FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Detroit Police and the Occupy Movement

by GEORGE CORSETTI

Police departments around the country could learn a few things from the Detroit police.   Many of these cities have had bloody confrontations with Occupiers including mass arrests, beatings and pepper spraying by police.  Meanwhile the Occupy Detroit group has enjoyed a unique, peaceful relationship with police.   During the five weeks the group camped out in Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit there has not been a single arrest by that city’s Police.  And recently the Chief of Police, Ralph Godbee, praised occupiers “for working with DPD to truly maintain peace and exercise free speech in a manner we all should be proud of!”

Like similar groups Occupy Detroit engaged in their share of unlawful behavior.  For one thing, they shut down rush hour traffic across the Ambasssador bridge linking the US and Canada.  The bridge carries 10,000 trucks a day and OD demonstrators formed a human chain closing it on the Detroit side.  The police waited out the demonstrators and did nothing.  After an hour the demonstration ended with no arrests.

On another occasion the Occupiers staged an anti-foreclosure demonstration and marched, without a permit, to the downtown offices of Bank of America, shutting down traffic.  Police responded by blocking all on-coming traffic, allowed the demonstrators to occupy the street despite the lack of a permit and did not harass any of the 500 protestors, many of whom were UAW members

A few days later Occupy members marched to Wayne State University in Detroit’s mid-town area and protested the presence of Duncan Niederauer, CEO of Euronext and leader the New York Stock Exchange since 2007.  Neiderauer was in town for a video taping of a program, “Leaders on Leadership” at the University.  Detroit Police sat in their cars, watched the demonstrators and did nothing.    When two OD members in the studio audience asked Neiderauer why he had not been punished for “his role” in America’s economic crisis they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, not by Detroit Police, but by Wayne State University police.  Outraged, the demonstrators laid siege to the University police station demanding the release of the OD members.

Later that same night Occupy Detroit demonstrators staged a spontaneous march through the streets of downtown blocking traffic, stopping at Detroit Police headquarters, Hart Plaza and Greektown, a casino and tourist area.   Again, there was no parade permit and no advance notice to police who initially turned out in large numbers.  And again, there were no arrests or other harassment.

Inspector Don Johnson, the police official in charge of handling Occupy demonstrations, was particularly incensed that some Occupy speakers were blaming the Detroit Police for the arrests earlier in the day.  He went to great lengths to explain to Lawyers Guild attorneys that Detroit police had nothing to do with the WSU arrests and that it was the University police who made that decision.  He was also upset that Detroit police were not informed of the march by OD demonstrators claiming that the demonstration created an unnecessary emergency situation that required police to be called in from various precincts and interfering with anti-crime efforts in the city.   He was also concerned with police liability should demonstrators be injured accidentally by passing cars when they seized a street.

Johnson vowed to clamp down on demonstrators in the future promising to bring felony charges for resisting arrest for anyone who refused police orders to leave the streets.

But some days later as Occupy Detroit and soon-to-be-laid-off city workers left city hall they again marched down Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, blocking traffic.  Several police cars were dispatched to stop the march and officers on foot tried to get people back on the sidewalk.  But the demonstrators ignored them and refused to leave the street.  After it became clear the situation would require a lot more police and many arrests, the police changed tactics, drove ahead of the march and escorted the demonstrators back to the encampment at Grand Circus Park.

The lesson for other cities is that calmness and self-restraint can go a long way toward avoiding confrontation and needless injuries and arrests.

Most police departments lack this experience while Detroit police have a history of dealing with labor and civil unrest.  During the newspaper strike a few years back, for example, a suburban police department where a printing plant was located overreacted to the presence of strikers and supporters blocking gates and began beating them, creating an even greater problem as each new demonstration became more and more violent and confrontational.  Detroit police meanwhile took a different tack.  There were arrests, but in almost every case the police knew in advance there would be civil disobedience or blockage of streets and building entrances.  Police generally allowed the demonstrators to do their thing and calmly arrested them.  The biggest problem with police in demonstrations generally is misperception of the threat and overreaction.

It also helps to have advance communication with police.  The police do not like to be surprised and do not react well when they feel threatened. In the Occupy arrests in New York or other places what you see is essentially a police riot with self-induced chaos.  Instead of calm self assurance on the part of the police there is anger that their authority is being challenged and a lashing out at anyone who happens to be nearby.

It’s also important for representatives of the demonstrators to communicate, in advance, with politicians and higher echelon police in an effort to avoid needless confrontations.

In the last analysis the police are like a domestic military force and like the military have been trained and paid to respond in the interests of the 1% rather than the 99%.  This is true even though they themselves are a part of the 99%.  However there is hope that there will be restraint and defections.  It’s interesting to note, for example, that in the last week or so when faced with a reduction in pay by the financially strapped City of Detroit, some police took a page from the Occupation handbook and conducted a sick-in, refusing to report for duty.  They were suspended as a result, but it’s just like being arrested, there’s a price to pay for standing up for your rights.

George Corsetti is a Detroit lawyer.


More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
Binoy Kampmark
Mike Pence in Oz
Peter Paul Catterall
Green Nationalism? How the Far Right Could Learn to Love the Environment
George Wuerthner
Range Riders: Making Tom Sawyer Proud
Clancy Sigal
It’s the Pits: the Miner’s Blues
Robert K. Tan
Abe is Taking Japan Back to the Bad Old Fascism
April 24, 2017
Mike Whitney
Is Mad Dog Planning to Invade East Syria?    
John Steppling
Puritan Jackals
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail