Tense protests erupt after Detroit officers shoot, kill man who fired on them
Detroit — Boisterous protests over the police shooting of a Detroit man concluded late Friday, hours after the release of video showing officers returned fire when the suspect shot at close range.
Three Detroit officers shot at Hakim Littleton, 20, killing him on Detroit's west side just after noon on Friday, sparking a call for immediate protests in the wake of nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd during a police incident in May.
"Justice for Hakim Littleton! Fire and jail the killer cop!" dozens of demonstrators chanted outside Detroit's 12th Precinct headquarters on Seven Mile Road near Woodward on Friday night. More than two hours earlier, police played dash and bodycam video appearing to show Littleton drawing and firing on officers who were arresting an associate.
Earlier, officers from that precinct's Gang Intelligence Unit and Operation CeaseFire detail were near San Juan and McNichols investigating a July 5 shooting at a block party when the exchange of gunfire occurred at about 12:15 p.m., police Chief James Craig said.
Craig said officers were at the scene Friday because they had learned last week's shooting was gang-related. Less than five hours later, an angry crowd of about 300 people gathered at the site, demanding racial justice, police defunding and answers from Craig.
In the July 5 incident, three people were slain and five others wounded.
At the news conference Friday night, Craig released police video footage of the shooting, saying officers fired four shots Littleton.
In a statement Friday night, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said police footage demonstrated that the officers' actions were justified.
"The video is clear that the officer was suddenly and unexpectedly fired upon," he said. "I commend Chief Craig for moving so quickly to release the video publicly."
Friday's shooting at the site led to a call on Twitter for protests.
"Rapid response call to action: DPD shot and killed a 19 year old today," the group Detroit Will Breathe posted shortly before 4 p.m. Friday. "Our plans have changed so that the movement can respond to this injustice. Get to 7446 w McNichols rd as soon as you can."
About 4:30 p.m., the group posted a live video on Facebook showing a crowd of about 250 demonstrators at the shooting site chanting "Black Lives Matter," "We want badge numbers," "Why are you in riot gear?" and "Defund DPD!"
Some were masked, some not.
Police blocked off McNichols on either side of San Juan, where the protesters gathered.
One of the protesters, Jeremy Henderson, 31, of Detroit said, "This kind of thing happens entirely too much. Everyone's life should be equal but that's now how it is. I want to see the bodycam (footage)."
"I was just thinking earlier if the police would just put down their guns everything would be OK," Brandon Smiles, 18, of Detroit, said. "If they talked things out instead of being physical with people, but I don't think that's ever going to happen."
During the protest, bottles, bricks and other projectiles were thrown at officers.
Later in the evening, protesters moved to the area around the 12th police precinct headquarters.
As of 8:25 p.m., about 100 protesters were gathered in the street and sidewalk outside the facility, facing off with police who formed a line outside the station.
Kaleb Franklin, 24, of Farmington stood in front of the line of police and shouted, wanting to know if his life mattered to them.
“I came out here because a man was killed by Detroit police and I feel like his life was taken,” he said. “We need the police to be responsible for what they do.”
Franklin said he was not looking to start a confrontation, but wants accountability because, “We’ve constantly been dealing with the same thing over and over.”
“Would they think twice about shooting us?” he asked.
He said he had not gotten involved in previous protests, but came out on Friday because he grew up in the neighborhood where the victim was killed.
“We’re out here because we’re human and we care about people,” he said.
Both he and his mother, Anya Franklin, said they have been harassed by police because they are Black, especially while living in Livonia.
“I’ve got two Black sons, and I don’t want my kids killed by the police,” said Anya Franklin. “They’re constantly harassed, because they’re young and Black.”
She held up a bright pink sign declaring: “Blue gang (police). It is not your right to decide our fate.”
About 10:15 p.m., during a downpour, police retreated into shelter and protesters began dispersing.
State Rep. LaTanya Garrett, D-Detroit, called for "an independent and transparent investigation" into the shooting.
"Although I applaud Detroit Police Chief James Craig for releasing the dashcam and bodycam video for the public to review, there is no need for a rush to judgment, for a life has been lost and (lives) will be forever changed from this tragic event," she said.
"I call upon the Mayor and the Chief of Police to ensure this matter is properly investigated in a fair and impartial manner," Garrett said. "If outside law enforcement agencies are needed to oversee this matter to ensure an independent and transparent investigation, I call upon our city leaders to ensure this is done expeditiously. The family of the deceased deserves answers, as well as our community."
Detroit and other cities across Michigan and the U.S. have been the site of mass protests since the May 25 death of Floyd, who was restrained by a Minneapolis police officer who held his knee on the Black man's neck for more than eight minutes.
Detroit, which last year reported the highest violent crime rate in the United States, saw pockets of disorder and dozens arrested during the first few days of protests that began in the city May 29.
While the protests that followed over the next month were largely peaceful, tensions flared again June 28, when a police car struck protesters during an anti-police brutality march.
Craig said the next day the officers had to take "evasive action" and called some of the protesters "agitators" who initiated the incident by damaging the SUV. He said an investigation was opened on the officer driving the vehicle as well as those who appeared to attack the SUV.
In response, protesters gathered three successive days this week at a city precinct building to demand that the officer be fired and charged with a crime.
During a press briefing Friday afternoon at the shooting site, Craig said gang officers were at the scene conducting surveillance.
"As they sat on the location, they learned that one person (they were watching) was wanted on an outstanding felony warrant," the chief said.
As the officers approached the man to arrest him, video shows there was a second man with him.
While officers confronted the subject to be arrested, who immediately dropped to his knees to comply, video shows the second man, identified as Littleton, reaching into his left-side pants pocket.
He then extends his arm toward an approaching officer and smoke is seen emerging from the gun.
Three other officers immediately returned fire, striking Littleton, who Craig said continued to attempt to shoot officers even as he fell to the ground.
"Fearing for their lives, the fact that he was actively shooting, they fired several rounds, striking the suspect, and he was pronounced dead at a local hospital," Craig said.
The chief said police have recovered the suspect's gun, and four shell casings.
The man with the outstanding felony warrant was arrested, and no officers were hurt in the shooting, Craig said.
The officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative duty, pending the investigation, he said.
Craig said it's early in the investigation, so there are still several questions to be answered about the incident.
Friday's shooting is the latest in what's been a violent summer in Detroit, mirroring increases nationwide. Homicides in Detroit are up 31% over last year, while nonfatal shootings have increased 52%.
Overall crime is down 9%, in large part because there's less property crime with people at home during the coronavirus emergency.