Protesters stage 'die-in' at Detroit's 4th Precinct

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News
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Amid the sweltering afternoon heat, about 30 people laid on their backs in a patch of grass near the Detroit Police Department's 4th Precinct on the city's southwest side Sunday.

They remained on the ground for nearly nine minutes, in tribute to George Floyd, as they used a "die-in" to protest police brutality and racism.

The protesters repeated the cries that have resounded at nationwide protests since Floyd's death May 25 as an officer knelt on his neck during his arrest by Minneapolis police. They chanted his name, and the name of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police in Louisville.

The die-in was one of two protests in the city Sunday. More than 100 demonstrators returned to the Detroit Golf Club to "make some noise" on the last day of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

After overcoming the erection of barricades that initially kept marchers from parking cars at a park entrance near the club, protesters marched to the front of the golf club, where they chanted, sang and cried out: "This is what democracy looks like."

Metro Detroit Political Action Network organizer Chantel Watkins leads the Die-In as she chants on the bullhorn.

They aimed at the golf classic because "when we say no justice, no peace, we actually mean it," Tristan Taylor, an organizer, said last week. "When we say no business as usual, you can't enjoy golf, either without listening to our voices."

Demonstrators at the die-in voiced demands against racial injustice and police brutality, including the resignation of Police Chief James Craig; the end of Project Greenlight, a city surveillance program; charges dropped against protesters who have been arrested in recent weeks; demilitarization of DPD; and the release of nonviolent offenders from local jails. 

"A die-in represents all of the bodies the police have killed because of systemic racism," said Chantel Watkins, an organizer with the Metro Detroit Political Action Network. The network organized the event with the Detroit Queer Activist Coalition, Abolish ICE Detroit and Hydrate Detroit.

The protest was aimed at Detroit police, one week after a police officer drove a vehicle through a group of protesters. Craig said the officers were trying to escape as protesters climbed the vehicle, and may have thought they were being fired upon.  

"There has been bloodshed," said Watkins. "We're here telling them we don't stand for this. I live in Detroit. I grew up in Detroit. I pay taxes in Detroit."

The group pointed to what they characterized as hypocrisy by city leaders who have denounced white suburbanites for coming to the city to join in protests: "(They) want them at Shinola, though," said Watkins.

During the protest, demonstrators laid on their backs facing the street, for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time the officer kept his knee on Floyd's neck.

Kai Mills, 29, a teacher at Voyageur College Prep High School, urged attendees to do their part to change school policies that put Black students on the path to incarceration at rates disproportionate to their white peers.

"If you are a teacher or you're in a community with Detroit public schools ... you are responsible for helping abolish the school-to-prison pipeline," Mills said.

Mills, a poet who is involved with the annual Detroit SlutWalk event that protests against rape culture, read aloud one of her poems, concluding: "When we finally reach the day that everyone knows that Black lives matter, they’re going to wish that they’d stood here with us, instead of sitting in silence. Because 400 years of oppression is unforgettable and Black people remember everything."

Organizers emphasized the inclusiveness of the movement: "All Black lives matter," said Watkins. "LGBTQIA. Disabled. Women. And everything in between."

Kia Benson, 25, of Detroit said she attended Sunday because it is "heartbreaking" as both a Black person and a member of the LGBT community to see people who look like her killed.

"There is no justice being served," Benson said. "And my heart just goes out to the families of the fallen."

She wants the city to end Project Greenlight, fire Craig and do a better job handling events such as Motor City Pride. Police last year received criticism for appearing to escort members  of a Nazi group from the scene who had come to protest the festival.

"I encourage people who care about Black people to speak up for us and not to be afraid to protest," said Benson, who wore a shirt depicting the faces of victims of police brutality. "Even if you want to stay home, find ways to support bail funds, donate to Black and brown people, and support Black-owned businesses."

Marcella Lane, 55, of Detroit participated Sunday because she has a son and daughter, she said. She has been showing up at protests against unjust killings of Black people since 2013, and is disheartened that she still has to show up in 2020, she said

"We shouldn't still have to walk and protest and march saying 'Black lives matter,' she said. "Black people are just people, period. People don't have to walk around and say white lives matter."

Lane, holding a bright-orange sign on which she wrote the names of Black victims of police brutality and racism, said she "never had anything against police" before, but now she is "fed up."

"There just needs to be change."

Twitter: @JGrzelewski

Cal Abbo contributed.

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