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Detroit Police Escalate Repression of Pro-Palestinian Protests

On April 15, Detroit Police cracked down on a pro-Palestine car caravan. This show of force was a message to protestors and an attempt to slow the momentum of the movement by intimidating people off the street and tying them up in court.

Brian H. Silverstein

April 18, 2024
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Several police officers surrounded a car caravan

On Monday, April 15, Detroit Police attacked a pro-Palestinian car caravan with overwhelming force. The caravan started in Dearborn, a majority Arab city, and drove nine miles to downtown Detroit. As the slow-moving caravan passed in front of the Michigan Central Train Station, just before reaching downtown, dozens of Detroit Police Department (DPD) vehicles sped into the street, blocking the caravan, discharging officers on foot, with some armored in riot gear or carrying long guns. Several people were arrested, dozens were ticketed, and five cars were impounded. The local mainstream media, rarely friendly to protests, served as a mouthpiece for DPD by framing the police assault as saving the city from an attack. 

The protest comes as the genocide against the Palestinian people enters its sixth month. The Detroit caravan was part of a larger international day of action, which called for economic disruptions to weaken the ability of the U.S. and Israel to continue the onslaught against Palestine. Protestors across the globe have called for an end to the genocide, an end to US military aid to Israel, and an end to the apartheid and occupation.

The caravan organizers responded to the repression saying, “On April 15, community members participated in a car rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people and took a stand against the bombardment of Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon by ‘western’ imperial forces. They were met with an aggressive and unwarranted response from Detroit Police. DPD surrounded the car caravan dressed in armor and equipped with zip-ties and aggressively forced people out of their cars.”

Since the pandemic, car caravans have been a common occurrence in the Motor City. For DPD, this was not a “safety concern” or a question of maintaining traffic flow. As organizers point out, “Michigan Avenue was completely shut down for over an hour” as a result of DPD’s raid. Rather, this was a show of force and a direct attack on the democratic right to protest. Indeed, this latest round of tickets is the next step in a pattern of escalating harassment by DPD, who have recently made a practice of briefly detaining and citing protest participants on minor infractions. DPD’s goal is to make exercising the right to protest onerous, exhausting, costly, and impractical for as many people as possible.

Escalating repression isn’t limited to Detroit, but is a national phenomenon. As the momentum in the streets waned over the winter, police and forces of co-optation have sought to fill in the space. The two-prong attack of repression and co-optation has the dual effect of isolating the vanguard in the streets from the broader public, while defanging and reorienting wide sections of the movement towards two-party electoralism

The democratic right to protest must be fought for and protected at every turn. A key role of the police is to encroach on and limit that right wherever they can. This is as much true in the movement for Palestine as it is in the labor movement, the movement for Black liberation, and simply in the day-to-day realities of working class folks everywhere. When one of us is attacked, it is an attack against us all. If we give an inch, they take a mile. This increased repression must be countered by the broadest possible effort to defend our democratic right to protest.

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