“I Thought It Would Be Worse,” said a Detroit cop of a protest last year. “I Wanted More.”

CONTENT WARNING: The 22-minute video and the clips I’ve taken from it below include some disturbing and extremely graphic imagery, which may be disturbing to some viewers.

We’ve become to some degree inured to graphic footage of police violence in the United States. So, perhaps it isn’t terribly surprising, given the pervasive, ubiquitous nature of social media, that so many disturbing videos arose out of Detroit’s protest movement last year following the murder of George Floyd by since-convicted Minneapolis police officer and double-felon Derek Chauvin. Detroit, a city hounded by the legacy of 1967, had the distinction of being one of very few American cities to have virtually no looting or rioting following the George Floyd murder. But a recent video assembled by “activist-documentarian” Kate Levy, who has produced other content around water equity and gentrification in the Motor City, raises a more important issue– of wanton police violence against protesters. This topic becomes ever more fraught when considering that retired police chief James Craig is now, we assume, making a longshot run for governor as a Republican– on a Trumpesque platform of law-an-ahdur, ra-ra guns, and freedum.

Protest Screencaps
Above: Officers discussing from released bodycam footage in front of the Rosa Parks Transit Center in downtown Detroit. If you look at the language used by a lot of officers, one commonality is that they seem to be preoccupied with the notion that the protesters and the protesters alone bear responsibility for the violence, in spite of the fact that very little violence was ever actually directed at officers. Screencaps from publicly released bodycam footage assembled from documentary clip by Kate Levy.
In one notable incident, several officers appear to gang up on two protesters who are walking away from the site of the protest. One officer violently shoved the protester to the ground and asked “what the fuck are you gonna do about it”? Footage taken by a bystander; screencap from Kate Levy’s documentary piece.
In this screencap from footage shot on the west side of Detroit on McNichols Rd., we see a footage of an officer caught mid-shove vs. a protester. The McNichols protest notably included an incident of an officer allegedly putting a woman in a chokehold. Chokeholds were banned as a result of last year’s protests— and the murder of George Floyd.
Duggan: Continuing To Spend Limited Taxpayer Funds To Sue Black Lives Matter

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is currently up for reëlection– and, frankly, will probably win, against a completely unremarkable and crowded slate of candidates- not only consistently voiced his support for the police department and leadership thereof, but also has sued the protesters, alleging a civil conspiracy. That’s right–  Detroit taxpayers, overtaxed by this same mayor by $600 million in property assessments, are now funding a six-figure bill from a white shoe law firm to sue a legal, civil protest movement. I could not make this shit up.

Sidebar: Leadership Analysis

Duggan and Craig faced– or, in Duggan’s case, really continue to face- an age-old management crisis of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t. If Craig were to acknowledge that, yes, there are problems within DPD’s ranks, and yes, we hire violent thugs to drive in from St. Clair Shores to patrol the streets, he’d be criticized for presiding over such problems. But if he were to say he didn’t know anything about any of these things– or deny that they were even happening- he’d face a major credibility crisis.

However, I’ve often said that leadership– as opposed to wealth- is really a trickle-down phenomenon. There’s a lot of evidence that when the administrator or even figurehead of a major institution or entity makes something a priority, it ends up happening. In Duggan’s case, he’s made opacity, limiting democratic access, and even stifling criticism– in the case of the lawsuit against Detroit Will Breathe- a major priority.

No Tear Gas at Sixth Night of Protests in Detroit; Journalists Again Assaulted

Kate Levy Video: Detroit Will Breathe

So, here’s the video itself. It’s disturbing, to say the least. I went to a number of these protests– including the brutal and bloody aftermath of the brutal Gratiot protest and the downtown Detroit protest in August.

Above: This looks a lot like the guy who hit me in the chest with a CS canister. Although I could just be confusing all fat white dudes in police uniforms who look like they got lost on their way to a Trump rally. Screencaps from publicly released bodycam footage assembled from documentary clip by Kate Levy.

We reached out to the Detroit Police and the City of Detroit, but had not immediately heard back, and will update accordingly.

Reform or Abolition vs. Law-an-ahdur

Donald Trump made “law and order” a mainstay of his rallying cries. You know, as long as there were some exclusions and caveats– like the ability to literally murder police officers or brutalize journalists. This platform is, perhaps unsurprisingly, even popular among many Detroiters, who are interested in any solutions that will improve the public safety of crime-ravaged neighborhoods. No doubt the city of Detroit will never consider the more radical option of police abolition. But can this system be reformed? Can you reform a group of grown adults who hit the pavement with rage in their eyes and brag about beating up defenseless women? Will the Detroit Police ever clean up their act? 

Police Reform: Imagining New Roles For A Safer, More Functional Society

One approach might be to, well, rethink the role of police. I’ve written about this fairly extensively. It seems as though getting rid of the State’s ability to marshal firearms versus a populace in which there are actually more guns than people might have some potentially disastrous implications. But this doesn’t mean that every officer of the State needs to be armed, nor that they need to be oriented toward violence. A beat cop might become a beat city planner. Why not? Police certainly aren’t making cities safer by the actions they’ve demonstrated in these videos and clips. More violence solves absolutely nothing. It’s also, well, very expensive for taxpayers. But I think it’s fairly conclusive that no number of antiracism seminars, deëscalation trainings, DEI workshops, will ever be able to mitigate the sheer rage, fury, and malevolence demonstrated by the officers depicted here.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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