Protestors in Detroit got what they wanted Wednesday night when they were allowed to keep demonstrating past the city’s temporary 8 p.m. curfew, with the support of Police Chief James Craig.
It was a distinctly different attitude from police towards protestors than on Tuesday night, when 127 were arrested for being out too late. Protests against police brutality -- sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police -- have continued each day in Detroit for nearly a week.
After the 8 p.m. curfew Wednesday, a group of protestors marched through downtown as another group – around 100 people at its largest – staged what organizers called a sit-in protest in the streets in front of the Manoogian Mansion, the Detroit Mayor’s residence, demanding an end to the curfew.
“The Mayor and the Chief of police are wrong for having a curfew,” said protest organizer Joanna Underwood, pointing out Detroit hasn’t seen the level of vandalism and looting in other cities. “Most of our protests have been totally peaceful,” she said.
Eventually, the group in front of the Manoogian heard news that Detroit Police Chief James Craig told the other group of protestors marching east of downtown that he supported allowing that peaceful protest to continue past the curfew. Previously, both Craig and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have said the curfew is meant to keep provocateurs outside Detroit from coming into the city at night to wreak havoc.
But on Wednesday evening, Craig changed his tone. He called the curfew "discretionary," and allowed protesters to keep marching with a police escort so long as things stayed peaceful.
“They’re peaceful, as everybody can see. There’s no problems," Craig said. "They want their voices heard, and we support that. And so we’re making a decision to support that.”
Craig called it "a day of celebration" because the four former Minneapolis police officers responsible for Floyd's death will all be facing criminal charges, including a 2nd degree murder charges for Derek Chauvin, who pressed Floyd's neck into the ground with his knee for eight minutes. Craig has publicly denounced Floyd's death as murder.
David Witherspoon called it an "execution." Witherspoon watched the marchers go by on Jefferson Avenue on Wednesday with his family. His wife held a Black Lives Matter sign.
“People are tired," Witherspoon said. "It’s not just about Black Lives Matter, this is about the lives of America right now. Because even though it’s happening to black men, that’s not to say it won’t happen to someone else.”
On Sunday night, police deployed tear gas to disperse protestors after police said someone threw something toward them. Protest Organizer Meeko Williams said most of the protests in Detroit over the past week have been peaceful. He said the arrests of protestors after curfew Tuesday amounted to police harassment of peaceful demonstrators.
“So for (Craig) to say that he supports us, I wish he could have said that on Friday, and could have left everyone alone the rest of the weekend,” said Williams. “(The people) should be having their first amendment rights to demonstrate in a fashion that’s civil and peaceful.”
Williams said the plan for Wednesday's protest was to sit and remain in place -- refusing to adhere to the curfew. Protesters said they were willing to be arrested, but there were no conflicts or tense moments between police and the protestors at the Manoogian Mansion.
As of Wednesday, the curfew was in effect until the end of the week.
Protestors at the Manoogian mansion invited anyone who wanted to speak to address the crowd. Black protestors spoke about being surprised to see such a diverse crowd, especially the significant number of white people. Underwood and Williams urged protestors to vote in the August and November elections to help enact progressive policies bent on addressing racism and police brutality. The crowd chanted the names of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous other black people killed by police in the past several years.
Many protestors wore masks but made little effort to maintain social distancing.