Group declares cop-free zone near Belle Isle for Black joy, demands police defunding


(ANN) In an act of civil disobedience, people played basketball, drew with chalk and blew bubbles in downtown Detroit on Thursday to demand the redistribution of police funds.
The disobedience came from their choice of venue — the intersection of eastbound Jefferson Avenue and Grand Boulevard in front of Belle Isle, as cars tried to get past.
The group of about 30 people blocked the space for an hour, starting about 5:20 p.m., erected a basketball hoop and declared it a cop-free, autonomous space known as the 313 Liberation Zone.
Police did arrive about 5:40 p.m. to direct traffic away, a helicopter circling overhead, and eventually surrounded the crowd with cop cars and demanded the coalition leave. A crowd leader requested an additional 10 minutes about 6:10 p.m. and police allowed it. 
Before police arrived, some group members had already stayed in cars or on bicycles to direct traffic away from the space, as others played and the group chanted sayings including, “defund the police, they were made to kill.”
One of multiple leaders said the group was a coalition of Black Detroiters; many present also described associations with or wore clothing from Michigan Liberation, an organization focused on criminal justice reform.
The crowd included children, teens and adults, along with both Black and white participants, but the goal, said Leon Hister, was to create a space centered on Black joy, leisure and play.
They also want the about $330 million budgeted for police to be cut in half and redistributed in Black communities for housing needs, education centers, access to water and street lights, Hister said ahead of the event.
The group highlighted recreation with the plan Thursday, specifically in front of Belle Isle, which is used for recreation, Hister said.
“What we’re doing is presenting a vision of a possible future, where our communities are properly invested in and there’s not police,” Hister said.

The focus on recreation also came as a result of the city removing basketball hoops at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, as Hister said this criminalized Black bodies.
Mayor Mike Duggan, at the time this was announced, said it was to dissuade the groups that had been gathering without social distancing during Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order.
The effort was similar to an effort in Seattle that was later dismantled by police, but was not based on it, Hister said before the blockade.
It comes amid more than a month of protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes. 
Honking erupted periodically, some seemingly due to traffic concerns and others in support.
One driver could be heard telling a leader he wouldn’t drive through Belle Isle to get around the zone.
He warned the group to move, “before I get mad,” and bumped a blocking car with his own, before eventually chatting with the leader more and making an illegal maneuver to get around.
One bystander, Steven Jackson, 60, of Detroit, wasn’t impressed.
“That’s not cool because if I was driving today I would be very disappointed,” he said.
But they needed to be heard, said 12-year-old Patience Daniels of Eastpointe, there with her aunt Ashley Daniels with Michigan Liberation.
People shouldn’t have to tell their kids not to wear a hoodie or not to have their hands in their pockets because of the color of their skin, Patience Daniels said, while pausing from her chalk creation.
There’s also an issue when a white person kills a Black person, it’s considered self-defense, but when a Black person kills another Black person, some people assume it is gang-related, she said.
“If we don’t stand up for ourselves, no one will,” she said.
It was the elder Daniels who dealt with police when they demanded the group leave, saying the activity was unlawful.
Two officers came into the space to relay the message for what they said was the third time. They declined a request to shoot three baskets with the crowd.

The elder Daniels ended up requesting 10 extra minutes, to reach a full hour, and an officer said he’d relay it.
He asked her where she was from, and said she should know he loves Detroit, too.
The pair agreed to have the crowd walk back on the sidewalk, and Daniels requested officers move so as not to trigger members in the crowd.
At least a dozen police vehicles appeared to be involved with the police response, and an armored vehicle was later seen in the area.
Speaking once the group arrived back to where they had first gathered at 4 p.m. at the Church of the Messiah on East Grand, Michigan Liberation’s Wayne County director Rai Lanier of Detroit said the effort went well.
“You feel a sense of ownership,” she said of occupying the space. “…We need to start spending this money in ways that confirm safety, confirm community and that is spent in ways that the community actually wants to see. Not for bullets, not for the 12 cop cars that were out there, not for the helicopter.”

Journalist Cary Junior contributed to this report.