Editors Note: The following is a letter written by a National Lawyer’s Guild legal observer and eyewitness to the protests in Detroit this past weekend, to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
An Open Letter to Detroit Board of Police Commissioners
Re: Police Riot on Sunday, August 23
I am a wife, mother of four and PhD student at WSU, residing in Macomb County. Legal observing is one of several activities I engage in as those responsibilities allow. As a volunteer, trained and registered Legal Observer, I choose events that fit my schedule. Last week, Detroit Will Breathe’s Saturday night demonstration fit my schedule. Requests span a range of topics, and police have provided a professional presence at most or all the other protests I have attended. The Detroit Will Breathe organization requested observers from the National Lawyers Guild from Saturday, August 22, at 7 pm until Sunday, August 23, beginning at the McNamara Court House and ending at Woodward Ave. between Grand River and John R. On Sunday, the city of Detroit inflicted harm on me, fellow legal observers, press and unarmed civilians posing no threat to the city in order to prevent peaceful assembly of citizens, and prevent legal observation. According to newspaper accounts, a medic was harmed in order to prevent him from delivering medical care, and residents who live near the location of the event were harmed in order to prevent them from helping victims of violence escape to a safe space.
Witnessing the City of Detroit launch an assault on civilians was traumatic for me. In every direction I looked, men armed in riot gear were kicking, stomping, beating, and physically hurting people. It was a bloody Sunday.
I felt I was on Pettus Bridge. I never in my life imagined I would personally witness such police brutality. The City was looking for any excuse. Any excuse to swing. Any excuse to hit. Any excuse at all, and the level of violence to the innocent and unarmed civilians seemed to generate a sense of professional pleasure in the abusers.
I was present as a legal observer for the entirety of the march. Until the police engaged the protest group I was observing for, there were a variety of people attending, including people and vehicles of the white supremacist sort. With the recent videos of police in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Albuquerque, Philadelphia, and Kenosha, seeming to welcome, happily engage with and support hate groups, and the subsequent death that has resulted from it, the presence of hate agitators caused anxiety and disappointment. The City of Detroit escorted Nazis through a peaceful LGBTQ Pridefest, last year. Why is the City of Detroit engaging with hate groups and participating in white supremacist tactics? Does the City of Detroit feel fully capable of policing without doing so? With evidence of national cooperation between hate groups and police, the City of Detroit’s recent history of supporting hate groups, and after witnessing what I saw with my own eyes, I feel real concern that professional anger at demonstrator demands encourages poorly trained police units to make even worse choices on behalf of the City of Detroit, than ever before. It seems that on behalf of the City of Detroit, the police wish to make a professional statement that peaceful assembly will not be allowed, and that terror and open war on citizens trumps the audacity to peacefully assemble.
The City approached the demonstrators, from behind riot shields, fully armored from head to toe. I watched the unarmed demonstrators standing in the light, shoulder to shoulder, singing “Put down your riot gear, there is no riot here”. I then watched your officers rush in and immediately begin punching, kicking, hitting with batons and macing citizens of all ages, standing unarmed. When I close my eyes, I can still see them. I can still see the blood on the street in the aftermath.
I have since heard news reports that the City warned demonstrators to move prior to brutally and mercilessly causing violence against citizens. I have learned that the City blamed the planned launch of violence after reading a Facebook post which supposedly stated that the demonstrators planned to continue assembling peacefully for a protracted time. As legal observers and members of the press we are not privy to the plans of the demonstration group we are volunteering for. We arrive, and we observe until it’s over. We leave. Within minutes the scene went from a happy sound of music from African drums, to the smell of tear gas, to smoke, chaos of innocent people being beaten, and humanity being conquered all around me. Had I known that the police intended to attack residents, bystanders, demonstrators, medics, press and legal observers, brutally and violently, I would have gotten myself to safety. Because the City neglected to warn properly and adequately all of us gathered about what it intended to do to civilians, I and many others were in harm’s way. Instead of successfully warning us, the City chose to inflict as much pain as it was capable of with the tear gas, mace, batons, fists and boots that it employed. A photo in Metro Times depicts City employees holding down a victim so that another City employee can spray the victim directly in the face with mace. Law and order was not the intent of the City on Sunday. Instead of a peaceful demonstration, police power gathered to make its own demonstration on taxpayer dollars and with City authorization, and sheer pain was the intent.
