DETROIT - What had been a mostly peaceful protest took a dangerous turn late Sunday when a Detroit police officer drove an SUV through a crowd of protesters after they surrounded the vehicle and began pounding on it.
With the overhead lights flashing, the officer behind the wheel gunned the accelerator, sending protesters flying onto the pavement while others scurried out of the way as the vehicle lurched through the crowd. At one point, the SUV jerked to a stop and then sped away with at least two protesters on the hood, throwing them to the ground a dozen yards later.
One of the men thrown from the hood clutched his leg and limped after he stood up. The other man appeared unharmed. Both men continued to march back to Patton Park.
Jae Bass, 24, of Detroit, who was one of the men thrown from the hood, said police attempted to block the marchers from returning to Patton Park. He tried to lead the protesters through the roadblock and some of the police vehicles began moving.
Bass said he tried to stand in front of the police SUV to stop it before it endangered protesters.
"In response to that, he just floored it," Bass 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 did one of these and he flinged me off the car."
Detroit police spokeswoman Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood said late Sunday the rear window of the police vehicle was smashed in. The department is investigating the actions of both the protesters and the officer who was driving, she said.
The clash happened about 9:30 p.m. on Vernor Highway west of Waterman Street. Marchers had begun the day with a rally in Patton Park. They marched up Vernor to Clark Park. They were marching back to Patton Park when the clash happened.
The rally and march brought together a diverse group of civil rights and other organizations who urged solidarity in the fight against systemic racism, police brutality, deportations, evictions and water shut-offs.
"It's an event that has been organized through a coalition of various organizations," said Tristan Taylor of Detroit Will Breathe, who led previous marches in Detroit. "This is us, acting on what we'd said we were going to do as an organization."
About 300 protesters began the rally in Patton Park, though the crowd thinned as the group marched up West Vernor. Detroit police mostly watched from a distance.
One tense moment came just before 7 p.m. Two protesters scaled a Spanish language billboard recruiting people to join the Detroit police force. They covered it with a hand-drawn sign reading: "Abolish ICE, Defund Police, No cops in schools." They secured it with zip ties.
The crowd roared its approval as the sign unfurled and then surrounded two Detroit police officers who exited their vehicle to talk to protesters. The marchers shouted and yelled into a bullhorn: "Whose streets? Our Streets. Whose city? Our city."
The officers stood for a minute, before one of them began speaking into the radio from his hip, pressing the radio up against his ear to hear over the shouts. When the officers returned to their vehicle to leave, protesters danced and chanted "Na, na, na, na; hey, hey; goodbye."
Bass was one of the protesters who confronted the officers at that scene as well. Afterward, he said that confrontation came because: "... the police are trying to figure out a way to control us."
Bass said that the movement is bigger than the people on the street and can't be controlled.
"What you're seeing is us taking control back as the people, and showing exactly what our needs are," he said. "I think police haven't seen that in a while so they don't know how to control that."
In addition to Detroit Will Breathe, the rally included representatives from ACCESS, BAMN, Queer Pride Detroit and Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation. Immigrant rights groups, indigenous people's groups and other activists marched from Patton Park, up Vernor Highway to Clark Park, where a rally was held Sunday evening.
Speeches before the March in Patton Park included somber moments as well.
Isra Daraiseh, 30, of Detroit is Arab-American and she acknowledged historic tensions between some Arab-owned businesses and the Black community. She noted how in George Floyd’s case, an Arab-owned business initiated police contact.
“How can we reduce this tension between Arab-owned convenience stores and the predominantely Black communities they often serve?" she said. "I don't have all the answers but we shouldn't shy away from this difficult problem and this difficult conversation. And this seems to be a ripe area for future organizing and thought from Arab-led organizations interested in being anti-racist.”
Speakers who addressed the crowd emphasized the need to build coalitions.
Samantha Magdaleno, executive director of One Michigan for Immigrant Rights, said oppressed groups must work together.
“Understand that these white systems are not meant for us. If we want justice, we have to unite to get it," she said. "We will fight together. Not because we hate our oppressors but because we love one another.”
Detroit immigrant rights organizer Adonis Flores told the crowd to take the fight for change everywhere.
“We can fight in politics. We can fight in the streets. We can fight in our home, in our schools," he said. "Wherever you feel more comfortable. ... We need to fight everywhere in every corner of our society.”
Flores is with Queer Pride Detroit and Michigan United.
"We're stronger when we fight together," he said. "We're all going through similar oppressions under the current military police state. The immigrant community, the LGBT community, the Black community, are all being continually harassed by over policing."
He urged the crowd to vote.
Speaker Jason Paskvan, 27, of Oak Park is with the Detroit Indigenous Peoples Alliance. He said Black people have been neglected during the coronavirus pandemic and recounted the history of injustice and oppression.
"I'm here today to talk about Black and brown solidarity," he said. "While America was founded on universal appeals to equality and independence, it was also founded on the extracted labor of enslaved Africans and expanded through the genocide of native peoples and the theft of land, also known as settler colonialism."
Paskvan said the inequalities are manifest in food and housing redlining, mass incarceration and surveillance.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit police SUV drives through crowd after protesters climb on hood