The day after President Trump-supporting activists carried out a demonstration at the site where presidential campaign votes were being counted in Detroit, civil rights leaders on Thursday responded to the melee. 

Dozens of GOP activists on Wednesday chanted, “Stop the count!” both inside and outside of TCF Center, Detroit’s vote counting site. Republicans recruited people from around the state to come into Detroit, a heavily Democratic and majority-Black city, and some were not even from Michigan. Most of the protesters were white.

The Rev. Charles Williams II, National Action Network Michigan chapter president, said that the incident was a response to the strong Black voter turnout and its impact on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden winning the state over Trump, a Republican.  

“It made it very, very clear to them that they need to obstruct,” Williams said. “And that’s why they went into obstruction mode. We are thankful that it didn’t work.”

The Associated Press and other media outlets have called Michigan for Biden, who currently leads by almost 160,000 votes in unofficial returns.

Trump’s reelection campaign on Wednesday filed a lawsuit to stop election counting in Michigan, which a judge dismissed Thursday. Later in the day, several news sources declared Biden the victor in Michigan. 

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens on Thursday dismissed a challenge from the Trump campaign to ballot counting in the state. Trump filed a recount lawsuit in Wisconsin and a voting counting lawsuit in Pennsylvania.

The Detroit protests were reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election incident that has come to be called the “Brooks Brothers Riot.” It was a conservative demonstration at a meeting of election canvassers in Miami-Dade County, Fla. to shutdown the recount following the 2000 presidential election between Democratic nominee Al Gore and his Republican nominee George W. Bush. 

The conservative U.S. Supreme Court eventually weighed in and ruled to stop the count, essentially handing Bush the presidency as he was awarded Florida’s electoral votes.

Steve Spreitzer, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion president and CEO, said that the actions of the pro-Trump protesters exhibited “white supremacist” characteristics.

Black lawmakers warned of extremism and white supremacism at the Capitol for months. Leaders didn’t take action.

“Let’s call it what is,” said Spreitzer, who is white. “Somehow they have the right and superiority to come in and dismiss the votes of majority Black city.”

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit NAACP branch president, described the incident as a “terror tactic” and compared it with a 2000 presidential election incident in Florida. 

“Having protestors bang on doors, threaten poll workers and elections officials, demanding that they stop the vote is wrong and should not be tolerated,” Anthony said. “These folks are disturbing the peace, attempting to slow down the process and intimidate the vote counters. They are in fact obstructing the rights of the workers to do their job. Perhaps a lawsuit should be filed against them.” 

Coleman Young Jr., a former Michigan House and Senate member, tweeted on Thursday: 

“Americans were arrested for peacefully protesting George Floyd’s killing. Yet, a mob of Trump supporters can intimidate canvassers, bang on the windows of the canvassing room, shout, “stop the count” to stop an election and hijack democracy and no one gets arrested?”

Young is the son of Coleman A. Young, the first Black mayor of Detroit.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.