Protest in Harper Woods targets holding cell death

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Harper Woods — A peaceful but passionate Black Lives Matter march was held here Wednesday in honor of a woman found dead in her holding cell at a police precinct.

Protesters demanded answers in the death of Priscilla Slater, 37, as they snaked through neighborhoods with placards and posters and chants decrying what activists consider police overreach toward African Americans throughout the country.

With two sets of drums and even a saxophonist, the racially mixed group of marchers gained the attention — and even the raised fists — of residents who came out of their homes to tape the event.

Some family members of Slater also marched in the crowd, whose members carried signs with slogans such as: "Another Black Woman Was Killed By Police." During the middle of the march, protesters hung a large sign above the Interstate 94 overpass that read, "Justice 4 Priscilla."

A banner is put on the overpass at I-94 during a march for Priscilla Slater in Harper Woods Wednesday evening.

"We're here to march for Priscilla Slater who died in the custody of Harper Woods," said a man who identified himself as "Brother Truth" who is a friend of the family. "We have zero answers. The family has received answers. They don't have a police report. They don't have camera footage of any sort."

Tristan Taylor, one of the lead organizers of various protests in Detroit against police brutality, said the Harper Woods police owe the family and the public some answers.

"I think we're having an impact," Taylor said, "amid the continued scrutiny" of the police departments in Detroit and the suburbs through protests. "Part of why we're still out here is to make sure that we maintain momentum."

City officials earlier put six police department employees — two supervisors and four civilian aides — on administrative leave in response to Slater's death, which occurred a day after she was arrested June 9 at the Parkcrest Inn in the 20000 block of Harper.

During a protest over Slater's death last month, the wife of Mayor Kenneth Poynter was accused of tearing up a demonstrator's sign; Margaret Poynter apologized afterward. 

That morning, police responding to reports of shots fired arrested Slater and at least one other person, Lewis Nichols, 27, who is charged with 20 felonies related to the incident.

A group of people march in memory of Priscilla Slater in Harper Woods. The march was sponsored by ÔMy fight Is Your fight CoalitionÕ on July 15, 2020.

The protesters went through the parking lot area of that motel on their march.

Jamie Witkowski, 41, who attended the protest, said that white people like her are "sick and tired of no accountability" for the police officers who abuse "Black and brown people."

"I know I'm a white person of privilege and I need to use my privilege to help raise the Black voice," she said. "That's why I came out here. There are a lot of people like me who don't hold the same values or standards that I do concerning Black and brown people's lives."

The protesters brought a smile to the face of Brenda Wilson, who identified herself as the daughter of the late soul singer Jackie Wilson, as they passed her home.

“For me, it means that it’s very important that we speak out and let people know that Black Lives Matter,” she said. “And by it coming down my street, I was very happy to see it come down my street and let them know, while I’m not out there consistently with them protesting, but I am here and I support them.”

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