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Victory in Detroit Will Breathe Lawsuit Against the City of Detroit

The City of Detroit is ordered to pay over $1 million to protestors repressed by police in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

Detroit Will Breathe

October 16, 2022
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Photo credit: Anna Van Schaap

Today, Detroit Will Breathe and individual plaintiffs have accepted a historic offer of judgment extended by the City of Detroit that includes over 1 million dollars — $5,000 awarded directly to the organization, with the remainder divided amongst the plaintiffs. This offer of judgment resolves the case in our favor and means that the federal court will rule that the City of Detroit and the Detroit Police Department violated the constitutional rights of protestors during the George Floyd uprising of 2020.

Regardless of what the City might say, this judgment is a victory for the movement. At the start of our lawsuit, we obtained an unprecedented temporary restraining order against DPD. The restraining order prohibited DPD from beating, choking, pepper-spraying, and tear-gassing protestors and was converted into an injunction that lasted over two years. We also defeated the City’s multiple attempts to bring a baseless and retaliatory countersuit against us. Detroit was the only city in the nation to attempt to countersue protesters. 

We then fought tooth and nail to obtain, and share with the public, body cam footage, incident reports, and other documents as evidence in court, and we were successful, despite DPD’s constant dodging of accountability and transparency — part of a pattern beyond this lawsuit that includes the City’s consistent refusal to respond to FOIA requests, or publicly release footage of all police murders and shootings. It is no coincidence that the City forfeited the case after we obtained this evidence, and before putting James Craig or any other police officers on the stand. 

DPD’s desperation to publicly demonize us, per Chief Craig’s many interviews on Fox News, showed their fear of a movement exposing the true oppressive nature of the police. While our legal arguments and evidence were sound, it was the power of the movement on the streets that ultimately won that restraining order and forced the city to extend an offer of judgment to us.

The resolution of this lawsuit is a victory for the movement, but it does not bring justice to those assaulted by police, nor has it resulted in systemic changes in the way DPD relates to Detroiters. DPD still operates with impunity and without accountability, evidenced by the recent murder of Porter Burks by five cowardly officers. The police who brutalized protesters still have their jobs, as do the police who shot Porter Burks.

While the movement should use every tool at its disposal to expose the contradictions of the system, our experience with this lawsuit confirms what we have been saying all along; that mass struggle in the streets is ultimately needed to win us justice, and that this capitalist system of oppression and the undemocratic courts cannot give it.

Along with consenting to the judgment, DPD offered to adopt an internal policy that they alone would enforce, consisting of an empty promise to acknowledge the First Amendment rights of Detroiters. We know that we cannot rely on the state to keep us safe, but DPD in particular has made clear, from the constant string of scandals on the job, lying under oath, and outright murder, that they do not follow their own policies. We refuse to cosign a policy of any kind that is only enforceable by the police themselves.

We do not seek to make a friendlier, somewhat less violent police force; rather, we demand the abolition of the institution itself and the transfer of those public resources into programs that will improve the lives of our community – housing, mental health care, education, and clean water. These goals will not be accomplished through toothless reforms but by building independent political power in the streets and in our workplaces.

We rose up in 2020 to defend Black and Brown lives, yet capitalism and its enforcers, the police, continue to kill and maim people like Porter Burkers, Patrick Lyoya, Theo Gray, Hakim Littleton, Priscilla Slater, and Ma’khia Bryant. The road towards liberation is not linear. While we don’t see the daily marches of a few years ago, the struggle has taken on new forms – strikes have rippled across the country and student walkouts are a regular occurrence. The militancy of these new actions is a spark that can light a fire. We encourage everyone to join the fight in any way they can.

See y’all in the streets.

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