Detroit lawmakers call for investigation into police violence against protesters

    Detroit protest of George Floyd's killing, May 29, 2020 | Ken Coleman

    A group of elected officials this week called for an independent investigation into use of force by Detroit police against protesters and journalists over the last several months.

    In a letter to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, and the Board of Police Commissioners, the elected officials wrote on Tuesday:  

    “The right to free speech is one that is fundamental to our country’s democracy and critical to ensuring that our beloved city is one where everyone is heard. Protesters and others exercising their constitutional right to speak up about police brutality and racial justice deserve the same protection others receive. No person should fear being beaten, tasered, tear gassed, shot or killed by law enforcement officers.”

    U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) and Detroit City Council Members Mary Sheffield and Raquel Castañeda-López signed the letter. 

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    Demonstrations began in Detroit on May 29 in response to the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers. Although most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, some of them have resulted in arrests of protesters and journalists.  

    Detroit Will Breathe has established itself the lead protest group in the city and has previously called for Duggan and Craig to resign and for defunding the city police department. 

    On Aug. 31, the organization filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order enjoining the city of Detroit and the Detroit Police Department (DPD) from using certain tactics. They alleged that police responded to protests with excessive force and violated their first and fourth amendment rights. A motion was granted for the restraining order.

    In the letter, the lawmakers cited seven incidents involving use of force by officers.

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    “We all play a role in the fight for racial justice and ending police brutality, regardless of our position or skin color. Now is the time for bold and humble leadership, to acknowledge the systemic racism underpinning our police system and to rise to the challenge of changing it. We hope you rise to meet the challenge and lead with courage,” the letter reads.

    Craig responded to the letter Tuesday through a statement, saying that complaints against officers are investigated by the city’s Board of Police Commissioners, an 11-member civilian oversight body of elected and appointed officials, as well as DPD’s internal affairs unit.  

    “What really disturbs me is that when protesters assaulted Detroit police officers with rocks, railroad spikes and fireworks, never once did these representatives ask for an independent investigation into their violent criminal activity,” Craig said. 

    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.