Demanding justice: thousands gather to protest racism and police brutality in Detroit

Sunday, May 31, 2020 - 7:18pm

Protesters at the Black Lives Matter protest in Detroit Friday afternoon.

Protesters at the Black Lives Matter protest in Detroit Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Natalie Stephens/Daily

“No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police.”

Over a thousand people gathered around the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters for the March Against the Police on Friday in response to incidents of police brutality across the nation. As they were social distancing and wearing masks, people chanted “No Justice. No Peace. No Racist Police.” People of all ages, races and backgrounds were present to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Wayne State University freshman Cameron Hawkins said he marched to fight for his life as a Black male in America. 

“My greatest fear in the world is getting killed by a police officer and I don’t think that’s something that I should have to worry about,” Hawkins said. 

Organizers from Metro-Detroit Political Action Network, Occupy Detroit, Abolish ICE Detroit, March for Black Women Detroit, Progessive Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party and Detroit Anarchist Black Cross hosted the event and invited multiple people to speak at the rally. 

Demands from the rally organizers included justice for Sha’Teina and Dan Grady El, the release of non-violent prisoners due to COVID-19, justice for George Floyd, freedom for the Los Angeles and Minnesota protesters, the discontinuation the use of facial recognition technology in law enforcement, immediate termination of employment and criminal charges for police officers that demonstrate excessive force, and an end to mass incarceration.

Jazmine Middlebrooks, an organizer from March for Black Women Detroit, spoke on the actions that need to be taken to handle racism. She said the best way for white people to be an ally of the Black Lives Matter Movement is to intervene whenever they encounter racism. 

“I want to ask the white allies out here to do more than just march and tweet,” Middlebrooks said. “When you see injustice in front of you, say something. I don’t care if it’s the police or your professor or your friends or family — intervene.”

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton touched on one of the demands of the rally, discontinuing facial recognition technology to identify people. Protesters worried the technology assumes all Black people look the same. 

“In Minnesota, they’re killing black men,” Burton said. “But in Detroit, they’re killing our community with this techno-racism, or better known today as facial recognition. Shut it down.”

LSA freshman Jaydin Adams told The Daily he was at the rally to express his outrage about George Floyd’s death, saying right now is the time to take action.

“This has been going on for a long time and it’s so sickening,” Adams said. “Just to see someone putting his knee on someone’s neck for over six minutes is just disgusting. Even after he knew that he was (unconscious), it’s just too much. So it’s time to stand up.”

Since Floyd’s death, buildings in downtown Minnesota have burned down as a result of riots and ex-police officer Derek Chauvin — who arrested Floyd — has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

“Say his name. George Floyd.”

Protesteors took off to march after the rally. One group veered off the original march and encountered police officers on Michigan Avenue, who were acting as barriers to the busier streets. Photographer and healthcare consultant Drake Taylor was walking with the crowd when he saw a man crying in front of a police car. Drake Taylor went to comfort the man when both of them were confronted by the police and told to move away from the car. 

Drake Taylor said in an interview with The Daily that a female police officer accused him of trying to grab her taser, while he says that his camera strap got wrapped around it. Shortly after, he was detained, charged with disorderly conduct and fined for $500. Drake Taylor said he believes the arrest was racially motivated to set an example for the protesteors since he iswas Black.

“They treated me the way they treated me because of my skin color and I hate to say that,” Drake Taylor said. “But if I had been white acting the way I was acting, just like the guy standing next to me, I don’t think I would’ve gotten arrested.”

Several protesters were angry about Drake Taylor’s arrest and damaged police vehicles in response. The police used horses to break up the crowds. However, Drake Taylor said if the opportunity presents itself, he would be willing to be arrested again.

“I will stand next to anyone to risk getting a ticket cause that’s just me,” Drake Taylor said. “They’re not going to stop me. It may have stopped me from today, but I have 500 pictures. I’ll just go home and edit and come back tomorrow … Don’t let anyone stop you from standing up for what you believe in.”

Since a video was released of a police officer punching Ypsilanti resident Sha’Tenia Grady El in the head during an arrest, many people have marched in support of her. State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, has proposed a bill to increase police training in response. 

