Detroit police officers are fighting back against Black Lives Matter protesters in court, saying demonstrators are not being held accountable for their actions in the streets.
In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, the Detroit Police Department and the city itself have sued Detroit Will Breathe, an umbrella organization of racial justice groups.
The lawsuit says Detroit Will Breathe engaged in a civil conspiracy to incite riots, destroy property and commit acts of violence against police officers during the summer protests ignited by the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.
City officials also asked the courts to make the protesters pay for property damage incurred during the demonstrations.
Civil rights groups lambasted the lawsuit as an assault on protesters’ First Amendment rights.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat whose district includes Detroit, called the lawsuit “an unthinkable assault on constitutional rights.”
Law enforcement groups latched on to the lawsuit, which they saw as the only way to hold violent demonstrators accountable for their behavior.
The National Police Association this week filed a legal brief in support of the police officers. Jim Bopp, an attorney for the NPA, said violent demonstrators were hiding behind the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to free speech and assembly.
“I’ve argued for 45 years for a very vigorous application of the First Amendment, but this is a perversion of the First Amendment, converting it into a shield for lawless and violent activity,” he told The Washington Times. “The First Amendment is being exploited by the left to protect their organized criminal activity.”
The lawsuit, he said, seeks to hold protesters accountable for their actions when left-leaning prosecutors drop charges against them for assaulting police and other crimes.
“The normal protections of the criminal law in some of these cities are breaking down,” he said. “This is becoming a real problem and, to bring this back under control, a more vigorous effort by police is needed to redress the injuries the police have suffered.”
Multiple police officers sustained physical injuries because protesters “hurled dangerous objects, including rocks and missiles at them,” according to the lawsuit. One protester head-butted a police officer, and another smashed a police car window, according to the lawsuit.
As evidence of a conspiracy, the lawsuit points to Detroit Will Breathe’s social media posts that appear to incite violence.
The posts include a tweet urging people to protest the death of a 20-year-old Black man during a police encounter in July, an Instagram post complaining about the City Council’s refusal to pass a resolution supporting protesters, and statements demanding the firing of the city’s police chief.
The city’s lawsuit says Detroit Will Breathe made false statements about police in the posts and “defamed” officers, though the city didn’t sue the group for defamation.
Will Breathe Detroit and the Detroit chapter of Black Lives Matter did not respond to The Washington Times’ requests for comment.
The officers’ legal action is a countersuit to a Will Breathe Detroit lawsuit against the city. That suit, filed in August, accused Detroit police officers of repeatedly responding to protesters with violence.
A federal judge granted a temporary restraining order limiting officers’ use of force during the protests, including prohibiting the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.
Detroit Will Breathe asked a federal judge to dismiss the city’s lawsuit. The group called it “a frivolous and transparent attempt to silence plaintiffs in the courtroom, having failed to do so in the streets.”
“Their pleading consists entirely of vague and conclusory allegations — and outright misrepresentations — lacking the requisite specificity to support their lone claim,” attorneys for the group wrote in court papers.
Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have joined Detroit Will Breathe’s cause and have filed a legal motion in support of dismissing the city’s suit.
The ACLU said the lawsuit is a new legal tactic to suppress protesters’ rights and distract from police violence.