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Tlaib joins Detroit protesters: 'Federal agents, you messed with the wrong district'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib joined protesters Saturday denouncing the deployment of federal agents to Detroit by President Donald Trump's orders to combat rising crime.

Under an expansion of a Trump administration "law-and-order" initiative, dozens of federal officers were sent to Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee and four other states for Operation Relentless Pursuit, a program rolled out in Detroit last winter by U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Protesters help keep U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, dry during rain as she spoke to demonstrators on the 65th day of protests at Mt. Elliott Park in Detroit, Aug. 1, 2020.

The effort is committing $71 million toward battling drug trafficking, street gangs and other violent crime in areas including Detroit, which has the highest rate per capita in the country. Authorities insisted Thursday agents here won't get involved in protests, as they have in other cities. 

"Demand to push back," Tlaib said. "Stick your necks out and say, I'm tired of my immigrant neighbors getting deported, I'm tired of you all not caring about poverty among children and families, I'm tired of you all not understanding that people can't afford water, of not doing anything about our closed schools, I'm tired of all of these broken systems, that's why we're out here marching.

"Yes, we need to stop police brutality, but it's so much more than that," she said.

Tlaib also spoke in memory of the late Rep. John Lewis, and told demonstrators to keep the ongoing social justice movement going and to stay focused.

"He (Lewis) spoke up about things that people didn't want to hear about," she said. "You continue to do this for our kids because it will lead to meaningful action... and to all the federal agents, you messed with the wrong district."

Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped pass an amendment to House Resolution 7617 on Friday that would prohibit the IRS from using funds to send federal agents into U.S. cities as part of Operation Legend and Operation Relentless Pursuit, which have led to clashes between federal agents and protesters in cities like Portland, Oregon. 

Tlaib said the Departments are using taxpayer dollars to infringe on U.S. citizen's constitutional rights.

"Don't let the secret police and the troops distract you," Tlaib told demonstrators. "They're tired of it because you're requiring them work, why? You don't want murals and symbols anymore, you want more than that."

After 65 days of demonstrations, and amid a fourth police-involved shooting, the protesters said their efforts remain important in seeking a national transformation in policing.

“We should expect when we're doing the right thing, that they will try to intervene,” said Tristan Taylor, an organizer with Detroit Will Breathe. His group and others spoke outside in Mt. Elliott Park Saturday before marching through to downtown.

"I know we hoped this would be easy, but the truth is it won't be. We're going to have to be the movement that (defeats Trump) by forcing these federal agents out," he said.

The crowdof nearly 200 met at the Rosa Parks Federal Building, the Detroit headquarters of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. There, they stood out in the rain and condemned the ongoing deportations amid the coronavirus pandemic and held signs such as "No DHS secret police" and chanted "No justice, no peace."

Detroit U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider previously said the federal agents are justified adding that crime is "out of control."

He noted that homicides in Detroit are up 31% and shootings 53% in recent months.

Taylor commented on the Thursday incident involving police and a man wielding a sword near Grand River and Meyers in Detroit. The man, who threw a dagger at an officer, was fatally shot by police. Taylor said the outcome differed from one in Westland last month in which a driver who turned donuts in an intersection before the SUV erupted in smoke and flames was arrested.

An unidentified protestor calls for the removal of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence from office at the 65th day of Detroit Black Lives Matter protests on Aug. 1, 2020.

"Any attempt to oppress the community is an attempt to repress the movement," he said.

Detroit has experienced a few tense encounters during its protests in which officers deployed tear gas and rubber bullets after law enforcement officers said they were targeted with items such as railroad spikes, fireworks and rocks.

But Mayor Mike Duggan has said the city has been spared from the looting and fires that some other parts of the country have seen and residents are standing up, he said, to say "you are not going to tear up our town."

“That’s been our strategy and we’re going to stick with that strategy," Duggan said.

Duggan said Detroit would welcome support from the federal government if it means adding more extra gun prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office and more efforts by ATF to get illegal guns off the street.

Detroit demonstrators, who exclaim it is a nonviolent movement, disagree, saying the effort is occurring under the guise of taking away guns.

"The mayor and chief of police have undercut our movement by allowing the federal agents here," said Kate Stenvig, Detroit By Any Means Necessary organizer. "The fight that's going on in Detroit is really central to everything in the country. Opening our economy is very important to Trump and Duggan and our disruption has only intensified that. We've been out here for 65 days. We're not going back to business as usual."

Trump recently sent federal forces into cities including Chicago, Kansas City, Missouri, and Portland, where last week agents used tear gas to disperse protesters who had approached a federal courthouse and then set a fire outside.

"People among us, in our city and in power, are so quick to say 'come on in, we need your help,' but Detroit has a poverty rate nearly three times higher than the national average. In Detroit, the child poverty rate is higher, it's 50%. Where is the urgency in that?" Tlaib said.

Samantha Magdaleno, director of One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, was the first to speak Saturday on their efforts to stop deportations and said the deployment of federal agents would only increase fear in the immigrant community.

"You hear a lot of people say these protests don't matter, but if you look back on history, every movement was started by a minority group everyone wanted to ignore," Magdaleno said. "They always tell you 'sometime in the future' but that time only comes when we rise together."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_