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Detroit police chief defends officers who drove SUV through group of protesters

DPD Chief James Craig and screengrab from Twitter video
Detroit Police Department Facebook Live; Ethan Ketner / @DJEazyTwist

Detroit Police Chief James Craig is defending the officers who accelerated through a group of protesters Sunday night. In a press conference Monday, he said the officers may have believed they were under fire, and says the SUV’s back window was smashed out.



Ethan Ketner was among the protesters, and filmed the incident. He says protesters had been marching without incident for most of the day.

“We marched to Vernor, which is where there were four police vehicles set up, and they were blocking the road, Vernor, where we were coming from Dix," he said. "We started to head through those vehicles, past them, nobody was touching the vehicles, nobody was trying to be aggressive with the officers, and all of a sudden, the officer seated in that SUV that you see in the video, turned toward us and drove right into the protesters. That’s where the video began.”


He says the officer then accelerated to about 30 or 40 miles per hour.


Jae Bass is seen in the video, on the hood of the vehicle as the officer speeds up. He says the police were trying to redirect protesters, but police don’t dictate where the movement goes.


“So we decided to go directly through the roadblock. And that was fine, there were four police cars, we started walking through the cars without incident. Nobody smacked the police cars, nobody did anything like that. But the police got in the cars, and proceeded to drive through the crowd," Bass said. "At this point, there were about 30 people in front of them, which is obviously endangering the lives of our group, our crowd. So myself and the other organizer of the group, we decided to stand our ground right in front of the police officer.”

Bass says that he and the other protesters have the right to protest in the streets without obstruction from the police. 


“As you can see in the video, he ran into us, and at that point, my buddy fell on the car, and he continued to run into us. When I felt the car pressed against my knee and started digging in, that’s when I turned around and I laid on the car as well. At that point he floored it, and he went super fast and jerked it back and forth to fling us off the car, at which he was successful.”


Ketner captured the moment the officer accelerated with Bass on the hood. He says those actions were deliberate.

Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Jae Bass at a "tribunal" held by Detroit activists on June 20 to recount police violence during protests.

“Without a doubt, I know that officer did that on purpose. If it was anyone else on the hood of this car, he would’ve stopped, especially a white human being, he would’ve stopped the vehicle and let that person get down, but he made it a point to toss Jae off, onto the road,” Ketner says.

Both Ketner and Bass said protesters sustained injuries.

“We had some lacerations from the cars flying by and hitting people on the arms, another individual was struck by the vehicle in the leg. Multiple people did end up at the hospital because of this,” Ketner says.

“I got minor injuries, I got scrapes and bruises, but other people’s feet were ran over,” Bass said. He says another protest organizer fell off the hood of the SUV and was able to roll out of the way before the wheel hit his head.


“So that was attempted murder. We’re calling like it is. DPD attempted to use their vehicle as a weapon, and manslaughter a group of American citizens, protesters,” Bass says.


Bass says he’s expecting excuses and deflections from Detroit Police Chief James Craig. 


“You’re gonna hear them say the police felt afraid for their lives, even though they chose to block us off, and they chose to drive through the crowd instead of staying like the other three cars did. He chose to try and assert dominance and teach us a lesson.”


Craig says the officers acted appropriately and remain on the job. Craig also said there had been reports of protesters “plotting to provoke the police.”


Protesters say they expect legal action will be taken against the Detroit Police Department.


Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says he hasn’t seen the full report on the incident.

“But if you’re sitting in that police car and suddenly you’re blocked, there is a large crowd around you, they’re banging on the door, pulling at the door, climbing onto the car, what are you supposed to do?”
Duggan was a guest on WDET’s Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.

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Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.
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