Advance Notice: Briefs

Federal judge rejects city case against Detroit Will Breathe

By: - March 11, 2021 2:08 pm

About 100 Detroit Will Breathe demonstrators rallied and marched from the Rosa Parks Federal Building just east of downtown Detroit on Aug. 5, 2020 | Ken Coleman

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed the city of Detroit’s legal claims against a Detroit Will Breathe (DWB), an anti-police brutality protest group, ruling that it failed to prove that demonstrators conspired with one another to cause civil unrest and harm police officers last summer.

“In sum, the city fails to establish the essential elements of a civil conspiracy claim under Michigan law,” U.S. District Judge Laurie Michelson wrote in her opinion.“Their allegations about planning and coordination of the conspiracy are limited to media interviews with individual plaintiffs and posts on social media about attending the protests, but not about any unlawful action.” 

“Most of the statements and posts that the city points to in no way suggest an agreement, let alone one to commit unlawful acts,” Michelson added. “Instead, they’re simply evidence of DWB organizing and publicizing public protests, albeit with occasional strident and passionate language.”

In a statement posted on its Twitter page Wednesday, DWB applauded the decision. 

“This victory is the result of organizing and advocacy by many people, including our lawyer [National Lawyers Guild], and Detroiters who repeatedly called City Council to oppose funding for the counterclaim, and the collective power of the movement against racist police violence.”

Planned tribunal is a throwback to post-1967 Detroit rebellion effort

The Detroit City Council voted 5-4 in January to use $200,000 of taxpayer money to fund the counterclaim against DWB. Lawrence Garcia, city of Detroit corporation counsel, local government’s chief attorney, said the following about the judge’s decision: 

“We are disappointed with the ruling, but we accept it.”

The Advance reported in August that a group of plaintiffs, including DWB, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against Mayor Mike Duggan, Police Chief James Craig and more than 100 city police officers. 

Later, the group secured a temporary restraining order against city police using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets during demonstrations. City attorneys then filed a counterclaim, arguing that protesters were part of a “civil conspiracy” to destroy property, hurt police officers and incite rioting. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.