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Protesters demand officer who plowed through crowd be fired

Detroit — Protesters on Monday night demanded the police officer who drove through a crowd of protesters a night earlier be fired and charged, and that the city's police chief step down, despite Chief James Craig saying the officer thought “they were being fired upon.”

During a press conference earlier Monday afternoon to discuss the incident that was captured on video, Craig called some of the protesters “agitators” and said they initiated violence. 

Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks concerning the violent protesting that occurred Sunday night, with police in-car video of the altercations between officers in their vehicles and 30 or so protesters, at a press conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters in Detroit, Michigan on June 29, 2020.

According to several accounts and video, the police SUV was initially escorting the protest Sunday night and moved into the crowd. As marchers crowded around the vehicle, the officer drove forward into the throng of people, knocking them to the ground. Some jumped on the hood as the officer continued to drive while others chased after them. 

Police said a rear back window was "busted out."

"What's in the officer's mind ... of course in their mind... they believe they could be shot," Craig said at Monday's press conference. "Because of that, they had to take forth evasive action."

But protesters who gathered Monday evening for another march were not satisfied.

"I am angry,” said Trendel Anderson, 23, who said he was close to being seriously injured when the officer accelerated through the crowd of demonstrators who had surrounded his patrol SUV late Sunday. “I want justice.”

More than 300 marchers gathered Monday at the Detroit Police Department’s Fourth Precinct on Fort Street in southwest Detroit to listen to accounts of marchers like Anderson who said they were almost run over. Organizers said the march was peaceful and protesters were trying to get wind down the protest when police tried to force them down a different route with their squad cars.

“We will not be intimidated,” said Gabriela Alcazar, an organizer with the coalition of groups that marched Sunday. “We will not accept more life lost to police violence.”

Craig confirmed an investigation is open on the officer as well as those who appeared to attack the vehicle. However, no immediate disciplinary actions will be taken against the officer because Craig said the "aggressors were targeting" police. 

The officer driving the SUV did not have the option to stay in place and wait for the crowd to leave because people were trying to enter the vehicle, Craig said. 

About 20 to 30 of the protesters were showing violent behavior, Craig said. He said there are reports several were armed with hammers and the back window of the police vehicle was busted out with a skateboard. 

"If it were serious enough where I thought the officer's actions were improper, I would have made another type of decision ... though it was a bad situation, it could have been a lot worse," Craig said. 

The protest started out with about 350 people in Southwest Detroit calling for immigrant rights and an end to police brutality coming together. However, around 9:30 p.m., a police SUV tried to re-direct the march toward Dix Road and away from Vernor Highway, to avoid high amounts of traffic. 

Craig said the protesters did not want to follow the direction of the police, and 20 to 30 of them began surrounding the SUV. 

The officer slowly tried moving the vehicle in an effort to disperse the crowd around them. When the officer heard the shattering of the rear window, the officer drove off going 25 miles per hour, Craig said. The video shows people on the hood of the SUV and falling to the ground as the officer drove off. 

No one was seriously injured, Craig said.

On Monday, the non-profit organization, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), called for the resignation of Craig and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

"This shows a police force that feels too emboldened to put innocent lives at risk. This incident illustrates why there is a national call to defund the police, who do more harm than good in Black and Brown communities," Detroit Will Breathe said in a statement. 

A video was shown at the press conference of another police SUV being rushed as loud banging can be heard as protesters banged on a second police vehicle. 

Craig said a woman blocked the second police vehicle with her motorized bike, and at one point, ran into the driver’s side of the SUV. 

The incident was reminiscent of the first week of protests in Detroit in late May when police shot demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas. 

Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López called for the police department to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident.

The councilwoman said she saw the video of the incident Monday morning and was “completely appalled.” Castañeda-López said her office has drafted a memorandum seeking a formal review of the encounter that will be referred to a subcommittee during the council’s formal session Tuesday. 

“If you see something like this happen, it’s egregious. It’s completely inappropriate,” she said. “Our right and our responsibility as council is to investigate, to call the departments to the table, to hold a public conversation so that there’s transparency and accountability. Our track record is to always call out injustice when we see it.”

Castañeda-López said she also was “taken aback” by Craig’s tone Monday during a morning subcommittee session “in describing folks who were participating in the rally.” 

“I found his language condescending and offensive to all the people out there to fight for systemic change and to fight for racial justice,” said Castañeda-López of the chief’s assertion that some individuals were “agitators.” 

Castañeda-López said from the footage and information she’s seen, nothing from the march from its beginning to that moment suggested anything other than a peaceful march. 

“When people are out rallying and marching, it’s not because they hate individual officers,” she said. “I work super closely with the Fourth Precinct and respect them and appreciate the work that they do and have a really good relationship with our neighborhood police officers. However, this doesn’t justify the type of activity.”

Mayor Mike Duggan, during a morning appearance on the WDET-FM (101.9), said the police in Detroit have supported the right to free speech and most protests taking place in recent weeks have been peaceful.

The mayor, when asked if the actions of the police officers were justified, said when faced with a situation of people banging and climbing on the police car, “what are you supposed to do as an officer?”

“That’s something that Chief Craig is going to evaluate,” Duggan said. “These are questions to ask Chief Craig when he has the full report.”

The mayor’s office Monday afternoon declined further comment on his behalf, pending the outcome of the police investigation.