Detroit protester struck by cop car says police pr...

Detroit protester struck by cop car says police presence at marches is about power, not keeping the peace

Video of an officer driving through the crowd as people screamed Sunday night circulated on social media and sparked national headlines.

detroit police drive into protesters

Protesters called what happened Sunday evening at Vernor Highway in Southwest Detroit — when a police officer drove into a crowd of people — “attempted vehicular manslaughter.” Police Chief James Craig, meanwhile, said his officers had taken “quick evasive action” to escape a potential “ambush” situation.

As protesters reported injuries after being hit by police vehicles, and police reported damage to those vehicles, both sides agreed on one thing: a weeks-long run of peaceful marches against police brutality, culminating in a calm, day-long protest organized by 29 organizations in southwest Detroit, ended when police decided to use their vehicles to block and redirect the path of protesters heading back to their starting spot.

“Supervision made a decision to redirect the protesters to a more expedient route back to their start location,” Craig said at a press conference Monday. Earlier, a video of the officer driving through the crowd as people screamed sparked social media outrage and national headlines.

Craig released dash cam footage Monday:

Dash cam footage shows a second officer driving through a crowd of protesters:

Jae Bass was one of the protesters leading the group back to Patton Park when he saw the blockade. He told Detour Detroit that he and other protest leaders instructed marchers to proceed peacefully through the roadblock. 

“And we did that — we started walking through the cars, and the police proceeded to get in their cars. And one officer in particular, he decided to drive through the protesters.”

Bass said he tried to stand his ground but was hit by the car as it lurched forward and the driver accelerated. He said he had to make a quick decision to go “over or under” the vehicle and so jumped on the hood to avoid being run over. He was then carried some distance before being thrown as the vehicle sped away. (Craig said the car reached speeds of about 25 miles per hour.) Bass said he sustained multiple abrasions and bruises but was otherwise unharmed. 

Bass said he knew of at least three people who went to urgent care or hospital, including one person whose foot was rolled over by the car, and estimates that 10 to 15 protesters were hit.

Bass said this was not the first time the police erected blockades to redirect protesters — he pointed to events on June 3 when officers approached protesters from both directions on Gratiot and arrested 127 people. He said he believes it’s a way for police to exert power over the crowd for no reason other than to show they can control them, and to increase the likelihood of an altercation.

“Part of their tactic is to control where we go, in the direction they want,” he said. “They want us to feel like we’re following them.”

Craig said Monday the investigation wasn’t complete but mostly affirmed his officers’ conduct, blaming the incident on  25 to 30 “agitated protesters” who he said surrounded police vehicles and banged on them. He showed dashcam footage of protesters crowding vehicles with their signs covering the windshield, and said protesters actively blocked the pathway of the officers.

“In fact, at different points in the video you will hear what appears to be loud banging noises,” he said, indicating that police believed they were possibly being fired at. He said protesters smashed the vehicle’s rear windshield and the officers began accelerating to get out of the crowd after hearing the glass breaking.

“It was important for them to get out of there for their safety, and certainly the safety of others,” Craig said. 

Police haven’t yet found video that would show what happened to the back of the car, he added. City Council is investigating the incident and requested all video from DPD.

Craig also said he received a text from a person whom he would not name, claiming protesters had plotted to initiate an altercation. He also said the officers radioed during the protest that several protesters were armed with hammers.

Bass denied that the protesters plotted to provoke a conflict or that anyone carried hammers, an assertion backed up by other protest organizers who spoke before Monday’s march and to Detour directly.

“I can tell you as someone who’s directly involved with planning [marches] every single day that we never have a plan to provoke the police,” Bass said. “We don’t even want them there, honestly. They feel like they have the need to guide us and police us through our demonstration. But we don’t need them there, because every time there’s a police presence, we see what happens.”

Protesters demanded the immediate firing of the officer driving the SUV, the immediate resignations of Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan and an investigation of the incident. They continued to march through the city after speeches at the Fourth Precinct on Fort Street on Monday evening, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!”

Nina Misuraca Ignaczak is a contributing editor for Detour Detroit. She is the founder and executive editor of Planet Detroit, a digital media startup that tells Detroit’s environmental stories while building a community of engaged readers who are informed and empowered to act personally and publicly. She is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes, edits and produces stories about the environment, place and identity. Her recent work has been published by Detour Detroit, Belt Magazine, HuffPost, Detroit Free Press, WDET, Crains Detroit Business, Business Insider, Curbed Detroit and Model D. Prior to her career in journalism, she worked in urban planning in the local government and nonprofit sectors. She has a Master of Science in Natural Resource Ecology and a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninaignaczak