Detroit Will Breathe Accepts $1M Judgment Offer After Detroit Police Lawsuit 

During the Summer of 2020, members of Detroit Will Breathe and other demonstrators marched downtown along Woodward Ave in defense of Black Lives. They were met by violent clashes of Detroit police.  

Photo by Viola Klocko. 

 

 

After two years battling the city of Detroit in court, Detroit Will Breathe (DWB) accepted an offer of judgment with a settlement of $1 million by the City of Detroit to the plaintiffs.  

The settlement offer effectively forfeited the City’s legal contention against DWB’s police use of force claims during the local Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.  

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” said Jae Bass, one of the lead organizers of Detroit Will Breathe.  “It shows that we have been non-violent and we have a right to use the First Amendment and speak our voice so we can actually obtain the answers we’re looking for in accountability for Detroit police’s use of force.”  

Detroit Will Breathe is a movement formed on the streets of Detroit in the midst of an international movement against police brutality towards Black lives. 

Following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020, national protests erupted in defense of Black lives against the long systemic history of police brutality on Black and Brown Americans.  

In Detroit, thousands of concerned residents took to the streets to demonstrate support for the movement.  

Activists and a coalition of social justice organizations, including members of Detroit Will Breathe, took part in demonstrations for more than 100 straight days. The group claimed they were repeatedly met with violence and intimidation by Detroit police officers to suppress the uprising. 

 

 

On August 31, 2020, the Detroit and Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf Detroit Will Breathe and several other involved individuals to challenge the constitutionality of the harmful tactics employed by law enforcement.  

While the lawsuit was pending, NLG attorneys successfully convinced U.S. Judge Laurie J. Michelson to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) alleging “Detroit police have responded to their [DWB] demonstrations with excessive force and have violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights.” 

The temporary measure was in effect for 14 days and turned into a preliminary injunction. The court order banned Detroit police from engaging in chokeholds, rubber bullets, striking weapons (i.e., batons), and chemical agents against protestors, legal observers and medical support personnel during the ongoing Summer 2020 protests.  

In retaliation, the city of Detroit filed a counterclaim against Detroit will Breathe et al on September 25, 2020, alleging the group of “civil conspiracy to commit criminal acts.”  

The NLG legal team, with support from ACLU and Oregon-based coalition Protests the Protests, filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaim. On March 10, 2021, the U.S. Eastern District Court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice on the grounds the city failed to state a claim for civil conspiracy.  

As the dust is settling on the monumental case, Bass said although the settlement signals a step in the right direction, true justice requires systemic changes and Detroit still has a long way to go. 

“Honestly, I don’t have much hope for the police,” said Bass. “They are still going to continue to act with impunity and make whatever calls they feel necessary to keep law and order. So, I can’t really have too much hope for reform or for them to do better or be better or be friendlier.” 

Bass said DWB’s goal is to raise awareness to an unjust system of policing that needs to be defunded in favor of community-led safety initiatives. 

“I hope that the settlement can show that the people are strong and the power of the people,” said Bass. “I definitely see this as a victory for the movement, but not as something that solves the problem. We need to see the system change. We see places like Bloomfield Hills where they say the crime is so low, well look at all the resources [in] that community.  

“I want to get to a point in our lives where our community is supported, a system that has a heavy emphasis on the people, where our people have opportunities and are actually taken care of. We don’t need police officers who have been terrorizing our communities and perpetuating what harmfully exists.” 

 

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