Southfield resident and entrepreneur Sarah Marshall said she believes police brutality should be solved by fixing the police system. In addition to having the officers accused charged for their crimes, Marshall said there needs to be people in power to implement the proper training and consequences to combat police brutality against Black people. 

“Everytime something like this happens, it’s kind of a Band-Aid being placed over it and I think it is time for a complete change,” Marshall said. “Politicians being put into places in power that do want to see change for all people. Also (the) different legal ramifications when things like this happen. That it’s not just a one-time thing … Protocols and different training need to be put in place for police officers and people of higher power because they are truly supposed to be our protection, and not the ones that we are supposed to be afraid of.”

Wayne State student Giacomo Galofaro had a different perspective about dismantling police brutality. Galofaro claimed police officers were created on the grounds of racism, which is the basis of why many activists believe the entire system needs to be abolished and replaced. They said Black people need to receive the promise of equality from the nation, which is long overdue.

“When you look at police officers and how they started, police officers were created to punish slaves that escaped from their plantation,” Galofaro said. “That’s the reason why police officers were created. So when you really look at police officers and what they were originally made for, it’s obvious: (a) showing of the fact that this racism has been rooted into American culture. America was built on the backs of Black people and it continues to be put on the backs on Black people with no reciprocation for equality like what was promised for them.”

Part of the movement on social media for Black Lives Matter is getting white people to recognize their privilege and call it out when necessary. Other minority groups have been sharing their support for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality as well. 

Michigan State junior Rebekah Long expressed the need for allies in the fight for Black Lives Matter, saying people must work together so police brutality can be addressed at full force.

“I’m here today because there’s injustices engraved into our country and we must address (them) at full force and at full capacity,” Long said. “We are calling on our allies. We can no longer (have) only the Black community fight these issues. We must band together as a coalition to fight the injustices, the inequality, the lack of equity, the lack of accessibility so we can have equality in our lives.”

As a member of the LGTBQ+ community, Galofaro shared they are participating in March Against Police Brutality because they know how protests have helped their own community fight towards equality. 

“I’m gay (and) I see a lot of people condemning the violence and as a gay person, that would be wrong because the only reason I can celebrate pride today is because of the Stonewall riots,” Galfaro said. “I cannot condemn a group of people who are reacting to this racism when my own people fought through violent protests.”

“Hands Up. Don’t shoot.”

While the Facebook event was scheduled to end at 5:30, protesters continued to march long into the night. At 11 p.m., the march was declared an unlawful assembly and turned violent. A 21-year-old man from East Pointe, Mich., was fatally shot by an unknown assailant. It is unclear whether the incident was connected to the protest.

Metro-Detroit Political Action Network released a statement about the violence that occurred and listed demands as a result of the violence.

“Many who broke off from our demonstration (which ended at 6:45 PM) encountered heavy brutality from police,” the statement read. “Based on (the) video we've seen, everything our speakers talked about came to pass. We demand that: 1. All protesters from last night will be released if not freed already. 2) An investigation be held into the shooting of a protester by a person in a grey or white SUV (reports conflict at this time). 3) An investigation into breach of protocol and improper or excessive force by the Detroit Police Department.”

Detroit resident Tristan Taylor spoke on behalf of Detroit Renter City at the March Against Police Brutality, but he took it upon himself to lead marches for the next two days. 

Tristan Taylor told The Daily in an interview that people are tired of police brutality and that’s why they wanted to continue marching.

“The people made the decision themselves,” Tristan Taylor said. “It was an actual vote … It was clear at 6:45 that people didn’t want to go home because they’re tired. They are done with letting racist murders by the police continue.”

Black journalists are also being targeted by police while they are covering marches and riots, which was seen live on CNN when Minneapolis police arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew, but not his white counterpart who was covering the riots. According to Twitter, Detroit Free Press reporter Branden Hunter was approached by a police officer holding a rifle and had to stay close with other people from the Free Press to avoid getting arrested. 

60 arrests were made Friday night and multiple people were victim to rubber bullets and tear gas. 84 arrests were made Saturday night. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has issued a curfew from 8 p.m. Sunday to 5 a.m. Monday morning. 

Summer Managing News Editor Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu