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Police, protesters clash in Detroit; 19-year-old dead after suspect shoots into crowd

Detroit police clash with protesters well into early Saturday morning during a rally calling for an end to police violence and justice for George Floyd Friday May 29, 2020. (Nicole Hester/Mlive.com)

What started as a peaceful protest against police brutality at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Friday afternoon turned into a series of violent clashes between police and protesters throughout downtown past midnight.

Police arrested several protesters and there was one fatal shooting, which police said did not involve officers.

Protesters and police in riot gear began facing off near the Renaissance Center about 9:45 p.m.

From that point on, the scene became tense and frequently violent for the next several hours as police tried to relocate protesters out of downtown.

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Protesters threw rocks and plastic and glass bottles toward police. In response, police charged toward protesters, threw punches and fired canisters of gas that got into people’s eyes and airways.

“The more they do this, the more they’re antagonizing people,” said 28-year-old Shawn Vaughn, after police used gas to get protesters to move from a parking lot.

About 5:45 p.m., long before the clashes with police, the peaceful protest showed the first slight signs of taking a turn. Protesters could be seen circling a police vehicle waving middle fingers and shouting, “F— the police,” and police also arrested a man for unknown reasons in the area of Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard.

Protesters prevented the police car with the arrested individuals from leaving, police responded on horseback to move them away and then some individuals could be seen pulling on the reins. Two damaged police cars with missing windows were also visible.

Elsewhere at Woodward Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, no such interactions were visible. There were chants of “Whose streets? Our streets.”

A Facebook event for a march and rally showed at least 1,000 people were marked as attending at 4 p.m. in front of Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, 1301 Third St.

By 3:50 p.m., a crowd of at least 100 people had already gathered and started to chant, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” An hour and a half later, the group had grown to an estimated thousand or more and were marching through the city.

The gathering comes after the death of 46-year-old Floyd, a black man, who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest Monday in Minneapolis. A viral video showed Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe” as passersby pleaded for police to stop.

The event in Detroit is in response to Floyd’s death as well as a video showing a Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office deputy punching a woman – Sha’Teina Grady El – during an encounter this week, according to a press release from protest organizers Metro-Detroit Political Action Network. March for Black Women Detroit, Michigan Progressive Caucus and Detroit Anarchist Black Cross also organized the event.

“Police brutality is an unaccountable epidemic and its time people took a stand,” organizers said, according to the release.

The group and marchers also pointed to injustices with water shutoffs, foreclosures and poverty. They called for the march to be nonviolent and for social distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Most attendees wore masks.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield led a chant of “I’m fed up,” shortly after the rally began.

“The way in which this country values black lives is unacceptable,” she said. “And to be honest with you, I’m tired. I’m tired of rallying. I’m tired of marching. I’m tired of asking … We are demanding justice.”

One attendee, Katherine Mitchell, 19, of Detroit, held a small cardboard sign that read “Black lives matter” and “Stop killing us.”

The video of Floyd’s death left her feeling numb and distraught, she said. She attended Friday’s rally to express that she’s sick of seeing black people dying at the hands of police.

“I’m hoping it really opens up people’s eyes to let them know that we just want justice. We want them to stop killing us,” Mitchell said. “We deserve just as many rights to live in this country as freely as anybody else.”

The swelling crowd moved into the headquarters’ parking lot after a brief time on the street, but at about 4:40 p.m. was marching down West Lafayette Boulevard by the federal courthouse toward Campus Martius.

The group was headed north on Woodward Avenue near the Fox Theatre minutes later and by about 5:15 p.m. were blocking Michigan Avenue near the Rosa Parks Transit Center, with hands up yelling, “Don’t shoot.”

While marchers moved around the city, speakers also continued to address a crowd in the police parking lot. About 5:20 p.m. the group of marchers returned near the police headquarters, gained many who had stayed to rally, and set off toward Corktown.

The event was set to end at 5:30 p.m. but by 6 p.m. crowds were visible along Woodward Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and in the area of Michigan Avenue and Rosa Parks Boulevard, where the several skirmishes had broken out.

At one point, protesters could be seen throwing bottles and kicking at a police car, which then sported a punctured window. Protesters also surrounded the vehicle, while other protesters urged them to let the vehicle pass. It eventually moved.

One person grabbed and threw a police officer’s cap. Another protester returned it. A police captain holding a gas mask could be seen reaching into a pouch for a canister, and people started saying he was getting tear gas. None was used at that point.

By 7:20, the crowds were located in several spots of the city. By 8 p.m. protesters were calling for more marching Friday night as well as Saturday. They chanted “black power” after making the decision.

