Liberation News

Detroit mass arrests thrown out as anti-racist struggle continues

Detroit Will Breathe and SHIFT demonstration demanding the firing of racist Shelby Township, Michigan, police chief. Photo credit Marc Klockow.

Detroit Will Breathe and SHIFT demonstration demanding the firing of racist Shelby Township, Michigan, police chief. Photo credit Marc Klockow.

Detroit court rules hundreds of Black Lives Matter arrests unlawful as tickets were issued by cops who had nothing to do with arresting the protesters. In mass arrests the arresting officer must be matched to a defendant in order to be a witness.

Detroit activists have scored some important legal victories after demonstrating for more than 150 consecutive days last spring and summer in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to protest the police killings of African Americans including Hakim Littleton in Detroit.

On Jan. 14, Judge Larry Williams of Detroit’s 36th District Court dismissed 40 charges against 30 protesters brought by the City of Detroit primarily during the first weekend of demonstrations, May 29-31, 2020. In the wake of this decision, the city was compelled to dismiss charges against an additional 238 arrestees on Jan. 26.

The demonstrations were led by Detroit Will Breathe. The bulk of the arrested protesters were represented by the Detroit Coordinated Defense Coalition, composed of the National Lawyers Guild, Neighborhood Defender Service, Detroit Justice Center and Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association. Attorneys from these groups took on the defense of hundreds of DWB demonstrators.

City drops charges but pursues counter-suit

Liberation News spoke with Kathy Murphy, a National Lawyers Guild and Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar member, and one of the attorneys involved in the legal team. Murphy explained what led to this important victory: “The city would round up arrestees, take them to the basement of Little Caesars Arena, and have police officers sitting there signing the tickets who had nothing to do with policing the demonstrations.

“During the course of arguing discovery motions in several different courtrooms in front of several different judges, it became clear that the city would not be able to identify the arresting officers for each particular arrest. They could not match arresting officers to defendants, and thus could not produce witnesses when the cases go to trial.”

Murphy emphasized, “The activists refused the city’s offers of delayed sentence with an admission of probable cause and even the city’s offer of dismissal with an admission of probable cause. They stood in solidarity with each other in winning this victory.”

Even while dismissing hundreds of cases, however, the city has stated it still intends to prosecute the protesters who it considers to be leaders of the protests, including DWB organizer Tristan Taylor.

Ironically, the same day the City announced it was dismissing charges against the 238 Detroit Will Breathe activists, Detroit City Council, by a five to four majority, voted to spend $200,000 to hire the corporate law firm Clark Hill to prosecute a lawsuit charging DWB with “civil conspiracy” for demonstrating against racism and policy brutality. The city’s lawsuit is in the form of a counter claim to a case brought by Detroit Will Breathe activists against the city for the violent tactics utilized by police in suppressing peaceful protests.

The DWB lawsuit has already won an injunction against Detroit cops, barring them from employing some of their most oppressive tactics against peaceful demonstrations, including using batons and shields, chemical agents like tear gas and pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

Detroit Will Breathe and SHIFT demonstration demanding the firing of racist Shelby Township, Michigan, police chief. Photo credit Marc Klockow.

Racist backlash in Shelby Township as arrestees face serious charges

The Detroit suburb of Shelby Township made it abundantly clear that Black and Brown people are not welcome in this violently racist community. On Oct. 24, protesters organized by Detroit Will Breathe and SHIFT, Suburban Solidarity for Social Justice, gathered for a non-violent march, calling for the resignation or removal of Police Chief Robert Shelide.

This was after Shelide was allowed to resume business as usual following a month-long suspension due to vile comments on his personal social media page in which he referred to protesters as “wild savages” and “vicious subhumans” that deserved to be taken out in “body bags.”

Immediately upon marching, activists were stalked and attacked by five different police departments, SWAT operatives, K-9 units and armed civilian militias. In addition to the brutality they faced that day, five protesters were charged with felonies and others were ticketed with misdemeanor charges.

The Movement for Black and Brown Lives launched a struggle to get these new charges dropped. But the newly elected Macomb County prosecutor, Peter Lucido, as well as other local officials, have chosen to endorse the Jim Crow segregationist tactics and behavior that were utilized against protesters.

Six additional Black Lives Matter protesters were served on Jan. 25 with warrants for their participation in the Oct. 24 action. Activists view these additional charges as retaliation after the backlash officials received following the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by fascistic and reactionary forces.

The charges against anti-racist protesters in Shelby Township reflect the history of Shelby Township as a “sundown town” that will take any and all measures, including state violence and intimidation, in order to assure and uphold white supremacy.

Stand in solidarity with Detroit Will Breathe, SHIFT and Movement for of Black and Brown Lives in demanding that these bogus charges be dropped immediately by Shelby Township officials.