A video viewed 1.8 million times on Twitter alone shows a Detroit police SUV ramming into a crowd of protesters Sunday, but the city’s police chief says his officer only accelerated after the rear window was knocked out by “agitators” looking for violence. The incident took place at one of many protests held throughout the nation to demand justice after the deaths of George Floyd and countless other people of color who were victims of police brutality.
Ethan Ketner, a protestor who filmed the wreck, said in a Facebook post that between 10 and 12 people were hit. “Someone was trapped on the hood and eventually tossed as the officer swerved to throw him off,” he said.
Ketner said officers drove into the protest after demonstrators walked past their vehicles. “They did not need to drive past us for emergency purposes because they had other officers on the other side ready,” he said. “This was a clear act of aggression.”
Detroit police, however, described a situation that remained peaceful until a select few began targeting police vehicles. Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Black man, said during a media briefing Monday this wasn’t the first protest in the city, and the protests have mainly been nonviolent. “Yesterday was no different,” he said. “It did start as a peaceful protest.”
At one point, however, the event took a turn due to “a few agitators,” Craig said, repeatedly noting that the majority of attendees were peaceful. Some, however, attacked two police vehicles and police began to get reports that several protesters were armed with hammers, Craig said.
He explained that the police SUV didn’t drive into the crowd until several protesters from a group of about 25 to 30 agitators jumped on the hood and someone smashed the rear window.
“And during our investigation officers reported that once they heard the rear window smash—it was very loud—they (were) not certain that they were not being fired upon,” Craig said. “So it was important for them to get out of there for their safety and certainly the safety of others.”
Police kept their distance and watched as most of the protest, which started in Patton Park, ventured away from the park and started to circle back to the area, according to the Detroit Free Press. The chief said a supervisor made a “judgment call” to redirect the crowd’s path through an area that wasn’t as busy, but protesters were otherwise allowed to go where they wanted to go.
Craig said he ultimately thinks agitators didn’t want to see a peaceful protest, and he read a statement from an unnamed peaceful protester. “I was there and I was leaving because they were plotting to provoke the police,” the protestor reportedly said in the statement. “As I was leaving, I saw those same guys starting to hit the police vehicle for no reason.”
Jae Bass, one of the protesters thrown from the hood, told the Detroit Free Press that officers trying to prevent protesters from returning to the park started moving when he attempted to lead demonstrators through a roadblock. He told the newspaper he stood in front of the police SUV as a question to try to prevent police from hurting demonstrators.
“In response to that, he just floored it,” Bass said. “He went super fast. Me and a couple of other organizers that were with me, just went flinging off. We went flying off. He ran over a couple people’s arms, feet. He ran over her phone. I think I was the last person on the car. I was just holding onto the car. I could feel him speeding up and then he did one of these and he flinged me off the car.”
The police chief said he’s not aware of any injuries resulting from the incident, but is inviting anyone injured to come forward and talk to police.