Detroit has a history of enacting curfews to curtail Black unrest in the city. Could things be different this time?
DETROIT, MI — After more than a week of enforcement, Detroit police are ending the city’s 8 p.m. curfew. It was instituted in response to protests against police violence toward Black people after the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
Detroit police responded to the city’s unrest and demonstrators’ calls for reform by announcing a curfew that went into effect May 31. It had not been enforced over the past three nights, Mayor Mike Duggan told reporters Monday.
But local activists, including Marissa Ramirez, say the curfew, a regulation disproportionately used against anti-racism protests, “never should have been enforced to begin with.” Ramirez, 31, helped organize and attended demonstrations in Detroit.
“Lifting of the curfew is only showing us that you’re finally hearing and learning to listen to the voices of the unheard,” Ramirez told The ‘Gander. “That, in fact, we are done dying.”
Detroit Police Chief James Craig chose not to enforce the curfew during last week’s victory march.
A History Of Detroit Curfews
Detour Magazine published an in-depth historical examination of curfews last week, looking at how they have limited “the freedoms of Black Detroiters and quell[ed] activist movements” for nearly 200 years.
Detroit governmental leaders have used curfews to try and suppress Black uprisings against unfair treatment and brutality in 1942, 1967 and throughout the 1990s.
But the method dates back to the 19th century, according to Detour. The first Detroit curfew followed the 1833 uprising to free a man named Thornton Blackburn from enslavement.
In 1833, hundreds of Black people gathered at the Detroit jail where Blackburn was being held to stave off slave-catchers – bounty hunters who were paid to return escaped enslaved Black people to the white people who owned them – who were contracted to return him to Kentucky.
The curfew followed on the heels of several actions taken by local government to create “more oppressive restrictions for Black residents,” including limiting where they could live, work and shop.
Today, curfews result in a disproportionate number of Black residents being arrested. While there are no longer restrictions on where Black people can work and shop, curfews and other practices still affect Black people differently.
From May 29 through last Sunday, 421 adults and three juveniles were arrested in Detroit. Only 136 lived in the city, according to Chief Craig.
“We know full well they were people who had no stake in the city,” Duggan said. “We’re feeling confident now that what we have is protests going on by people from this community who care about this community. I feel, at least right now, very good about where we are. We’re going to remain vigilant.”
No protesters have been arrested since Tuesday, he added.
As Detour noted, there are ongoing discussions about whether and to what extent protests should include a more militant response to police brutality and racism. The mayor and police chief have said the violence in Detroit was committed by agitators who reside outside the city. Mayor Duggan has praised the city for avoiding the levels of violence that some other places in the U.S. have experienced.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.