Detroit city council approves funds for lawsuit against BLM protesters

$200,000 will fund a counter-lawsuit against the demonstrators associated with the Detroit Will Breathe movement in a 5-4 vote.

The Detroit City Council has approved a fund dedicated to legal action against protestors affiliated with the Detroit Will Breathe movement in a countersuit against the group.

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Detroit’s NPR station WEDT reported the council approved a $200,000 expenditure that will fund the lawsuit against Black Lives Matter protesters in a 5-4 vote. Attorneys representing the city are claiming the demonstrators engaged in a civil conspiracy during last summer’s marches against racism and police brutality. The protestors made the first move in the court system with the first lawsuit.

According to the report, in a federal complaint, the protestors alleged  Detroit Police Department used excessive force to stop demonstrators from exercising their First Amendment rights.

Black Lives Matter Protests Continue Around Detroit
DETROIT, MI – MAY 30: Demonstrators protest against police brutality for a second day following a night of confrontations between protesters and riot police on May 30, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan. Across the country, protests have erupted following the recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody in the most recent in a series of deaths of African Americans by the police. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

After their lawsuit was filed, a federal judge banned officers from using rubber bullets, chokeholds and teargas against protestors in the city.

theGrio reported, Detroit Will Breathe noted the difference in force used by police officers against Black Lives Matter protesters versus those who decided to protest against Donald Trump losing the state’s electoral votes in the 2020 Presidential Election. The police claimed the lawsuit was a conspiracy and Detroit police chief James Craig said there was a difference in treatment due to a difference in actions by the demonstrators.

“What they conveniently left out, they were peaceful. They were chanting and we gave them – just like we gave Detroit Will Breathe – an opportunity to exercise their right to free speech,” Craig said, according to the report. “But not one time did they attack this police department and the one instance when we made an arrest, it was made without incident and it had nothing to do with the protest. And so, factually wrong once again.”

One council member echoed similar sentiments when they voted for the funds to be directed toward the countersuit.

People gather and pray around a makeshift memorial, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis, near the site where a black man, who was taken into police custody the day before, later died. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

“I am for peaceful protesters,” said Council Member Roy McCalister, Jr., according to WEDT. “My issue is with those people that came in and wanted to destroy or cause another (1967).”

Detroit Will Breathe launched a GoFundMe to financially support its lawsuit against the city police.

“This lawsuit prioritizes injunctive relief for all demonstrators, i.e., a court-ordered stop to abusive police practices including unlawful arrests, beating demonstrators with batons and shields, placing demonstrators in chokeholds, tear-gassing and pepper-spraying demonstrators, shooting demonstrators with rubber bullets, and more,” the campaign described. It has currently reached almost $45,000 of the $50,000 goal.

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Council Members André Spivey, Janeé Ayers, Scott Benson, and President Brenda Jones all voted for the measure. Council Members James TateRaquel Castañeda-López, Gabe Leland, and President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield voted against it. Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia told City Council.  informed the city council that they have an obligation to represent the City Of Detroit in any case, including the federal court case that involved Detroit Will Breathe, whether or not there is a counterclaim.

The pushback against the decision did not stop after the vote garnered approval.

“What has really made me pause about this particular counterclaim is the way that Corporation Counsel has approached it,” said Tate according to WEDT. “He has been very evasive with answers. He has alluded that council members that ask questions about this lawsuit potentially are doing so based on political motivations. The evidence that I have seen does not lead me to conclude that there was any civil conspiracy that took place.”

“The City’s counterclaim is one of many examples of a national trend by units of government and corporations to intimidate grassroots activists from suing them by seeking to tie up their time and waste their financial resources with frivolous counter-lawsuits,” said John Royal, president of the National Lawyers Guild in Detroit, in a statement WEDT reported. “The City of Detroit should not use this repressive tactic against the progressive youth of southeast Michigan who are seeking redress for legitimate grievances against the DPD.”

According to the report, several activists and lawyers also advised the council to vote against the measure.

“It’s of grave concern that our city council is authorizing the payment of that amount of money to a private law firm to take this legal step, which is to a large degree just a chilling effect on First Amendment rights to this community,” said Julie Hurwitz, one of the lawyers representing protesters in civil litigation according to WEDT.

“You really need to ask yourselves if this is how you want to be remembered during the largest social uprising in the history of this country,” said Nakia Wallace, one of the leaders of Detroit Will Breathe. According to the report, she is named in the lawsuit  Detroit Police Department. “The Blackest city in the nation using all of its resources and funds to continue to abuse and oppress people standing up for their constitutional right to protest.”

theGrio reported Detroit joined Denver, and Texas’ Harris County in dismissing a massive amount of misdemeanor charges against protesters who participated in Black Lives Matter protests. According to the report, people charged with misdemeanors between May 31 and June 2 for violating a mandated curfew will no longer have charges brought against them resulting in 238 of the 245 violations issued being dismissed.

“The departments have also considered the discretion that was exercised during that week – where, for example, citations written on June 1 were never submitted to the court, and where many protesters were not ticketed at all, despite being out after curfew. In light of that review, the law department is dismissing the majority of misdemeanor tickets issued on May 31 and June 2. Although certain cases from these two dates will be pursued, the City believes it is best to dismiss the vast majority of citations,” said a statement issued by Garcia.

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