Photo: Nakia Wallace, center, leading a march in Detroit in June after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Credit: Sarah Williams
Detroit Will Breathe leader Nakia Wallace was placed in a chokehold by a Detroit police officer as she and seven others were arrested during a protest on Detroit’s northwest side Friday. All have since been released.
Members of the anti-police brutality group and other Black Lives Matter demonstrators convened at Six Mile and San Juan Drive after officers fatally shot Hakim Littleton, 20. The shooting occurred when officers arrested another man in connection with a July 5 shooting, on an outstanding warrant for drug distribution. Littleton fired four shots at officers as they were arresting the other individual, Police Chief James Craig said.
Police were dressed in riot gear as they engaged the protesters Friday. Craig said protesters were throwing projectiles at the police, who then used tear gas to subdue the crowd.
According to a press release from Detroit Will Breathe, DPD officers used batons during the clash and protesters sustained injuries including lacerations, broken bones, bruised ribs and tear gas burns. A DPD spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press two officers were injured Friday.
Wallace told Detour that she was arrested and placed in the chokehold after screaming at a DPD officer who she said was pinning down another protester with his knee.
“I kept screaming to get their knee off his neck, that they’re going to kill him,” she said. “They eventually got off him. The cop pushed me and said, ‘leave’, and I said, ‘I live here, I live here.’ And they arrested me, they placed me on the ground, and I was in a chokehold.”
Chokeholds violate DPD guidelines on use of force. They have been banned unless deadly force is deemed necessary since 1996. DPD said on Sunday that Craig had launched an internal investigation into the incident but had not yet determined whether officers violated use of force policies.
Craig said the shooting was justified and praised the officer who charged Littleton, calling him a “hero” and adding, “he showed tremendous courage trying to apprehend an armed suspect. It’s simply a miracle he’s alive.” The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave.
Wallace was charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. She was released by Saturday morning, along with most protesters who were detained.
However, Meeko Williams was detained until Sunday evening, after police alleged he threw a water bottle at them. The Wayne County Prosecutor’s office declined to charge Williams due to lack of evidence, but police said they would refile the warrant.
Williams’ attorney William P. Hackett told Detour that Williams had been deprived of access to counsel all weekend and should have been released as soon as the prosecutor declined to file charges (though he was not certain exactly when that decision was made). Hackett was able to file a writ of habeas corpus to secure Williams’ release late Sunday. A writ of habeas corpus forces the court to show a valid reason for a defendant’s detention.
Williams reported for his scheduled arraignment Tuesday and was informed that no charges had been authorized. He was then released.
Hackett told Detour that Williams was “swarmed by police,” according to a video he viewed of Friday’s protests, and his client did not have the opportunity to assault officers as alleged. “He was taken down and he had cops kneeling on him,” said Hackett. “So I don’t know how he could assault anybody. He wasn’t given an opportunity.”
‘Different solutions’ to conflict needed
Wallace told Detour she would like to know more about DPD’s strategies for de-escalating conflict in situations such as the one in which Littleton was killed. She and other protesters have suggested that no matter Littleton’s actions, DPD resorts to force — in this case deadly force — too often.
“I would be curious to know what the police’s plan was for an arrest and what their plans are in those different situations,” she told Detour. “Because all too often we see too much brutality and force on the part of police and that just leads to the death of people, too many times.”
She added that she sees DPD as “super-militarized.”
“They’ve got a lot of toys that lead to the death of people,” she said. “They utilize chokeholds, they utilize batons and force for no reason. It’s time for them to be defunded and demilitarized. They’ve got to come up with different solutions to conflicts. And certainly, giving them $370 million dollars a year hasn’t resulted in that.”
UPDATE July 14: This story was updated to reflect that Meeko Williams reported for arraignment Tuesday morning and was informed that no charges had been authorized. He was released with no charges.