After protest charges dropped, Detroit Will Breathe co-founder says, ‘We won’t go silently’

Feb 26, 2021 at 3:54 pm
click to enlarge Nakia Wallace, in center with a megaphone, marches with protesters in June 2020. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Nakia Wallace, in center with a megaphone, marches with protesters in June 2020.

Nakia Wallace refused to back down.

When Detroit cops with clubs, pepper spray, and riot shields bore down on her, she stood her ground. When she was pulled to the ground by her neck or led away in handcuffs, she got up the next day and marched. When Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration sued her and other protesters, she took to the streets with the same zeal, determined to fight police brutality and racial injustice at any cost.

Wallace is the 24-year-old co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe, a formidable protest group that rose in prominence in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death on May 25.

Wallace was arrested at least three times – she says she’s lost count – since the protests began in Detroit over the summer.

When the city of Detroit dropped charges against 238 protesters in late January, Wallace and several others were curiously not among them. She believes the city was retaliating against her for organizing protests and filing a federal lawsuit against the city in August that alleges officers used unnecessary, excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations.

Then last week, Wallace’s persistence paid off. A 36th District Court judge dismissed charges against her and seven other protesters for their roles in the summer demonstrations.

“They want, to the best of their ability, to make an example out of Detroit Will Breathe and anybody else involved in the lawsuit,” Wallace tells Metro Times. “That is the price for standing up against the city of Detroit.”

The city of Detroit has waged an unusual and controversial campaign against protesters, filing a counter lawsuit against them in pursuit of damages from predominantly peaceful demonstrations. On Jan. 26, the Detroit City Council voted 5-4 to authorize $200,000 to pursue the counter suit, which critics say amounts to a tax-subsidized assault on free speech.

“We’re being hunted,” Wallace says. “To use tax dollars to come after us is disturbing."

The cases against the protesters were weak. Police failed to provide basic discovery information, including the identities of arresting officers and body cam footage, that could be used at trial.

“The charges were dismissed because the city hasn’t met their burden of proof,” Wallace says. “They couldn’t produce evidence that people were committing crimes, and the arrests were sloppy.”

Wallace, who earned a dual degree in English and African American studies from Wayne State University, has put her life on hold to fight against racial injustice, economic disparities, and unjust home foreclosures.

She’s among the latest generation of Detroiters to fight for social change – and she has no plans to stop.

“Detroit is the Blackest city in the nation, and it is a stronghold of Black strength,” Wallace says. “Every single time there is large social progress in the nation, Detroit has played a role. We’ve been taught by our ancestors to do this our entire lives. We won’t go silently.”

The city didn't immediately respond for comment for this story.

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