wrapping a bag over the head of a statue of Alexander Macomb on Washington Boulevard. during a march through downtown Detroit, June 14, 2020 to protest racism, police brutality, and the death of George Floyd.

Along the way downtown, the march came to a halt when leaders pointed out a statue of Alexander Macomb, born in Detroit in 1782 to a wealthy family who owned slaves, and who was the so-called "hero of Plattsburg" in the War of 1812, at Michigan Avenue and Washington Boulevard.

Two protesters climbed the statue, attaching stickers calling for the removal of Trump and Pence before placing a trash bag around the statue's head and a noose around its neck. Beneath the statue, they attached a sticker of a one-star Google review of the Detroit ICE offices.

The review said: "I hate this place. They took a perfect dad away for no (apparent) reason. I miss my dad so much. My dad is not a criminal mind. I was just looking for his passport. I'm only picking one star."

The event was captured five minutes into The Detroit News' Facebook Live.

Detroit police did not immediately respond to questions about whether protesters responsible for defacing a statue could be ticketed.

Skateboarders, bike riders, people on ATV's and families joined the protest, which prevented buses and cars from passing downtown.

No police department change will suffice, Roche said, when the system itself is broken.

"The structure itself is part of the problem," he said. "... It's not built off of human rights. It's traumatic, and all of us deserve to project our voice. We all knew this was bound to happen."

On Saturday, protesters said they planned to put Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Police Department on trial June 20 over actions by officers during the first days of protests two weeks ago in the city.

Detroit Will Breathe, an organization formed from the outrage over Floyd's death, will hold a public tribunal 4 p.m. that day at a location to be determined, featuring protesters who were arrested, ticketed or "brutalized" by police.

"There's this narrative that there were these outside agitators who came in, and the police had to respond accordingly to maintain the peace," said Tristan Taylor, whose group Detroit Will Breathe, returned to the march Saturday after a two-day hiatus to plan strategies for moving forward. "We know that's not true."

Community activist Triston Taylor uses a microphone to lead demonstrators on a march through downtown Detroit, June 14, 2020 to protest racism, police brutality, and the death of George Floyd.

Taylor, one of the lead organizers of Detroit's anti-police brutality protests, recommended Sunday that the marches start moving throughout the city including Brightmoor and southwest Detroit.

"In the next couple of days, we'll be coming out with new proposals of starting marches deeper in the communities and heading west," Taylor said.

"We have to reject this notion that somehow we endanger people by bringing the movement into the communities, that's just not true. It's the opposite."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_