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Detroit Will Breathe returns to protest near site of police shooting

Casey Harrison
The Detroit News

Detroit — Weeks of protests against racial injustice continued Saturday as demonstrators marched on the city’s west side following the death of a Black man who was shot by police a day earlier.

Protesters began marching at the intersection of McNichols and San Juan, near the location where Detroit Police officers shot and killed 19-year-old Hakim Littleton while making an arrest of another individual. The protests continued on to 7 Mile and the Lodge Freeway before circling back around. 

Littleton's older brother, Rashad Littleton-Schafer, spoke after the protesters finished their route shortly after 8 p.m. and said he is demanding a sit-down with Police Chief James Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan.

"My brother was a good, good man. He was a warrior," Littleton-Shafer said. "I want to let everyone know this, including Chief James Craig, the mayor of Detroit. I want a meeting with them by next week."

A protester stands on a parked car along San Juan Road and cheers as marchers head towards Woodward Avenue in Detroit on Saturday, July 11, 2020.

The peaceful protest included about 200 people and was organized by Detroit Will Breathe. Most had dispersed after Littleton-Shafer spoke. Organizer Tristan Taylor invited demonstrators to return Sunday for the 45th day of protests. Taylor also emphasized themes of unity and encouraged people to continue conversations about the movement and other recent events.

"What we are doing is so difficult, that's why it's rare. What we are doing is making history," Taylor said. "... I really do think for the movement to grow, and for our leadership to be more collective, more firm, we have to have mass meetings where we have debate and discussion and have conversations on how to move forward."

Chants ranged from "Black Lives Matter" to anti-Craig and Duggan epithets and calls for the city to end its use of facial recognition software to identify potential crime suspects. Advocates say the practice disproportionately misidentifies Black people. 

In a late Friday news conference, Craig said the shooting was justified and released footage showing Littleton shooting first at officers before police returned fire. Protesters said Saturday it took too long for officials to release dash and bodycam footage of the shooting. 

Organizer Nakia Renne Wallace issued a statement earlier Saturday on behalf of the group, saying while Detroit Police released the video in a timely manner, their actions at the protest the day before did not sit well.

"Instead of engaging with the crowd by sending someone to talk to people, to tell us that the video would be released in a couple of hours, to reach out to the family, DPD sent police in riot gear marching through the neighborhood to intimidate the crowd, ram them with shields, beat them with batons, and blind them with pepper spray," Wallace said in the statement. "Once again, DPD showed its inability to deescalate a situation and sought to beat any criticism of DPD away with their batons and shields."

About 300 people gathered for the impromptu protest Friday and several members of the crowd threw bottles, bricks and other projectiles at officers, who deployed tear gas, the chief said.

Two officers were injured during the arrests, Craig said. 

"Erroneous information that was put out has incited violence," the police chief said during the Friday press conference at Public Safety Headquarters.

Mayor Mike Duggan praised the quick release Friday of the bodycam video.

"The video is clear that the officer was suddenly and unexpectedly fired upon," Duggan said in a statement. "I commend Chief Craig for moving so quickly to release the video publicly."

Some protesters criticized the length of time it took police to release the footage from Friday's shooting. Police say the exchange of gunfire happened around 12:15 p.m. and the video was released at 7:30 p.m. 

"These police have all these videos but they get to pick and choose when they can release it," Claude Chapman, 30, of Southfield said. "Yesterday was a really good example of that: I feel like they waited to release the footage of Hakim Littleton. ... From our perspective, all we know a 19-year-old was shot by DPD. That's all they gave us." 

Eight people were arrested Friday night but all were released by the early morning hours, according to the group. 

Tensions never flared as high Saturday night, as the group peacefully marched and chanted with signs carrying messages against the police. 

One protester told The Detroit News that while he thought while the shooting was justified, systemic racism and police brutality is still problematic and demonstrations need to continue. 

"From my perspective, the fact that the police incident appeared to be justified doesn't necessarily diminish our validity on that," Courtney Strang, 57, of Detroit said. "As far as Black Lives Matter goes, there were a series of failures that occurred in that young man's life."

Demonstrations have erupted across the country, including Detroit, since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Twitter: @Casey_Harrison1

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