Detroit, Weekend of May 29–31

A firsthand account of protests in Detroit against the police murder of George Floyd.


I was arrested Saturday night, May 30, while driving around trying to film police harassing, brutalizing, and arresting folks downtown. So were my partner and housemate. We were in the same car. We had just turned a corner and saw the cops had two or three young folks face down on the ground and were yelling at them. A few others were already getting put in the paddy wagon on the street.

We were recording and yelled at them to let the kids go. We are all non-Black; I’m the darkest-skinned one of the three of us. My housemate who was riding in the back seat got pepper-sprayed right in the eyes as the cops descended on our car, banging on it and yelling at us to quit recording and stop the car. Freedom of speech and de-escalation trainings be damned.

They opened the driver-side door when the car was almost stopped but still moving slightly. They yelled at my partner to put the car in park, which he did immediately. They quickly yanked him out of the car and handcuffed him. I was more gently told to “get the fuck out the car” and to go sit next to him, and we were all told we were under arrest.

We were detained on the curb while the paddy wagon came back around. We asked what we were under arrest for, and they said disorderly conduct. What was the disorderly conduct? “How about… for being idiots” was the officer’s response. While we were waiting for the paddy wagon to come back around, they were all yelling profanities at us. At first it was all fire and brimstone — they tried to agitate and bait us into doing or saying something stupid. They told us to go back to our daddy’s basement in Grosse Pointe, that we were stupid for protesting something that happened 10 hours away, and worse. At one point, one of them even said the mayor had declared martial law, and we were violating it.

We sat there getting screamed at for about 45 minutes as they scolded us like we were children, but as soon as they realized we live and work here in the city, the tone changed. The yelling became about how hard they work to protect us, how they would take a bullet for us, and other lies. They realized the sorta white-looking crew they thought were out-of-towners didn’t fit the outside agitator narrative they were trying to build, so we were let go. It took them about 10 minutes to undo my partner’s zip ties, but we were allowed to go home. My first time being unarrested. I’m glad our interaction had a much better outcome than some other comrades who have been out in the streets, but that sure is one way to juke the stats.

This is the strategy we’ve seen the Detroit Police Department deploy based on firsthand stories from other comrades as well.

At least half the people we saw in the streets as we were driving around downtown were young Black folks. Most of the folks who were driving around, as we were, were Black. We didn’t arrive in downtown until about 11:45 p.m., and at that point most crowds had dispersed. There were some small groups trying to regather, but most people were just trying to walk away from downtown and leave.

The cops were picking out folks at random who were just walking away on the sidewalk. They would beat on them and arrest them. We witnessed a lot firsthand and because we were recording and yelling for them to let them go, we got them to back off a few folks.

One was a young boy, no more than 14, alone, who seemed to have been separated from his crew. They shoved him up against a building, roughing him up. In that incident, the cops in riot gear originally harassing him turned and charged toward our car, yelling profanities at us, telling us to get the fuck moving, trying to reach for our phone. They reached into the car, smacking the roof with their hands and batons. At one point they were throwing tear gas underneath cars driving by. We drove through the tail end of the effects of one of them. We had to close the windows and the vents. None of the cops we interacted with had any badges or identifying information on them.

White supremacist groups, police infiltrators, and provocateurs are a real threat to the movement and should be addressed very seriously. I am in no way trying to minimize that. But community folks perpetuating the narrative put forth by the mayor and the chief of police that this is all just a bunch of “outside agitators” gives the police immunity to go into the streets and continue to use violence against any demonstrators, including the Black youth out there. It erases the voices of these young folks screaming to be heard. It is in the interest of the state that we turn our backs on the demonstrators, on each other, so they can justify excessive use of force.

Republished from The Detroit Socialist

S. is co-chair of the Metro Detroit DSA Black & Brown Alliance.