Detroit chief, mayor defend police ramming of demonstrators

June 29, 2020, 3:10 PM by  Violet Ikonomova

Chief James Craig speaks to reporters after officers plowed through a crowd of demonstrators. (Photo: Violet Ikonomova)

Detroit police Chief James Craig on Monday defended the actions of officers who plowed through demonstrators with SUVs the night before, saying they feared for their safety. Demonstrators, meanwhile, said they were under attack by police. 

Social media videos of the Sunday incidents showed two police vehicles push into protesters crowded around them. The first vehicle went on to speed forward with tires squealing, sending two men who'd hopped on its hood flying.

At a news conference this afternoon, Craig said the response was justified because demonstrators broke out that vehicle's back window, and officers may have thought they were "being fired upon." The window was smashed only after the car began lurching forward, he said, though bystander videos left doubt as to whether the window was shattered at all.

“The officers certainly did the right thing,” Craig said. "They left the location to avoid harm."

He said the department is investigating the actions of the demonstrators and the four officers involved. Detroit City Council on Monday launched its own review of the incident, according to Metro Times.

"What happened last night was not OK, and it needs to be addressed,” Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López said.  “I was very disturbed by the video I saw. It was a protest intended to bring together Black and brown communities.” 

The rammings occurred before 10 p.m. at Vernor Highway and Dix in Southwest Detroit. Demonstrators encountered four police vehicles blocking Vernor in an apparent effort to re-route their march as they returned from a series of speeches in Clark Park.

Online videos showed demonstrators close in around the first vehicle before it started moving. One of the two men who wound up on the hood appeared to sit there just before the SUV began to push forward. One of two told the Free Press he was trying to stop the vehicle from endangering the group.

"In response to that, he just floored it," [Jae Bass, 24] said. "He went super fast. Me and a couple of other organizers that were with me, just went flinging off. We went flying off. He ran over a couple people's arms, feet. He ran over her phone. I think I was the last person on the car. I was just holding onto the car. I could feel him speeding up and then he ...  flinged me off the car."

Another demonstrator who posted video of the incident, Ethan Ketner, wrote that 10-12 people were "struck by this reckless driver who somehow has a badge."

Officers appeared to engage their lights and sirens before they started moving. Silent dash cam video shown to reporters Monday showed a demonstrator on the hood with a sign blocking the view of officers.

In social media videos, the crowd could be heard roaring with disapproval as the SUV began moving. Some demonstrators then began to pound on it while one seemed to break something against its back window. On Monday, police showed media a photo of a department SUV with its rear window broken.

The Free Press reported the men hurled continued marching afterward. At least two others were hurt and treated by medics, with one "severely bleeding" from his arm, protester Anthony Scannell told Deadline Detroit Sunday. Police could not provide details on possible injuries Monday; a spokesperson for Mayor Mike Duggan said no EMS units were sent to the scene.

Before the confrontation, Craig said police had learned some demonstrators "were armed with hammers," though he was unable to provide details on the source of the information. There had also been an angry verbal confrontation involving demonstrators earlier in the night, Craig and media outlets reported, signaling to him that "there were some among the group that were agitators."

Duggan also defended the police response Monday, the Free Press reported.

"If you’re sitting in that police car and suddenly you’re blocked," Duggan said Monday, "what is your response to this crowd banging on the car and climbing on the car and trying to get at you?"

Sunday's protest was peaceful in the lead up to the ramming, much like the four weeks of protests that preceded it. The first three nights of the Detroit protests, in May, involved some violence on the part of both officers and demonstrators.


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