Weeks of Protests in Detroit Bring Demands for Radical Reforms

Demonstrators insist that they will keep marching until their demands are met

Reverberations from the May 25 slaying of George Floyd by Minneapolis police were felt in dozens of major protests on the streets of Detroit and many of its suburbs as spring turned into summer. While there were scores of arrests and the city briefly imposed an 8 p.m. curfew that was frequently ignored, local demonstrations largely passed peacefully.

One notable exception: In late June, a police SUV threw two protesters mounted on its hood off by hitting the gas to escape a large group of demonstrators that crowded, climbed upon, and pounded on the vehicle. Protest groups are calling for Police Chief James Craig to resign after he defended the officers’ actions by asserting they were startled by a vehicle window that was shattered in the ruckus. No significant injuries were reported.

Still, in Flint, Detroit, and Troy, at various moments police officers also kneeled along with protesters. “As the highest-ranking person here, I will kneel. On behalf of my department, the city of Detroit, and all of our sisters, everybody, I will kneel,” Detroit Police Deputy Chief Todd Bettison told the crowd at a June 2 protest, Detroit Free Press reported.

Glimmers of common ground emerged as protests stretched beyond their first week. At a June 7 demonstration, Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton told the crowd that the police commission, which deals with excessive force incidents and police corruption, must become more independent and transparent. In Lansing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called for new training to “help create a police culture where all Michiganders are treated with dignity and respect.” And on June 9, protest leaders calling their movement Detroit Will Breathe presented a list of demands to Mayor Mike Duggan. Among them: demilitarizing and defunding police, ending the city’s Project Greenlight surveillance program, and dropping charges against arrested protesters.

As of early July, protesters insisted they would keep marching indefinitely until demands are met.

“If the protests die down, if the momentum dies down, then we won’t have anything,” protester Sharron Reed-Davis, 21, told us. “We’ll be back, right where we started, which is getting killed by police and police not being held accountable for their actions.”