Washtenaw County judge drops charges against 16-year-old protester following backlash

click to enlarge Protesters in Detroit. - Steve Neavling
Steve Neavling
Protesters in Detroit.

A Washtenaw County judge dismissed charges Monday against a 16-year-old protester whose mistreatment during and after a peaceful demonstration in Chelsea caught the attention of civil rights activists and city officials.

Mya King, a 16-year-old Indian-American from Chelsea, was charged with impeding traffic for allegedly marching in the street during a June 25 protest against systemic racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death.

The Civil Rights Litigation Initiative (CRLI) at the University of Michigan Law School took up her case after hearing what happened. According to the group, King was sharing her personal experiences with racism at an open mic when she saw an adult counter-protester cursing at a group of middle schoolers. When she tried to peacefully intervene, the adult punched her in the face.

Police arrived but were unhelpful and failed to address her injuries, arrest the adult, or even take her statement, according to CRLI. The following day, Mya and her mother reported the assault at the Chelsea Police Department, but they received a cold reception from an officer who refused to wear a mask.

“Throughout the interview, Officer (Rick) Cornell suggested that Mya should have expected trouble because of the ‘mess’ she was causing by protesting,” student attorneys for CRLI wrote in a letter to Chelsea’s police chief, mayor, and city attorney. “He warned Mya and Mya’s mother that this incident would not be the last time Mya would be assaulted. In fact, he suggested that, because of her race, she can expect a ‘lifetime’ of assault and trauma because that’s ‘the way the world is.’ Officer Cornell was dismissive and combative throughout the interview.”

In a letter to city officials on Oct. 21, CRLI demanded the charges be dropped.

“Police departments across the country and across Washtenaw County have not only allowed peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters to march in the street, but they have also directed traffic away from the demonstrations,” the letter stated.

On Nov. 9, CRLI and the ACLU of Michigan filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing she was exercising her First Amendment rights.

On Feb. 16, the Chelsea City Council unanimously recommended that Chelsea Police Chief Ed Toth drop the charges, but he declined.

On Monday, Judge Anna Frushour dismissed the case.

“I feel relieved,” King said in a statement. “There’s still a long way to go as we try to promote an anti-racist Chelsea, but this is a good first step.”

Diane Kee, a student attorney who represents King through CRLI, said the judge’s decision was a “victory."

“Judge Frushour’s decision is a recognition that Mya and her friends should be applauded, not punished, for peacefully marching for racial justice,” Kee said.

In Detroit last month, the city dropped charges against 238 protesters who were arrested during two days of protests following Floyd's death.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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