Hundreds of protesters take to streets on Noel Night

Candice Williams and Lauren Abdel-Razzaq

Detroit — Several groups of protesters held demonstrations throughout the city Saturday, joining others from around the nation this week who are outraged over the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers.

"There are a lot of people here and they can no longer ignore it," said Chantel Watkins, who organized a protest of about 100 people at the Detroit Institute of Arts during the annual Noel Night celebration. "We don't want anyone to be able to sweep under the rug what is happening."

The protesters gathered outside the museum while thousands of visitors enjoyed the festivities and passed by. They raised their hands, chanting "Hands up! Please don't shoot."

The group left the DIA around 6:30 p.m. and marched around Midtown, picking up followers along the route. By 7:30 p.m. as they made their way back to the DIA for a "die-in" demonstration the group's size increased to about 300 people.

Once back in front of the DIA, the protesters laid on the ground for a few minutes in a symbolic "die-in" then arose and repeatedly chanted "I can't breath," the plea Garner made to the officers as he was in the choke-hold.

Detroit Police Capt. Aric Tosqui, commanding officer of the Third Precinct, said at its peak the group numbered 400 people and there were no incidents other than traffic being stopped along the marchers route.

Tosqui said another officer walked behind the protesters along the route.

Across the city, groups of protestors acknowledged the Aug. 9 shooting death of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri. Many are also outraged over a New York grand jury's decision Wednesday not to charge a white police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the July 17 choke-hold death in New York City of 43-year-old Eric Garner, a black man.

"Whoever else this happens to, we want to get them justice," said Watkins. "And get to a point where this isn't happening, to anyone."

Earlier in the afternoon, about 75 protestors held a "die-in" near Seven Mile and Livernois at First Independence Bank on the city's west side.

Some held signs that read "I can't breathe," "I am a man" and "I am Trayvon Martin."

During the die-in, protestors yelled "I can't breathe" in remembrance of Garner. Afterward, they joined hands in prayer.

Detroiter Tracy Green said as a lawyer and mother of four black sons. She felt compelled to participate in the demonstration.

"I can certainly fight for those who are oppressed," she said.

Green and her husband, Andre, said they talk with their sons, ages 26, 24, 19 and 18 about the reality for black men in America.

"They don't have a margin for error," Andre Green said. "The slightest thing can take them out of here."

A much smaller group of protestors organized through By Any Means Necessary met at the Detroit Police Department's Eastern Precinct at 11187 Gratiot, near where Metro Detroiters filled the streets last month in a show of solidarity with other demonstrators across the country to protest the grand jury's decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer in the shooting death of Brown. The Detroit protesters marched down interstates 75 and 94, prompting reaction from city police.

"It's time for it to be over," said Detroiter Arthur Bowman III, protesting outside the police department Saturday afternoon. "It's also important for us to be right out here at the police department, making sure our voices are heard and making sure they know."

Nikkia Matthews of Canton Township said the large turnout Friday afternoon for the demonstration at 7 Mile and Livernois shows unity. She expects a larger crowd Saturday night when she participants in the die-in at the DIA during Noel Night.

"I want to get justice for these men who have been slain," she said. "We have to stand together. The more people who are starting movements, the more the government has no choice but to make some changes."

On Friday, protesters in Ypsilanti staged a die-in at the Eastern Michigan University's Board of Regents meeting, lying on the floor and chanting "black lives matter" in imitation of protests nationwide this week.

Also last month, students marched through Wayne State University's campus with their arms linked, chanting "No justice. No peace."