Protesters kneel in silence to recognize the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police. Photo by Franz Knight
Protesters kneel in silence to recognize the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police.

Detroiters are ‘turning to each other’ as they demand justice for George Floyd.

DETROIT, MI — While protests continue across the country, Detroit’s young people are taking the lead as their communities face curfews, with support from the mayor. 

Many cities across the country are seeing violent escalations from both police and the public, and President Trump is telling governors to “dominate” protesters and “go after troublemakers.”

Despite the calls for more violence from the White House, many state officials are opting to de-escalate police responses to demonstrators.

For its part, Detroit has largely escaped the violence that has marred other cities during protests over police abuses and the death of George Floyd. Mayor Mike Duggan praised police, residents and clergy Monday for the roles they’ve played in that.

“We decided before we turn to the National Guard we’re going to turn to each other,” Mayor Duggan said.

During his remarks, Duggan apologized for how some journalists were treated by police and blamed it on the inability to quickly identify reporters. One reporter was briefly handcuffed Sunday.

He also singled out one young Detroit protester for his leadership.

RELATED: ‘Walk With Us’: Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters

Young People Setting The Example

Sixteen-year-old Stefan Perez helped to disperse crowds peacefully after Monday’s 8 p.m. curfew began.

The Southwest Detroit native told the Detroit Free Press that he was not working with any organization, but that he was “just here for my city” at the protest at the intersection of Michigan and Third Avenues.

The teen, gripping a bullhorn, urged crowds to return to their homes safely so they could regroup for another day of protests.

While being interviewed by the Free Press, someone handed Perez a phone with Mayor Duggan on the other line. The mayor had witnessed the teen’s selfless action on the FREEP’s live stream. He thanked Perez personally for being the kind of person the city needs right now.

“I didn’t even think that I was gonna make it to 16, man,” Perez said. “The fact that people followed me into battle, the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that Detroit police didn’t shoot, is just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.”

Detroit police did not use any force, such as deploying tear gas on protesters, on Monday. Officials said protests that grew aggressive over the weekend and prompted arrests were mainly from members who live outside the Detroit community. 

‘I’ve Never Been So Proud’ 

Elected officials and activists urged residents to turn their frustration about racial injustice into action during a rally Monday in the parking lot of the Detroit Association of Black Organizations. The day was filled with encouragement, city cleanup efforts, voter education and registration.

Detroit has not experienced ransacked businesses, burning cars and broken windows seen in smaller Michigan cities, such as Grand Rapids and Lansing.

Detroit Deputy Chief Todd Bettison kneeled in response to a request from protesters who also took a knee. Lines of officers stood behind him.

“I’ve never been so proud of a man in my life,” Mayor Duggan said in response.

A similar response from police occurred this week in Flint, when an officer removed his gear and put down his weapon to walk with protesters. 

DON’T MISS: How Trump Is Using the Protests — and the Language of War — to Campaign for Re-Election

Temperatures Rise Elsewhere Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was up early Monday to see damage in Lansing, which included broken windows at the building that houses her office. Police in Grand Rapids set up an online portal for people to submit photos and videos from weekend unrest.

Gov. Whitmer said a phone call between President Donald Trump and state governors was “disturbing.” Trump said governors were “weak” for not aggressively cracking down on law breakers.

“We need to bring the temperature down,” Gov. Whitmer said. “I fear that it will only lead to more violence and destruction, and we must reject that way of thinking. This is a moment that calls for empathy and humanity and unity.” 

RELATED: Whitmer: I Will Not Apologize For Filling ‘Leadership Vacuum’ Created By Trump

Meanwhile, the police chief in Grand Rapids spoke to protesters while standing behind a line of National Guard members. Eric Payne, who is Black, said “Black lives matter,” but he declined to cross the line to get closer to protesters.

“I hear you loud and clear. Most importantly, I think law enforcement is hearing you,” Payne said.

More protests were held around the state. People chanted “I can’t breathe” at Central Michigan University, and “What do we want? Peace” in the streets of Marquette in the Upper Peninsula.

“I can’t breathe” was the last documented spoken phrase by at least two unarmed Black men who were killed by police in recent years.

READ MORE: 12 Things You Should Stop Saying About Racial Injustice

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.