Policing in Detroit: A story of tension, grievances, and hope

Detroit is a city with a long, raw history of racial turmoil. The crisis that erupted throughout America with the death of George Floyd is just the latest challenge.

At the heart of the problem lies the strained relationship between residents in Detroit and police.

So we went to see the situation for ourselves, talking to the veteran police chief, James Craig, and to protesters who live in fear of law enforcement.

Detroit has the highest percent of African Americans of any city in the United States. Nearly 80% of people identify as Black.

There exists here - even in 2020, even with a black police chief, even after the George Floyd killing - the same enduring racial grievances that have haunted black Detroiters for a generation

  • 'My mum said if I leave the house with a hoodie on, I might lose my life': Protester Colvin Pittman-Harris describes 'fear' when seeing police

Protesters we spoke to said they are targeted by the cops. That there is excessive and intrusive video surveillance. That when they see a police officer their reaction is one of fear.

But the police chief insists that he is leading a department that believes in community policing. He is proud, he says, that after the nation-wide rioting three weeks ago there were a few isolated skirmishes in Detroit but no sustained city-wide violence.

  • 'Things are not changing but we're trying to make things change': Protester says he wants police retrained instead of defunded

In contrast to the 1967 riots, when the city burned for days and hundreds died, this time the trouble was quickly contained.

Craig - a veteran officer who has also served in LA, Portland and Cincinnati - told ITV News that he is on the side of protesters and that he was deeply shocked by the death of Mr Floyd. That was murder, the Chief told me, plain and simple. No excuses, no ambiguity.

He believes there is hope that police departments across America can continue to reform and forge better relations with the black community.But judging by the mood on the street among Black Lives Matter activists there is no room for complacency.

  • James Craig, police chief for Detroit, says George Floyd's death was murder

The protesters are demanding action, not words of solidarity.

They want all police officers to be retrained. They want the police department’s budget radically cut - “defunded” and “demilitarised” as the activists put it to me.

What we saw in Detroit was a city where residents still distrust their own police officers, and where despite the promises of the police chief, there is the potential for more trouble.

Nerves are raw, grievances are deep, and it would take only one incident to ignite fresh trouble.

America’s long hot summer has a long way to run.