Detroit — Protesters say they plan to put Mayor Mike Duggan and the Detroit Police Department on trial next Saturday over actions by officers during the first days of protests in the city two weeks ago.
Detroit Will Breathe, an organization formed from the outrage over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, will hold a public tribunal 4 p.m. on June 20 at a location to be determined, featuring protesters who were arrested, ticketed or “brutalized” by police to hold city leaders accountable.
“There’s this narrative that there were these outside agitators who came in, and the police had to respond accordingly to maintain the peace,” said Tristan Taylor, a founder of the organization that returned to the march Saturday after a two-day hiatus to strategize. “We know that’s not true.”
Police arrested hundreds of people over the first several days of protests that included officers in riot gear, tear gas, rubber bullets and eventually a curfew. Some outside agitators had come with the intention to be violent with bricks, fireworks and railroad spikes, Police Chief James Craig has said. Most arrested were from Metro Detroit and not the city.
Duggan’s office declined to comment.
Police Lt. Sherell Shawnee Stanley, a lawyer, faced protesters on behalf of the department’s Committee on Race and Equality to request input from the demonstrators. CORE is working with the neighborhood precincts to schedule civil assemblies to hear from residents about needed reforms for the entire criminal justice system, including at the state and federal levels. She asked the marchers to email firstname.lastname@example.org with their thoughts.
“They will have the chance to speak in a controlled environment very similar to this,” Stanley said, adding the hope is to have smaller groups to hear from more people. “We don’t want to speak to you. We want to hear from them and take down the information from them.”
Duggan contacted CORE about taking action amid the protests, Stanley said. CORE also has been in touch with the governor’s office about how to put reforms in place.
Some expressed frustration. Demonstratorsprovided a list of 11 demandsto city officialsthat include demilitarizingthepolice, halting evictions and water shutoff orders.
“We’ve been out here for two weeks to march and say what we want,” said Mariah Hiebbner, 29, of Detroit. “We are hundreds strong every single day. If they can’t listen, they have no place here.”
Hundreds of people joined the march downtown for the 16th consecutive day of protests in Detroit in the wake of the death of Floyd, a black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
Floyd’s death has spawned protests around the globe and ushered in demands for justice, along with change in other issues affecting African Americans, from police brutality to poverty, health care and housing.
Some peaceful protesters, especially young people of color, were standing for justice and were abused by the police, Taylor said, noting many officers do not live in the city. The marchers will have a chance to share their testimonies, photos and video. The group also is calling for all charges and citations to be dropped against protestors.
“They were the ones who had their weapons out in the open,” said Alison Laskey, 35, of Detroit, who is a volunteer organizer with Detroit Will Breathe. “They brought violence upon us. At a tribunal, you want to prove your point. We want to put the facts out there.”
Jimmy Thomas, 33, a chemist from Warren, said he was one of the so-called outside agitators.
“That rhetoric is not helpful,” Thomas said. “We’re part of the same movement. We want the same things.”
An early evening breeze cooled marchers are they held signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “White Silence is Violence” and the names of victims of police brutality.
The march started amid some confusion as one group wanted to walk up Michigan Avenue toward southwest Detroit. The other group wanted to go downtown, a route that most demonstrators followed.
“It don’t matter what route we take,” said Dwane Taylor, 22, of Detroit who came with Detroit Will Breathe. “I am here for black life just like you are here for black life.”
Another issue was the police’s use of facial recognition technology, a topic that has come under scrutiny over the past year as studies indicate it is less likely to identify the faces of black individuals than white people.
City council is expected to vote on extending the contract for the program on Tuesday. Detroit Will Breathe called on residents to contact council members to vote against its renewal.
“That program wasn’t supposed to be voted upon until next month,” Taylor said. “So what they’re trying to do is cut us off at the path and get it before we can intervene.”
He said protesters may march past councilmembers’ homes on Monday to make their point after some recently demonstrated outside Duggan’s home.
There are better ways to ensure the safety of the community than the current funding going to the police department, said Yvonne Jones, a 70-year-old city retiree who joined the march for the first time Saturday.
“That should go to help with mental health, drug recovery and education,” Jones said. “Police aren’t fixing anything. If you fix those things, you won’t need all that for the police.”
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