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Detroit Protesters Sue City, Police Over Aggressive Riot Control Tactics

— September 1, 2020

One protester says she was pepper-sprayed by an officer–while being pinned to the ground by the police.

Detroit protesters have filed a lawsuit against the city in an attempt to stop police from targeting them with pepper spray, tear gas, and other aggressive riot control tactics.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

The complaint asserts that the city’s law enforcement has used violent techniques to subdue largely peaceful protests. Police use of rubber bullets and crowd control batons has allegedly led to fractured bones, severe contusions, and concussions, among other injuries.

Protesters participating in the suit, notes the Free Press, are represented by attorney Jack Schulz.

“The demonstrators are out in the streets exercising their First Amendment rights and have been met with brutal violence,” said Schulz, who is filed the lawsuit on behalf of Detroit Will Breathe and the National Lawyer’s Guild’s Detroit-Michigan chapter.

[note: source article was unclear as to whether Schulz had filed the lawsuit on behalf of or in conjunction with the National Lawyer’s Guild]

“We are at a point where the city needs to decide what its image is, and what its soul is; whether Detroit is a place that encourages free and open thought and dialogue or whether open dialogue is met with brutal violence,” Schulz told the Free Press.

Caylee Arnold, named as a plaintiff in the complaint, recalled how Detroit police officers arrested dozens of people from a largely peaceful gathering.

“When the occupation began, music played, people were freestyling on the microphone, bubbles floated up into the sky, there was dancing, there was laughter, it was beautiful,” Arnold said. “Needless to say, the night ended in terror.”

Roof of police car with blue light lit; image by Pixabay, via
Roof of police car with blue light lit; image by Pixabay, via

Arnold says she was on Woodward Avenue on August 23rd when she found herself surrounded by law enforcement. Officers allegedly held her down, then sprayed a chemical weapon in her face.

“I was pepper-sprayed in the face while police officers held me down,” Arnold recounted. “I was tackled, I asked, “Why am I still being pepper-sprayed?” when I was already on the ground with my hands behind my back.”

Photographs of the encounter were including in Schulz’s filing.

Arnold, says the Free Press, was among 44 people arrested off Woodward Avenue that night.

Detroit’s legal counsel, Lawrence Garia, has said that the city is “pleased” the lawsuit has been filed; his office plans to file a counter-suit in response.

Similarly, the city’s police chief—James Craig—said he “appreciates” that the city’s Law Department is planning a lawsuit of its own. In doing so, Craig believes that Detroit is “fighting to reject […] another example of the perpetual false narrative.”

“After 13 weeks of protest and demonstration, what has been recently happening in the streets of Detroit is not about raising awareness around legitimate racial justice concerns,” Craig said. “Wearing a bulletproof vest to a protest shows a certain desire and intent. What is going on nowadays is more about provocation and public nuisance than bringing power to the people.”

Craig is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, and Detroit Police Officers Stephen Annuti, David Hornshaw, and Mariah Erard, along with Sgt. Timothy Bar and about 100 other “John Doe” members of law enforcement.

J. Bass, another plaintiff in the case, said the response of Detroit and its police chief show that the city—no matter the color of its leadership—does not care about Black lives.

Bass, notes The Detroit News¸ was attending a protest when a Detroit police officer “slammed his riot shield directly into [his] face two consecutive times. Like the other plaintiffs, J. Bass was unarmed, had not responded to the officer’s provocations, and posed no threat to the officer or anyone else at the time of the attack.”

Bass said the attitudes like Craig’s are evidence that Detroiters must take a stand.

“In my city, the Blackest city in America, I have a Black police chief who doesn’t care about my Black life,” Bass said. “We won’t be submissive to the system anymore. We’ve got to fight. It’s time to fight.”


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