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 Tracy Gray, of Detroit, speaks at Lakeview High School while standing next to a photo cutout of her late son, Theo Gray, during a protest against police brutality and racism June 27.

Tracy Gray, of Detroit, speaks at Lakeview High School while standing next to a photo cutout of her late son, Theo Gray, during a protest against police brutality and racism June 27.

Photo by Sean Work


Protest march results in minor skirmishes in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published July 2, 2020

 Protest organizer Tristan Taylor, of Detroit Will Breathe, walks in front of a St. Clair Shores Police patrol car to stop it from driving through a group of protesters on Little Mack Avenue.

Protest organizer Tristan Taylor, of Detroit Will Breathe, walks in front of a St. Clair Shores Police patrol car to stop it from driving through a group of protesters on Little Mack Avenue.

Photo by Sean Work

 Andreas Maholmes, of Detroit, walks with his 11- month- old son, Connor, during the protest march in St. Clair Shores.

Andreas Maholmes, of Detroit, walks with his 11- month- old son, Connor, during the protest march in St. Clair Shores.

Photo by Sean Work

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ST. CLAIR SHORES — While two Black Lives Matter protests against racism and police brutality have proceeded through the city without incident, a June 27 event organized by Detroit Will Breathe and 1000 Strong did result in a few altercations, but no arrests.

According to Sean Work, of Detroit, who has been attending the protests in his work as a freelance photojournalist, the event also included friends and family members of Theoddeus (Theo) Gray, who was shot and killed Nov. 4, 2018, outside Lakeland Manor, 26211 Harper Ave. Work has been employed as a freelance photographer for C & G Newspapers.

St. Clair Shores Police Chief Todd Woodcox said that he first became aware of the planned protest June 24 and reached out to Detroit Will Breathe to coordinate their efforts, as he had with past protest organizers, but planners did not respond to the requests. According to a letter Woodcox addressed to the residents of St. Clair Shores after the event, “the demonstration occurred without any coordination with the city and resulted in one assault and battery and one incident of damage to property.”

Work said between 150 and 200 protesters met at Lakeview High School the afternoon of June 27. Organizers and Gray’s mother spoke, and then the group marched in the streets, blocking traffic, making their way west on 11 Mile Road to Little Mack Avenue, then continued on to 10 Mile Road, Jefferson Avenue and back down 11 Mile Road to the school. A demonstration was held on the grounds of the St. Clair Shores Police Department when the march stopped there.

Work said protesters chanted, “Say his name! Theo Gray!” and “No justice, no peace!” as they marched along, with some profanity laced slogans.

“Some residents came onto their porches and lawns in support, often holding up their fists in support. Several even voiced support even as their cars were blocked in by protesters,” Work said. “There were also residents who opposed the protest, shouting in support of the police and yelling Donald Trump’s name, in addition to hurling abuse at protesters as well as the journalists covering the march.”

Requests for comment to the various groups involved in planning the event were not returned by press time.

Woodcox said during the march a resident began shouting “All lives matter” and was quickly confronted by demonstrators. As a demonstrator allegedly tried to get the resident into a “chokehold,” the resident allegedly bit the demonstrator. Police initially could not get to the resident, who incurred minor injuries, because demonstrators blocked the path of responding patrol vehicles.

Additionally, Woodcox said a driver attempted to go around the demonstrators, but participants ran in front of the vehicle to block its path. The driver stopped and was confronted by more protesters before the vehicle proceeded forward, pushing some demonstrators aside and fled the area.

Work said a car struck a protester who was blocking traffic with his bike at the intersection of 11 Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue, and the protester was treated on-site for minor injuries. Woodcox said he had not heard any reports of that incident.

“The lack of communication from the group wanting to hold the demonstration made things more dangerous for the officers and the demonstrators and the residents,” Woodcox said.

There were no citations or arrests as a result of the protest.

Work said he has been covering some of the Detroit Will Breathe protests as a photojournalist and thought the St. Clair Shores event would be interesting because of what happened to Gray.

“I felt like a lot of media outlets really got coverage of Theo Gray wrong in 2018 by overemphasizing the death of the police dog and almost treating it as equal to the death of a human being,” he said. “I also had a feeling that the tone in St. Clair Shores ... how they were going to be received, I felt was probably going to be different.”

It is alleged that Gray ran away from police and then turned and fired at police officers and K-9 officer Axe. According to Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham at that time, Gray allegedly continued to run away from officers and, when he rounded the corner of Harper Auto Electric’s building, he stopped and engaged with officers. He was “ordered to drop the gun, which he did not,” Wickersham said, so St. Clair Shores Police shot Gray.

Police called for emergency medical services, and Gray was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Gray’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Clair Shores and five police officers in U.S. District Court; it is set for trial in June 2021.

Woodcox said he does monitor social media and other outlets so he can be prepared for demonstrations planned in the city.

“We need to be prepared for any eventuality because we have no idea what their actual intentions are,” he said.

Marching in the middle of the street and stopping traffic are actions Work has seen Detroit Will Breathe demonstrators take at various other protest marches he has attended.

“Obviously, I cannot speak for the protest movement, but I think that their attitude is, they don’t want to see business as usual until there’s substantive change,” he said.

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