Protesters in Detroit create 'cop-free' zone near Belle Isle

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Dozens of demonstrators blocked East Grand Boulevard at Jefferson Avenue for about an hour on Thursday and created a "cop-free" zone for recreation activities as they called for defunding of police departments and investment in Black communities.

More than 30 demonstrators marched along one block on East Grand Boulevard to Jefferson to the entry to Belle Isle, where they created what they called a “313 Liberation Zone” for participants to engage in recreation activities. The event aims to show what they say is possible when the country divests from police and invests in Black communities.

Some protesters jumped rope while others played basketball, boxed or blew bubbles in the street.

Protesters blocked off Jefferson Avenue at Grand Boulevard in Detroit on Thursday, July 9, 2020.

“Today in specific we’re calling for Black leisure, Black joy because we know they spend less than 4% on recreation,” said Leon Hister, an organizer of the event that started at Church of the Messiah on East Grand Boulevard.

Organizers said the liberation zone was inspired in part by occupations in places including Seattle, Freedom Square in Chicago, near the White House in Washington, D.C., and other spots across the country to show what it would look like to build spaces for and by Black people.

Traffic along eastbound Jefferson quickly became backed up,with motorists forced to turn around on Jefferson or at the entry of the MacArthur Bridge on the island to get around the demonstration. 

About 40 minutes into the demonstration, at least three Detroit police vehicles arrived to block vehicles from approaching the area.

Officers on foot motioned for the protesters to leave the intersection. Within 15 minutes, demonstrators began packing up, loading the basketball hoop on the back of a pickup truck before marching back to the church. Activities by protesters lasted about an hour.

The 313 Liberation Zone set up a street blockade and established a zone Thursday near Belle Isle for Black people to play games in the street at Jefferson and Grand Boulevard to "amplify the national call to defund police and invest in Black communities."

“We are Detroiters, we are Black Detroiters who are here, and we represent residents, we represent people who come from different social justice organizations ..."Hister said.

Hister called the area a "cop-free autonomous zone in which we take care of ourselves."

Among the protesters calling for defunding police was Amanda Hill, 29, of Detroit.

“I would like to see funds deferred, divested from police and invested in our communities, into recreation and into social services that actually prevent crime instead of being a reactionary force to crime that inevitable when people don’t have what they need,” Hill said.

Hill said she’d like to see an increase in investment in recreational activities.

“We’ve seen over the last decades continued disinvestment from after school programs, summer programs, things like that,” she said. “Music, sports, things that can engage children in creative outlets. Also, voluntary mental health services, affordable housing, affordable clean water. Basically these things people will figure out to get regardless and oftentimes it’s through crime because our officials do not invest in us.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN