DETROIT – Elected officials from the federal, state and local level sent a letter Wednesday to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Police Chief James Craig and the Board of Police Commissioners (BOPC) calling for an independent investigation into use of force by Detroit police against protesters.
The letter was signed by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Michigan Sen. Stephanie Chang, Detroit City Council President Pro Temp Mary Sheffield (District 5) and City Councilor Raquel Castañeda-López (District 6).
“The right to free speech is one that is fundamental to our country’s democracy and critical to ensuring that our beloved city is one where everyone is heard,” read the letter. "Protesters and others exercising their constitutional right to speak up about police brutality and racial justice deserve the same protection others receive. No person should fear being beaten, tasered, tear gassed, shot or killed by law enforcement officers.
The letter called for an investigation “of any and all use of excessive physical force or intimidation against protesters, journalists, or legal observers at all Detroit Will Breathe protests and other related events,” listing seven separate incidents between May and August.
“We all play a role in the fight for racial justice and ending police brutality, regardless of our position or skin color,” the letter continued. "Now is the time for bold and humble leadership, to acknowledge the systemic racism underpinning our police system and to rise to the challenge of changing them. We hope you rise to meet the challenge and lead with courage.”
Protests began in Detroit on May 29 in response to the death of George Floyd during his arrest by Minneapolis police officers. Demonstrations continued throughout the summer.
Below is a statement from Chief James Craig:
“It’s unfortunate that these representatives have chosen to repeat a number of false claims in their letter without verifying the facts.
"Every single complaint against any DPD officer is investigated by the independent civilian oversight body -- the Board of Police Commissioners, as well as DPD’s own Internal Affairs Unit Criminal cases are independently reviewed and charges are brought by the Wayne County Prosecutor when warranted.
“What really disturbs me is that when the protesters assaulted Detroit Police Officers with rocks, railroad spikes and fireworks, never once did these representatives ask for an independent investigation into their violent criminal activity.”
The letter comes a week after the BOPC announced new rules for police officers, including no chokeholds. There were eight new policies related to use of force and 18 revisions.
In addition to a duty to intervene when other officers are using excessive force, officers cannot use chokeholds or fire a weapon from moving vehicles.
The letter also comes a few days after a judge temporarily barred police from using certain tactics against protesters.
A lawsuit was filed by Detroit Will Breathe and 14 individuals, seeking a temporary restraining order enjoining the city of Detroit and the Detroit Police Department from using certain tactics. They alleged that police responded to protests with excessive force and violated their first and fourth amendment rights.
A motion was granted for the restraining order.