Protesters throw M-80s, bricks at Detroit police; tear gas thrown, 21 arrested

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Detroit — Hundreds of protesters marched Saturday to decry the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police on Monday, but they clashed with Detroit police in the late evening as the crowd swelled and 21 individuals were arrested.

Organizers sought to project a peaceful, united message a day after violence broke out at a first Detroit rally against police brutality and succeeded through the first few hours of the demonstration.

After the official protest ended around 8 p.m., demonstrators splintered off into at least two different groups. By 9:30 p.m., one had marched from Campus Martius park and wrapped its way around to Jefferson Avenue, where hundreds of people held a moment of silence for Floyd at the Joe Louis Fist statue. 

Shortly after, a small group of armed protesters was spotted in the area.

But after 10 p.m., some demonstrators headed back to Detroit Police headquarters, where some threw objects at police. The objects included small bricks, M-80 fireworks and rocks, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said Saturday night. A police car was damaged, he said. Some portable toilets were overturned.

The crowd was pushed back to 3rd Street and Bagley, where many remained to verbally confront officers, leading to a large string of arrests. 

“We support the protests,” Craig said. “We do not support lawbreakers.”

Police started throwing tear gas around 10:30 p.m. and dispersed most of the crowd, though at least one large group stayed around through midnight Sunday until it was also dispersed. One demonstrator tried to foil the police’s effort by using a leaf blower on the tear gas.

Detroit Police also fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a group of journalists and others near protesters on Michigan and Griswold.

Twenty one people — 15 men and six women — were arrested, Craig told The Detroit News at 12:25 a.m. Sunday. There were no apparent injuries, he said.

The police “had no other choice” but to use tear gas when the safety of officers was threatened, the chief said.

After the crowd dispersed, protesters started to reorganize and head toward Campus Martius. As they headed up Woodward Avenue, some tried to break a window and were throwing bottles, rocks and other objects at tenants living above the Nike store. 

During the marches throughout the afternoon and into the evening, many demonstrators held signs reading “black lives matter” or signs written with Floyd’s name on it. Others walked with their right fist raised or with two hands in the air as police cars and officers escorted the marchers.

When protesters were marching at nightfall, some held signs indicating they wanted police to die.

Craig said protesters wandered off of their route and tried to take over an unnamed freeway. But the police chief said that particular section of highway had been closed, so the demonstrators headed elsewhere.

Detroit activists tried to talk to protesters from outside of the city who were in the crowd, but didn’t have success in convincing them to stop from trying to agitate the police, Craig said.

The protest grew after it started at Detroit police headquarters and headed down Michigan Avenue and eventually snaked past the TCF Center and the Joe Louis fist statue. The crowd totaled about 225 by 5:30 p.m., according to an unofficial count by Detroit police.

At one point during the march down Michigan Avenue, demonstrators chanted “I can’t breathe” — the words Floyd gasped as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the African-American man’s neck before later dying. On Friday, prosecutors charged Officer Derek Chauvin with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Before the march started, protest organizer Tristan Armand Taylor urged attendees to march with one united message and urged them not to splinter off. Officials earlier in the day criticized protesters coming to the city from the suburbs. 

Friday’s protest ended with dozens of protesters arrested — many of whom were from the suburbs, according to officials — and a 21-year-old man from Eastpointe was fatally shot by a passerby. Thousands peacefully marched through Detroit during the day, but after the event ended confrontations between protesters and police became more contentious as night came.

But one of Saturday’s suburban protesters defended the peaceful participation of suburbanities.

“I see where they’re coming from. I 100% do. But in my neighborhood there are four or five Trump flags alone on my street,” said Miles Morgan of Sterling Heights.

“So protesting in the suburbs isn’t the most safe option for me.”

Morgan argued racial justice crosses county boundaries and is “an American issue.”

Erica Calu of Ypsilanti said she wanted to join the Detroit protests after participating in Ypsilanti demonstrations for Sha’Teina Grady El, who was given an administrative release by the Wayne Circuit Court Friday after she was arrested this week in Ypsilanti Township. Video showed a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s deputy punching Grady El, 45, in the head during her arrest.

“I know I’m a peaceful protester. I know I’m not here to incite violence against the police or anything,” Calu said. “I know I’m coming here for a good cause and there is strength in numbers. If I’m in Ypsilanti giving them my support, why can’t I come here to Detroit if I’m here for the right reasons?”

Ivan Reynolds of Detroit said he had hoped more Detroiters would participate in the protest.

“If a lot of people are causing trouble, it’s a bad look on our city when you see them from the outside causing trouble, and we’re just here peacefully protesting for the cause,” Reynolds said.

Local and state officials on Saturday urged protesters to express their views in a peaceful and respectful way.

“We will continue to support protesters in getting out their message,” Craig said at a Saturday news conference. “However, to those who threaten the safety of our community, our police officers and damage property we will not tolerate your criminal actions.”

There was an isolated incident of graffiti near the Saturday march route. “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE” was spray-painted on a building.

The Detroit rally was held as President Donald Trump struck a more conciliatory tone about Floyd’s death Saturday afternoon after attending the successful launch of the SpaceX rocket ship from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“The death of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened. It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger and grief,” Trump said.

“Yesterday, I spoke to George’s family and expressed the sorrow of our entire nation for their loss. I stand before you as a friend and ally to every American seeking justice and peace, and I stand before you in firm opposition to anyone exploiting this tragedy to loot, rob and menace. Healing not hatred, justice not chaos are the mission at hand.” 

The U.S. Conference of Mayors held a Saturday call with police chiefs from major cities to discuss how to keep peace and “help cities mend division,” said Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett, who is president of the Conference of Mayors.

“Mayors are united in the condemnation of the brutality and discrimination that black Americans continue to experience day after day, year after year in this country. …Our cities need healing and our people need to be heard. This must be done however without bringing greater pain and destruction to our cities,” Barnett said in a statement.

“Every American and every level of government has a role to play in ending this painful cycle and ensuring there is equal justice for all. Mayors will be a force for uniting this country in pursuit of that mission.”

The march circled back to Detroit police headquarters, where Morgan said protesters had set the right example and didn’t “have a problem with peace.” He said demonstrators planned to gather again in Detroit Sunday at 4 p.m., although other protesters kept marching after his speech ended.

“Movements are more than moments,” Taylor said at the end of the protest march route, flanked by police in riot gear on one side and demonstrators on the other.

“We stand together as a strong, determined, integrated, militant movement. We will not be intimidated by a bunch of bullies with shields,” he said before starting chants of “Go home, be safe.” 

charrison@detroitnews.com

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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