Detroit Will Breathe won against the City of Detroit, but the ban expires at the end of the month.
DETROIT, MI — Racial and social justice activists from Detroit Will Breathe marked an important milestone last week. After the group marched both by day and night for nearly 100 days, a judge deemed much of the police treatment that they endured as excessive.
“One of the things that’s just so appalling about [interacting with Detroit police] is that you can just see them charging for violence,” Kayleigh Waterman, a Detroit Will Breathe protester and volunteer medic, told The ‘Gander. “I hope information is getting to people about what’s really going on out here.”
Waterman was present at the Aug. 23 protest, where police reportedly violently removed protesters without giving them time to disperse or clear directions of the routes they could take to leave. Waterman said medics seemed to be targeted with excessive force before other protesters in an effort to stop the group’s ability to treat the wounded on-site.
“You see how small our numbers are, and you see how they just charged us,” Waterman said.
It prompted Detroit Will Breathe to file suit against the Detroit Police last Monday.
On Friday night, a federal judge temporarily banned Detroit police officers from using chokeholds, batons, shields, gas, rubber bullets, or sound cannons against racial equality and social justice protesters.
Detroit Will Breathe marked the victory on its social media accounts.
A Federal Decision
Judge Laurie Michelson of Michigan’s Eastern District of the U.S. District Court partially granted the temporary restraining order in response to Detroit Will Breathe’s lawsuit that alleges excessive violence and arrests without cause. In the suit, the group alleged that police were using excessive force to stop members and supporters from exercising their rights of free speech.
The order will be in effect for at least 14 days and forbids police from using force without probable cause.
“It’s a win, but the fight continues,” Jack Schulz, who filed the lawsuit for Detroit Will Breathe, told the Detroit Free Press. “For a short period, we know that the police will not be able to use the brutal tactics they have in the past against peaceful protesters without violating a court order.”
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said the judge’s order will not change police tactics and that his officers only brawled with people who were observed breaking laws, not “peaceful protesters.”
“We’re going to continue to do our jobs the way we’ve done it,” Craig said. “We respect peaceful protesters. We understand the judge’s order and we’ll make sure the protesters understand if there’s any aggression or violation of law, they will get ample notice like we’ve done in the past.”
Waterman, however, pointed out that police were the aggressors during the violent clash against protesters, who were largely nonviolent.
“They arrested my mother and her friend,” Waterman said. “They accused her of being ‘involved’, pulled them out of their car, held on a bus, and sent them to a detention center.”
Waterman’s mother attended the protest with a friend in support of her daughter’s desire to see a more equal and free Detroit. It was the 53-year-old’s first and only arrest. No charges were filed, but she was held without cause until 11 a.m. the next morning.
Judge Orders Reconciliation
The City of Detroit has until Sept. 18 to respond to Detroit Will Breathe’s request for a preliminary injunction that would extend the temporary restraining order’s ban. Judge Michelson scheduled a Sept. 22 meeting, at which she is hoping both sides can “agree upon protocols to govern their conduct during the pendency of the litigation.”
The judge added in her decision: “The Court believes that protocols addressing the following topics may enable all parties to achieve their desired goals: announcement of protest norms by Detroit Will Breathe to its members; arrest protocol; de-escalation protocol, and a protocol for reporting by neutral observers.”
If talks fail, Judge Michelson scheduled two to three days, beginning Sept. 29, for a hearing on the group’s request for a preliminary injunction.
Michelson has been urging both sides to work out their differences since Tuesday.
“These videos, buttressed by the testimonial evidence, establishes that at least some Plaintiffs have a likelihood of success on their claims that the DPD used excessive force against them,” Judge Michelson wrote in her decision.
“Police officers were absolutely aggressively attacked in every situation,” Chief Crag said in a Facebook live press conference, going on to describe the Aug. 23 event where he says protesters were given more than an hour to disperse before the aggression and violence unfolded, but Waterman said that isn’t true. In fact, she captured it on video.
“There’s a woman who was completely flipped over and bleeding, things like that. I really want the world to know what’s happening here,” she said.
The Needs of the People
Detroit Will Breathe’s lawsuit claims Detroit police used batons, shields, and rubber bullets to fracture bones, inflict baseball-sized lumps and concussions, collapse lungs and cause other injuries that left protesters hospitalized and disoriented during marches in Detroit that started on May 29.
In her decision, Judge Michelson wrote that she “recognizes that police officers are often faced with dangerous and rapidly evolving situations while trying to enforce the law and maintain the safety of the public. And it is important that police officers have non-lethal options to use to protect themselves and the public when necessary.”
Banning the use of batons, shields, gas, and other police tools “leaves open all lawful options for police to use reasonable force when necessary to defend against a threat and to make arrests when supported by probable cause,” according to the judge.
“Any possible benefit police officers could gain from deploying chemical agents, projectiles, or striking weapons against demonstrators who pose no threat and are not resisting lawful commands is outweighed by the irreparable harm peaceful protestors would face.”
Therefore, the court order bans police officers from:
- Placing in a chokehold or ramming with a vehicle any individual attending a demonstration;
- Tightening the zip ties or handcuffs placed on any individual to the point that the restraints cause physical injury, including loss of circulation or change in color;
- Using striking weapons (including, but not limited to, batons and shields), chemical agents (including, but not limited to, tear gas and pepper spray), or rubber bullets against any individual peacefully engaging in protest or demonstrations who does not pose a physical threat to the safety of the public or police;
- Deploying chemical agents or a sound cannon against persons peacefully engaging in protest or demonstrations without an audible warning and a reasonable amount of time to disperse;
- Arresting any demonstrators en masse without probable cause.
Schulz and Detroit Will Breathe hope to make the ban permanent.
On Saturday, Detroit Will Breathe marked 100 consecutive days of protests.