First, we were tear gassed. I watched horror all around me. As I focused on the arrest of another citizen, it was then, despite my identification, your City employee rushed at me full speed, arms extended full length and shoved me as hard as he could, the way that no man should touch an unarmed female. I am 5ft 2″ and approximately 140 lbs, and though he was not his full height hunched over so that his hands could aim at my chest, he still loomed over me, larger and taller. By his speed, I knew he intended to knock me to the ground with such force as to cause bodily injury. I have been crying for days. My hands won’t stop shaking. I can barely eat, or sleep. I feel like the trauma of this attack may never fade. I am not myself, to say the least.
Despite identification, the other legal observers and I experienced assault, battery and arrest. Despite the press identification, the press also experienced arrest. The citizens were of all ages and backgrounds and unarmed, while the attackers were all uniformed and armed.
I have observed many demonstrations. Never could I have imagined such obvious glee from committing abuse as I did after this incident was over. The City employees stood there, without masks, without socially distancing, fist bumping and laughing as civilians lay on the ground crying in pain and bleeding. The City employees were happy. They enjoyed it.
They enjoyed hurting people. The people who did this could not be mentally sound. That is what was on display, lawless psychopathy. Perhaps the City may wish to invest in a new screening tool? Based on this one, the current screening tool appears to seek sociopathic traits and then hire them.
As the sound of batons hitting flesh and crushing bones died down, bodies lie in the street. Despite informing multiple officers, multiple times, that Deputy Chief Bennington had told his force not to target legal observers, their response was “He isn’t here.” Despite informing an officer of the legalities of detaining the press, your officer repeatedly stated his orders were to detain anyone still present in the street.
A few days before the event, Chief Craig took a mysterious helicopter ride over Detroit with President Trump and Attorney General Barr. After the event Chief Craig’s admission that press and legal observers can expect injury and detention for doing our work, which is illegal and unconstitutional, is a spectacular failure of command and appreciation for the freedom that America once represented. 3. However, he was confident. What he said was he can’t expect the city of Detroit’s officers to follow orders. So, since he cannot expect the city of Detroit’s officers to follow orders, it is better if we don’t stay to witness what happens, because he knows he cannot control Detroit police officers. He couldn’t state for certain that the city of Detroit’s officers had turned on the required recording devices. He did not know if any federal agents were present. Your officers blatantly ignored commands once they were on the street, KNEW they ignored them, and stated openly that since Deputy Chief Bennington wasn’t there to stop them, they didn’t have to listen. You have a rogue police department operating with authorization of the City and weapons.
As members of Detroit’s authoritative system, you have a responsibility to the lives and wellbeing of people who enter your community. Policing is a necessary and important job. Every single day real and competent officers go out on the streets and save lives, help people, face the dirty part of the world, and try to shake that off and go home. Policing was not what I saw on the streets on Saturday. What I saw was terror, abuse of power, violence against women, men, old and young, intentional infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of pain, and rife brutality. I wish that I could be more specific, but legal observing is a contractual action and covered by attorney client privilege. Yet, it is because of what I witnessed, if you told me that every one of those acting on behalf of the City who brutally attacked us goes home and beats their wives, or inflicts abuse of power over other citizens through some other form of inhumanity, or corruption, I would nod and say “yes, I am sure they do”. There was no recognition of humanity displayed on Sunday. The only goal was to break the spirit and resolve to peacefully assemble.
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.– George Orwell
I had to think long and hard about writing this letter. I wondered if sharing what a white woman from Macomb County witnessed with my own eyes, would matter. If a politically appointed member of your own agency, would arrest one of your fellow commissioners last year for simply trying to protect citizens from secret and unconstitutional actions, who among you can we trust to protect us? We need you to protect us.
Our country is on the edge of darkness. Most mornings I wake up and I see the news and I wonder how much closer to the brink we have stepped. Losing control of the City of Detroit’s police department to federal influence and rogue hate groups makes every citizen less safe. James Craig and Deputy Chief Bennington have proven they do not appreciate the Constitution, do not respect the humanity of innocent civilians, don’t care who gets hurt, and cannot lead. They have proven the city of Detroit’s own force is rife with professional agendas, political motivations and personal psychosis. After what I witnessed I worry what could happen on November 3 or afterwards if Trump loses. Bolstered by the success of this attack on civilians will police forces in communities of color feel empowered to make war on citizens and America’s constitutional freedoms like this, again?
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