Later, protesters were seen yelling in the faces of some officers and a police car had been vandalized with spray paint.

The first true clash with police occurred about 9:45 p.m.

Not long after, during a Facebook Live at 10:22 p.m., Chief James Craig said nine people had arrested, six men and three women. Seven of them were residents from outside Detroit.

Officers were attacked, he said. A command officer was struck with a rock and taken to a local hospital. Another officer on a bike was struck.

“I will not stand by and let a small minority, criminals, come in here, attack our officers and make our community unsafe,” he said.

That was before the police alterations continued, and a 19-year-old was fatally shot. Police say a drive-by shooter fired into the crowd.

By the end of the night, Detroit Police had made dozens of arrested, Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said. An exact number was not immediately available as of 2 a.m.

Sade Brown, 22, of Detroit said her twin sister, Shiann Brown, was one of the people arrested.

They’ve been protesting all day and the protesting was peaceful until police started making the protesters back up, Sade Brown said.

She said the sisters turned around to do so, and then police came upon them and were again pushing them to back up.

“They were just pushing us literally to the point where we fell,” she said, later adding: “They dragged her away, they literally dragged her by her legs.”

They were following orders, she said.

Julia Bradley, 21, of Southfield described a push-and-pull scenario with police and protesters.

“One of the cops, he said, ‘You all are part of a group that are throwing rocks,’ I said, ‘Throwing rocks and actually murdering people, those aren’t comparative.’”

She had not seen rocks thrown.

Police could be seen retreating, protesters then going back up to them. After some sort of apparent confrontation, police were seen charging forward.

Those gathered and marching earlier in the day included both white and black protesters, with attendees Lauren Wasiak, Kaleigh Kuhns and Maggie Kuhns arriving from Oakland County to show support.

They held two signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and another that quoted activist and former Black Panther Angela Davis, reading: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.”

Another attendee Austin Dunsen, 31, said the “melting pot” of people who showed up to decry police brutality left him encouraged.

Dunsen, a Detroit musician who goes by Apropos, held a sign that read, “Am I next?”

“Being black in America, when I wake up every day and I see something like we saw with George Floyd, it only makes me think, ‘That could be me,’” he said. “If I get pulled over and get thrown on the ground, will there be a knee in my neck?”

Signs at the rally recalled other black lives taken, including Breonna Taylor, Auhmad Arbery, Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Stanley-Jones.

Taylor was killed in March during a police raid on her home in Kentucky. Arbery was killed in February in Georgia after being pursued by white men, who were arrested this month after a video of the shooting went viral. Martin was fatally shot in February 2012 by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida. Stanley-Jones, a 7-year-old girl, was fatally shot during a Detroit police raid in 2010.

Andrell Thomas 32, of Detroit, got stuck in his car at Michigan and Trumbull avenues on his way to Bucharest Grill, but said he was glad to see the protests.

Black people have been trying to live in peace, but face police abusing their power, he said.

“I like that everybody is out here protesting but I think it’s unfortunate how in 2020 black people are still facing a lot of the injustices that they’re facing right now,” he said.

He also joined in criticism of President Donald Trump’s overnight Tweets.

He Tweeted about 1 a.m. Friday about protests in Minneapolis, saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Thomas said it was disrespectful.

“It’s adding to the fuel instead of trying to help with the problem,” he said.

I’Sha Schultz-Spradlin, 27, of Detroit was burning sage with Dragon’s blood incense early in the rally, saying it cleanses vibes and she hoped it would help keep the effort peaceful.

But anger is warranted, she said. Messages about not murdering black people don’t seem to be getting through.

Asked about the Detroit police’s relationship with the community, specifically, she said she had many thoughts. She offered this:

“In the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that police aren’t even properly trained on how to go into communities. They got rid of neighborhood policing so as much as it is their fault, it’s also just the system’s fault as well.”

Another attendee, Shanae Riser, said she told her daughters, ages 6 and 2, about Floyd’s killing. When she said she would be protesting, the girls wanted to join.

Riser’s fiancé marched alongside her on Washington Avenue. Her 2-year-old daughter rode on his shoulders and held one small fist in the air.

“As a family, it means everything,” Riser, of Detroit, said of marching in support of Floyd. “This is a part of their history.”

Xavier Blevins, 22, of Northville called the gathering beautiful, with people of all colors present.

Speaking before the evening face-off, he said things escalated when an officer vehicle escalated toward protesters. His foot was run over, he said.

Kirkwood was not immediately aware of such an incident and was seeking more information.

