6 Detroit activists share their visions for a mor...

6 Detroit activists share their visions for a more just city

"You can’t dismantle something without building something to replace it. There’s a lot of work in this city to be done.”

detroit activists at protest

Editor’s note: Sarah Williams is a freelance journalist who has taken part in protests and marches in the city over the past two weeks.

As Detroiters continue to take to the streets against police brutality and racial injustice, Detour caught up with some individuals helping lead daily marches to ask what’s driving them personally and what their visions are for a more just Detroit. 

Their answers include wanting to see the demilitarization of police, accountability for police brutality, the removal of mass surveillance in their communities, equity in basic needs such as housing, water and education, support for Black-owned businesses and budding entrepreneurs, care for the disabled and homeless, and strengthened relationships between cis individuals and queer and trans residents.

Nakia-Renne Wallace

Nakia-Renne Wallace
Credit: Sarah Williams

Nakia-Renne Wallace is looking for a response from her local government to alleviate fear in its Black and brown residents and to provide resources she says poor Detroiters of color have been starved of since before she was born.

She’s going to keep marching until that happens. As co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, a group organizing daily protests in the city, she’s helping to advocate on behalf of herself, her community and those attending “The People’s March.”

“This change is possible, and I know it’s possible with the power of this movement,” she says. The group’s 11 prioritized demands brought to the mayor and police chief last week include measures like defunding and demilitarizing the police, ending Project Green Light and facial recognition, stopping evictions, and restoring water to all residents. 

Proposals that’ve been made across the nation to defund police departments, the arrest and charges of the four officers who murdered George Floyd and even the curfew being lifted in Detroit for these protests are signs that this is working, she says. It’s because “people are coming out and taking the streets, standing up and demanding justice.”

And white folks showing up in solidarity to Black Lives Matter is a special thing, whether they’re Detroiters or from the suburbs, says Wallace. “That needs to be celebrated. Any talk that says that’s not a good thing is an attempt to divide the movement and dwindle the numbers so that we don’t stand as strong as we are. You don’t have to have had a bad experience with the police to stand up and to say this is wrong.”

Wallace says she believes all the demands are possible to achieve. “I have great certainty that the power of the movement is enough.” 

Lamont Satchel Jr.

Courtesy Lamont Satchel Jr.

Lamont Satchel Jr., 17, wants to see city residents commit to supporting Black-owned businesses. He wants to see white-owned businesses in the city step up their game to value and elevate employees of color in stakeholder positions. And, he says, he hopes his creative, entrepreneurial Black peers will continue to pursue their grassroots businesses: their makeup lines, jewelry, car details, apparel, masks and more so he can invest in them.

We’re all so quick to run to outlet stores and malls to get these big name brands that don’t support our community, he says. We spend thousands of dollars on white brands and white corporations who sell us their shoes, shirts and watches, but when our neighbor is selling a shirt for $40, we think that’s a problem. 

“We have to take accountability and ownership of that,” he says. “That’s how we change the narrative. That’s how we make a Detroit that we want, a nation, a state that we want. We have to invest in our own.”

Lamont’s challenging his peers to do more than carry a sign. “Are you marching and walking, but then you go out the next day and go to Somerset and to Great Lakes Crossing?” he asks.

The incoming senior at Cass Technical High School spoke on the issue of police brutality at the Detroit Public School Community District protest held on June 11. He’s asking the question, “Why are we being treated this way?” The answer comes down to basic humanity, he says, Black and brown people really aren’t being seen as human.

“I shouldn’t have to be taught by my Black parents how to act around the police. That doesn’t make sense to me,” he says. “The law enforcement, the adults, should know how to treat us.”

Breonna Taylor could have had “the talk” with her parents, he says, but how would that have helped her stay alive when she was shot eight times in her home

The movement needs to be against police brutality, he says, but it also has to be about more, it has to extend out of the streets.

“It’s a whole space of black excellence, black support and black businesses. It’s with our money, right? Black and brown people have a very strong buying power. We have to use that to our advantage.”

Alex Deporre

Credit: Sarah Williams

Alex Deppore wants to see a Detroit that provides resources dedicated to each and every neighborhood, from housing agents, to social work, to food access. There are too many roles police are being asked to fill, she says. “I don’t think that police cars patrolling through our neighborhoods really makes anyone feel safe.”

Through her advocacy work, one of the things Deppore, a Woodbridge resident, strives to do is encourage white people like herself to break out of comfortable places and take up the fight for racial justice, for the long game. 

She’s a member of the Southeast Michigan chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURG), a network that works to “move white people to justice through passion and accountability.” She says she’s been coming back to the protests because, since conversations about “outside agitators” have died down, that’s what leaders of Detroit-based groups have been asking white people to do.  

“We’ve been listening closely to Black Lives Matter, the Movement for Black Lives and Black Youth Project 100 in Detroit. All of these groups say they want a continued presence downtown and continued pressure,” she says.

“Every day the police have to respond to this group,” she says about the protests led by Detroit Will Breathe. “They have to manage traffic. There’s media coverage, and that is what we need to keep going with the movement.” 

