A largely peaceful protest in Detroit against systemic racism and police brutality turned violent on Sunday night as a police SUV plowed through a group of protesters, striking multiple people and sending a couple of demonstrators who had climbed on the hood flying from the vehicle.
Police accelerated the vehicle multiple times as dozens of protesters surrounded it, according to videos of the incident posted to social media. After each acceleration, protesters could be heard shrieking in shock, pleading for the driver to stop hitting the gas while people were in front of the vehicle and being thrown from its hood.
“Detroit Police Department just ran straight through a bunch of our protesters,” Ethan Ketner, a protester who filmed the scene, wrote on Facebook. “Myself and 10-12 others were struck by this reckless driver who somehow has a badge.”
The extent of the injuries remains unclear as of early Monday. Ketner wrote that “multiple people injured” were receiving treatment at local hospitals.
In a news conference Monday, Detroit Police Chief James Craig defended the officers’ actions, saying that the cops “did the right thing.” Craig said that a rear window had been busted out and officers received reports of several protesters who were armed with hammers. The details around those reports remain unclear. Photos sent by the Detroit Police Department to The Washington Post show the SUV involved in the incident with its window busted out as well as dents and scratches.
“What would you have them do?” Craig asked reporters Monday.
An investigation is underway and the officers in question remain on duty, Craig said.
The incident started around 9:30 p.m. Sunday as protesters were concluding their march back to Patton Park on the city’s southwest side. Jae Bass, a 24-year-old demonstrator, told the Detroit Free Press that police were attempting to block the marchers from returning to Patton Park. As protesters approached the SUV, which had turned on its overhead lights, they crowded around the vehicle, holding signs, banging drums and chanting the familiar cry of “No justice! No peace!”
Dash-cam footage shared with The Post on Monday showed protesters standing in front of the car, yelling at police. Bass said a couple of demonstrators, including himself, began to climb onto the hood of the car until the crowd was safely out of the way. That’s when the police car started to accelerate.
“He just floored it. He went super fast,” Bass said to the Free Press. “Me and a couple of my other organizers that were with me, just went flinging off. We went flying off. He ran over a couple people’s arms, feet.”
Video of the incident shows the SUV driver accelerating and braking at least three times, as some protesters bounced off the car and others were sent scrambling in panic.
“Oh, my God!” one woman is heard screaming. “Oh, my God!”
As two men remained on top of the car, the SUV accelerated for a fourth time. After about 100 feet, both men, including Bass, were thrown from the car as the rest of the enraged protesters ran after the police vehicle.
“This was a clear act of aggression,” Ketner said.
Bass recounted to the Free Press how he was holding on to the car moments before he was thrown off.
“I could feel him speeding up and then . . . he flinged me off the car, and I rolled off,” Bass said.
He said he hurt his hand and knee, but that the injuries weren’t severe.
The incident came at the end of another day of peaceful protests in Detroit, which have gone on for weeks nationwide following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
Tristan Taylor, a protest organizer with the group Detroit Will Breathe, said to WDIV that the dangerous scene was exactly why they were demonstrating, adding that police in the city believe “they could do anything with impunity.”
“This shows the issues that we have with Detroit police,” Taylor said. “That’s why we’re marching, because these police feel like their badge gives them the authority to do harm and damage under any circumstances.”
Brendan Scorpio, a 22-year-old photographer, told The Post in a Twitter direct message early Monday that his head was in pain from getting struck by the police car.
“I got hit by a damn car today for walking,” he tweeted.