Blevins said even peaceful protests face tear gas, and also said they won’t stand for a crooked judicial system.

“The 90% that are good are not stopping the 10% that are bad, so they’re all bad,” he said of police.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig called Floyd’s death “murder” on Thursday, saying there was clear probable cause to arrest the officer.

The officer who knelt on Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter on Friday after days of fiery protests in the city.

He and three officers from the scene were fired shortly after the death.

Protests have erupted across the country.

Here’s a look at how events unfolded in the later hours of the protest.

10 p.m.: Police and protesters clashed near the RiverWalk in Detroit.

About 100 or more protesters were surrounded by police shortly before 10 p.m near the RiverWalk at Atwater and Bates streets. Police were blocking movement to streets other than Jefferson Avenue.

Then police in riot gear appeared.

Shortly after, protesters could be seen throwing items as police with shields moved forward, then altercations would erupt with protesters being tackled.

Video from an on-the-ground reporter also showed protesters carrying a wooden post and shouts of “watch out,” before police were then seen going into the crowd amid screams.

The post carriers were tackled.

Police were seen in multiple altercations with protesters in the street, with several people on the ground in the area of Jefferson and Randolph. At least one officer could be seen punching someone on the ground.

Another striked a protester with a baton.

10:30 p.m: Police pushed protesters back to Randolph and Larned streets.

Police lined up with shields and some have donned gas masks.

11 p.m.: Altercations were continuing at 11 p.m. About 15 minutes prior, police were also seen removing a man from a car.

Chief James Craig, speaking in a Facebook Live at 10:22 p.m., said nine people have been arrested, six men and three women. Seven of them are residents from outside Detroit.

Officers have been attacked, he said. A command officer was struck with a rock and taken to a local hospital. Another officer on a bike was struck.

“I will not stand by and let a small minority, criminals, come in here, attack our officers and make our community unsafe,” he said.

The Detroit Police Department is angry about the death of George Floyd, too, he said.

However, those who truly believe that black lives matter should protest in their own city and not expose black lives to COVID-19, he said. If they come to Detroit, they should be peaceful.

About 1,500 people protested peacefully Friday, he said.

Two vehicles were heavily damaged Friday with damaged windows, said Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood. Three others had minor damage.

Craig said police know who caused some vehicle damage and they live outside Detroit. They will be sought.

11:30 p.m.: Sade Brown, 22, of Detroit said her twin sister, Shiann Brown, was one of the people arrested.

They’ve been protesting all day and the protesting was peaceful until police started making the protesters back up, Sade Brown said.

She said the sisters turned around to do so, and then police came upon them and were again pushing them to back up.

“They were just pushing us literally to the point where we fell,” she said, later adding: “They dragged her away, they literally dragged her by her legs.”

They were following orders, she said.

11:45 p.m.: Police are believed to now be firing tear gas. An officer told a reporter that CS gas was being fired. It appeared to be causing coughing.

Julia Bradley, 21, of Southfield said she had been at the scene since 6 p.m. and was near the Randolph between Larned and Congress streets when she saw police pushing some girls on the ground.

She described a push-and-pull scenario with police and protesters.

Police could be seen retreating, protesters then going back up to them. After some sort of apparent confrontation, police were seen charging forward.

“One of the cops, he said, ‘You all are part of a group that are throwing rocks,’ I said, ‘Throwing rocks and actually murdering people, those aren’t comparative.’”

She had not seen rocks thrown.

Reporters at the scene could see bottles being thrown.

12:22 a.m.: Following up on reports from some at the scene that someone was shot, Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood has said someone was shot and that Detroit police were not involved. Further details were not immediately available.

1:20 a.m.: A 19-year-old man is dead after shots were fired into the crowd near Congress and Randolph about 11:30 p.m.

Police say an unknown suspect in a gray Dodge Durango pulled up and fired into the crowd, then fled. The 19-year-old died at a hospital.

Video obtained by the Free Press showed the man bleeding from the chest after the incident. Attempts were made at the scene to revive him.

The incident remains under investigation.

Police ask those with information to call Detroit Police Homicide at 313-596-1290 and Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SpeakUp.

2:12 a.m.: Dozens of people were arrested in connection with the protests Friday evening, Detroit Police Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said. An exact count was not immediately available.

She said most were not Detroit residents.

As of about 12:30 a.m., crowds began dispersing as police pushed protesters north from Jefferson Avenue toward Greektown and Broadway

To move the crowd, police fired gas canisters, chased small groups of protesters and threatened to use their Taser.

The message police kept yelling: go home.

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©2020 the Detroit Free Press

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.