Detroit Will Breathe & National Lawyers Guild Win Major Victories in BLM Movement

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IMAGE: Nakia Wallace restrained in a chokehold by Detroit police at Detroit Will Breathe Protest. Photo by Adam Dewey.

We are celebrating that since the writing of the following article by Nakia Wallace, the National Lawyers Guild, Detroit Chapter, has succeeded in winning Judge Laurie Michelson’s dismissal of the frivolous, fraudulent City counterclaim mentioned in this article.  This is a major victory for the movement against police violence in Detroit.  -Riverwise ed. 

In the latest attempt to repress the movement in defense of Black and Brown lives, the City of Detroit is pursuing a counterclaim against victims of police brutality. The city is alleging these victims engaged in civil conspiracy to commit unnamed crimes.

A photograph of me placed in a chokehold by a Detroit Police has gone viral. The chokehold occurred on July 10 at a protest held after the Detroit Police Department murdered Hakim Litteton, a 20-year-old young man. Police Chief James Craig quickly released an edited video showing Hakim firing at an officer as justification for this murder. The doctored video also shows Hakim being detained and the weapon kicked from his side before he was shot, execution-style, in the head.  

The protest on that day had three simple demands:

  • Release the names, badge numbers, and records of all officers involved. 
  • The Police Chief must come to address the crowd. 
  • Release all dash and body camera footage. 

Instead of meeting our demands, Chief James Craig decided to do what he had been doing all summer — assault and attack protestors and single out Detroit Will Breathe (DWB) leaders. 

The violence of this day was not new. The Detroit Police Department (DPD) began in the summer using excessive force, which led to many injuries, including skull fractures from rubber bullets and broken bones. On June 28, 2020, DPD officers drove into marchers with their SUVs, dragging a protest leader for nearly a block at high speed on the hood of a car. As the summer progressed, so did DPD’s attempts to bully, harass, assault, and discredit the movement. On August 22, 2020, DPD again brutally attacked a demonstration in the middle of Woodward Avenue, breaking a medic’s rib and causing other injuries. 

These attacks have been a clear attempt to destroy the movement. DPD is a department where an overwhelming majority of officers do not live in the city of Detroit. The Police Chief is a regular on Fox News and has aligned himself with the Trump administration, even giving a private helicopter ride to Trump Attorney General William Barr this past summer. 

DWB is an organization founded after the murder of George Floyd. We led the majority of the protests in Detroit last year and have become the target of Mayor Mike Duggan’s and Police Chief James Craig’s attacks. One of the major demands of the movement has been for accountability of police officers who, too often, operate with impunity. The violent actions of the Detroit Police Department with the approval of the Mayor’s office led us to file a lawsuit against the City, mayor, police department, police chief, and individual officers for police brutality. The lawsuit has 15 DWB plaintiffs including myself. The purpose of this lawsuit was to further hold the police and mayor accountable for the harm and abuses they caused. 

The response by the City was to pretend that none of the abuses occurred, even claiming I was never placed in a chokehold and filing a counterclaim. Fortunately, Judge Laurie Michelson issued a temporary restraining order, which later turned into injunctive relief restricting DPD from utilizing some of their abusive tactics on protestors. It is completely unprecedented for a city to countersue victims of police brutality.  Worse still is DPD’s request for $200,000 of taxpayer money to hire a private law firm to handle the counterclaim. On January 26th, 2021 the Detroit City Council voted to approve this request despite the recommendations of the Internal Operations Standing Committee, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, and 40 callers who demanded that the Council deny the request.

Detroit is rooted in the Black radical tradition. It is the Blackest city in the nation and has always been central to the fight for Black liberation. After the murder of George Floyd, Detroit, like most urban cities in the nation, saw thousands of people come out to participate in the largest social movement in the history of the United States. Instead of hearing the voices of this movement, the Democratic Party leaders of the  City have aligned with right-wing tactics and policies, continuing to act against the best interests of citizens. Lawrence Garcia is the Corporation Counsel on behalf of the City of Detroit. Last year he was paid a salary of $162,000. Yet he, along with his team, are claiming they are ill-equipped to handle a police brutality lawsuit and require the help of the private firm, Clark Hill PLC, to pursue a baseless counterclaim. 

On the same day that City Council approved these funds, earlier in the morning, 238 cases were dropped by the City against protestors because the police failed to provide adequate evidence in the cases, including the names of arresting officers and bodycam footage. This occurred two weeks after Judge Williams of the 36th District Court dismissed 28 of the protest cases for the same reasons. 

Despite owing homeowners $600 million dollars from illegally over-taxing them, the City is using public funds to trample on free speech. Despite a global pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people, the City is using tax dollars to fund political persecution. They have proven they are more concerned with silencing dissent and punishing those of us who continue to boldly and unapologetically fight for our freedom. 

It should be noted that no arrests have been made of the right-wing extremists who beat on the windows of TCF Convention center to disrupt and intimidate mostly Black election workers in an attempt to subvert democracy. Instead, James Craig took the opportunity to hold a press conference and state the only danger to the City was Black Lives Matter protestors and Detroit Will Breathe. There have also been no arrests by state authorities or the Lansing Police Department of Trump supporters who violently stormed the Michigan State Capital. This complacency towards fascism and extreme persecution of freedom fighters is what led to Michigan’s hostile climate in which a threat to kidnap the governor was concocted. It is also what paved the way for the storming of the U.S. Capitol. 

I am delighted that over 250 charges have been dropped or dismissed, but all of the charges and the counterclaim need to be withdrawn. I am more proud every day to be a leader in the fight against oppression and systematic racism. Long ago we grew exhausted with the leadership of this city and country.  Their failures to value our lives and stand up in defense of our rights is why we exist, why we march in spite of police brutality, political witch hunts, and the weight of our own City, state, and federal governments attempting to destroy us. We will not be silenced now or ever. We will not be bullied into turning our back on the fight for our freedom.

The best way to learn more about Detroit Will Breathe is to follow our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. For those interested in donating, we have both a general fund and a legal fund.