Detroit activist group sue over police response; police department countersues accusing them of 

A activist group was protesting in a Detroit suburb last week while fighting civil and criminal charges from local authorities. The Detroit Police Department countersued several members of Detroit Will Breathe movement last September accusing the plaintiffs of collaborating “together to violate the law and sow unrest.”

On Jan. 19, the organization led a protest in Mount Clemens, Michigan to persuade the Macomb County prosecutor to drop charges against the “Shelby Five” men and women who are facing felony charges in the wake of their arrests in the Detroit suburb of Shelby Township. The criminal case against those defendants was adjourned Tuesday, but that fight is one of several Detroit Will Breathe is waging simultaneously, including being countersued by the Detroit Police Department.

“Public criticism of the Detroit Police Department is free speech and always allowed. However, the Plaintiffs acted together to violate the law and sow unrest. That is where we draw the line,” the city said in a statement last year concerning the countersuit.

The countersuit is in response to a suit a Detroit Will Breathe member filed against the department in August 2020 for the way officers responded to Black Lives Matter protests that began after George Floyd’s murder.

Several protestors were injured by officers and the police violated their First Amendment the lawsuit claims. Organizers said the Detroit Police Department’s lawsuit is baseless, according to The Detroit News.

“What Detroit Will Breathe has said is protected speech; they’re exercising their right of dissent, their right to express their dissatisfaction with the current state of politics and policing in Detroit,” Phil Mayor, a attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing the protesters, said.

Mayor said the countersuit against Detroit Will Breathe is “an attempt to suppress their speech” and “manipulate the judicial process to do what police violence in the streets could not, which is to silence protesters.”

Organizer Tristan Taylor, said they’ve held over 150 marches and only a few resulted in issues with the police.

“They will [be] under that injunction for the duration of this lawsuit which could be a few years actually,” Taylor told Fox 2 in November. “The ACLU believes in the far-reaching implications of such actions. If the city of Detroit says this is a conspiracy, it would call into question the basic democratic right of protesting.”

The ACLU also is helping Detroit Can’t Breathe to try to get charges dropped against five of its members who make up the “Shelby Five.” Their case started with an October protest against Police Chief Robert Shelide making disparaging comments about Black Lives Matter protestors.

“You’re attempting to hold protest organizers liable for speaking out against racial injustice,” Mayor said. “You can hold those individuals who committed a criminal act liable. You can take them to court. But what you can’t do is try to sue racial justice protest organizers and bankrupted them in order to silence their speech and their organization, because that violates their right to speech, and it violates their right to assemble and band together, to seek change.”

Taylor said the organization’s ultimate goal is accountability. “The end game is to make sure that we operate in a city where police officers don’t act with impunity.”

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