As she passes out flyers, Deppore says she also wants to offer guidelines, especially to white people who may be new to anti-racism activism, about how to act at a protest and how to start looking at their own lives to begin doing the “really hard work” of anti-racism.

In this moment, Deppore says she’s learning that things don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. You could come to the protests and think they aren’t organized enough or producing quick enough results, she says, because a sense of urgency, of scarcity and of perfection are “characteristics we take to be normal parts of a productive society. We consider them to be positive traits but they actually support our white supremacist capitalist society.”

Dorian Minley

Dorian Minley
Courtesy Dorian Minley

A more just city for Dorian Minley would include an increase in Black queer and trans voices in government and greater friendship between “people of all races and queer trans people of all intersections.”

He describes himself as a queer trans man, born and raised in Detroit, with two spirits from his Black and indigenous ancestors. Minley currently resides Downriver. 

This past Sunday, he led the third weekly peaceful sit-in outside the Charles H. Wright Museum hosted by the Detroit Queer Activist Coalition.

“Not everybody can walk. Not everybody can march these long things, especially me,” he says. Minley suffers from kidney failure and relies on dialysis three times a week. “So I wanted to make a space that was open, and centering not only Black queer voices but also taking the time to examine and center and protect disabled folks.” 

“I want to show people in the city that we’re here for total solidarity over every intersection,” he says, “but hopefully we’ll also get more eyes on the fact that we’re dying just as cis people are dying.”

Transgender people are far more likely to experience violence when interacting with the police than non-trans people, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs

“It seems like we don’t have the type of camaraderie and togetherness that we should,” he says, of the relationship between cis people of color and and queer and trans people of color in metro Detroit, “especially when we’re speaking about police brutality.”

Besides supporting those in the queer and trans community, Minley is out there for his father, his younger brother and other cis men in his family who he says have had negative encounters with the police “without any provocation.”  

“My father asked me, who are you out there fighting for?” Minley says. Among others he wants to see protected, he said he told his father, “I’m out there fighting for you.”

Victoria Burton-Harris

Credit: Sarah Williams

Victoria Burton-Harris wants to see a county that practices restorative justice, a county that decriminalizes petty drug use and non violent misdemeanors. She wants to live and work in a county that ends cash bail, and that clogs the school to prison pipeline.

“We can be a county that’s not responsible for the largest number of wrongful convictions in the state out of all counties combined,” she says. 

Burton-Harris is running for Wayne County Prosecutor against incumbent Kym Worthy, a position where she says can do the work to make that happen. As a Black woman, a Black lawyer, a Black wife and mother, she says she’s prepared for the fight against a broken judicial system that doesn’t value Black lives.   

“If we really want to end mass incarceration, if we truly want to reform our broken criminal justice system, we have to start with the gatekeeper and that is your elected prosecutor,” she says. “Your prosecutor decides who comes in the system and who stays out.”

As a Black defense attorney who watches police body cam footage every day, Burton-Harris says it never matches what’s in the report. We’ve got to demand better, she says.

“We’ve got to demand that untruthful officers lose their jobs and be held accountable by our prosecutor. We’ve got to demand that innocent people, including our children, our Black babies, stop being criminalized in this county.”

History shows that protests are the right first step, she says, and that’s why she shows up in solidarity. But it’s got to lead to the ballot box if we really want to see change happen, she says.

Burton-Harris says Blacks can lead Black liberation but they need support from others.

“We’ve been doing this for 400 years and I promise you we can not go at this alone. We are on the precipice of change, real change, bold change,” she says. “We are demanding accountability and if we don’t get it, we are going to take it.”

‘Baba’ Baxter Jones

Credit: Sarah Williams

“Baba” Baxter Jones is no stranger to the fight for justice. He’s been in Detroit a long time. He remembers how it felt to be in the midst of the ‘67 uprising. “The times were different but the feeling is the same,” he says, protesting from his wheelchair at The People’s March. “People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. That’s not changed.” 

As a community activist who devotes his life to advocacy for “the liberation of black people and people with disabilities,” Jones believes in universal basic income.

“They should give everybody what they need to survive and what they’re able to get after that is up to them. But then at least they don’t have to worry,” he says.

“Some people don’t believe in sharing. We have enough wealth right now so that nobody should go hungry, nobody should go without shelter, without water, nobody should have to suffer in this country,” he says. “When you take the responsibility for being in charge, and setting up a system, you are responsible for what happens in that system.”

A vision keeper in the community, Jones is getting out to the protests to show his support to youth leadership. “I’m an elder. I’m taking a back seat to this movement. This is the young people’s movement,” he says. “Every now and then they call on me for wisdom and I’m happy to give it to them. But this is their time. They’re rising up, and I’m here to support them because they are the future.”

He thanks each person in the crowd for coming out. “Because that’s the first step,” he says, “showing up. But understand that’s just the beginning. You can’t dismantle something without building something to replace it. There’s a lot of work in this city to be done.”