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100 days of protest: Detroit Will Breathe marches the streets

Casey Harrison
The Detroit News

Detroit — Protesters aplenty gathered outside the Detroit Police public safety headquarters with flags, drums and megaphones. Some onlookers watched from rooftops and highrise windows, while others on the street decided to join in.

It's been the scene for many of the last 100 days, a few days after the nation was enveloped in protests following the May 25 killing of George Floyd. 

"One hundred days. that's a lot of struggle, lot of fight," said Detroit Will Breathe organizer Tristan Taylor. "Those are a lot of lessons, a lot of sacrifice, but we're still here standing. And not just standing, but moving that needle."

Over that time, officers and protesters have skirmished, resulting in dozens of protester arrests and police use of tear gas, zip ties and donning of riot gear. In one instance, a police car drove through a group of protesters.

Protesters with Detroit Will Breathe march the streets on the 100th day of protesting racial injustice and the death of George Floyd.

Lately, things have been much more calm for all involved. 

The mood started light on Saturday as demonstrators with Detroit Will Breathe energetically marched downtown to mark the 100th day of protests against racial inequality and police brutality. Organizers spoke to about 150 people before marching and cheered what they called a win against Detroit Police after a federal judge's ruling Friday that forbids officers from using chokeholds, gas, batons and other tactics against “peaceful protesters.”

Taylor said the most impressive win for the group over the last 100 days was creating a movement and space that allows the public to speak out against racism and racial injustice.  

Taylor also noted the movement will continue as long as "oppression against black and brown people" exist and "systemic racism and the physical threat of police" persists.

"What we've got to reckon with, that to get to freedom it means busting down these walls that are preventing us from getting it," Taylor said. "And these walls are pretty f------ strong. Especially in a place like Detroit that has seen disrespect and neglect and oppression for decades as a majority black city."

The statue of Alexander Macomb is vandalized during the march for the 100th day of the Detroit Will Breathe movement in Detroit, Mich on Sept. 5, 2020.

The protest started around 6:30 p.m. at Michigan Ave. and Third St. As the march was coming to an end, around 9:30 p.m., at least one protester defected from the crowd and began spray painting the Alexander Macomb statue at Michigan Ave. and Washington Boulevard. 

Those near the back of the crowd urged him to stop and he made his way back into the crowd after leaving the words "SLAVE OWNER/LAND THIEF" at the base and a black plastic bag around the statue's head. 

Hours earlier, protesters made their way up Third and turned onto the Fisher service drive and over to Little Caesars Arena. Demonstrators along the way chanted anti-Ilitch and anti-gentrification slogans as they passed the Ilitch family-owned stadium that houses the Red Wings and Pistons, as well as continuing the call for Detroit Police Chief James Craig's resignation. 

Darrell “Deez” Flournoy of Detroit dances at Campus Martius Park during the march for the 100th day of the Detroit Will Breathe movement in Detroit, Mich on Sept. 5, 2020.

From there, protesters made their way from the arena south on Woodward Avenue to Campus Martius Park. Here, signs that resembled grave markers and had slogans like "RIP POLICE" and "RIP DEPORTATIONS" were given out at the beginning of the protest and staked into the ground at Campus Martius.

"One hundred days ago we didn't know we would be here. But we came because we knew it was necessary," organizer Nikia Wallace said at the park. "We are on the right side of history. And you sure as Hell don't want to be caught on the wrong side of history."

After Wallace's speech, the protest shifted to Greektown and around Greektown Casino onto Jefferson. Protesters approached a Detroit Police car and appeared to heckle it. The officer sped out of the parking lot.

Moments later, a protester claimed on onlooker spit in their face on Monroe Street and ran into a nearby restaurant. When confronted, employees said the person who allegedly spat was being held in the back until police got there. 

After Greektown, the demonstration marched onto Jefferson, and up Woodward, where they made their way back toward DPD Public Safety headquarters, where along the way the stray protester spray painted the Macomb statue.

From left, Jae Bass of Detroit, Brendan Scorpio of Detroit, Ethan Lucas of Ann Arbor, Darrell “Deez” Flournoy of Detroit and Allen Dennard of Detroit chants on the patio of Calexico during the march for the 100th day of the Detroit Will Breathe movement in Detroit, Mich on Sept. 5, 2020.

At the end of the route, closing remarks were made and the floor opened for public comment. 

Organizer Darrell "Deez" Flournoy, 29, said a lot of the movement's demands — from reducing evictions to utility shutoffs — have been met, but he wants to see the city invest more resources into the community.

As for the 100-day milestone, Flournoy said it’s a small victory. 

“You don’t even see some relationships that long,” he said.

charrison@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @casey_harrison1