The third installment in our BLM State Spotlight series analyzes key trends in demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement — as well as the response from law enforcement and far-right actors — across Michigan. Check the US Research Hub for additional installments and the latest data. For more on nationwide protest patterns, read our special report, A Year of Racial Justice Protests: Key Trends in Demonstrations Supporting the BLM Movement.
Michigan accounts for approximately 4% of all demonstrations associated with the BLM movement in the United States. Almost 98% have remained peaceful — a rate higher than the national average. Law enforcement has intervened in 6% of pro-BLM demonstrations in the state. Right-wing militias and street fighting groups have repeatedly countered demonstrations associated with the BLM movement or had their events countered by pro-BLM demonstrators throughout Michigan. Nearly 3% of all demonstrations related to the BLM movement have included interactions between right-wing groups and pro-BLM demonstrators, placing Michigan among the states with the highest number of encounters between these actors.
Under a dozen pro-BLM demonstrations in Michigan have reportedly included violence, destructive activity, vandalism, or looting. While these events are limited to a few metropolitan areas — Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, and Lansing — the vast majority of pro-BLM demonstrations in these cities have remained peaceful.
Law Enforcement Response
Overall, police have used force more than half of the time when intervening in demonstrations associated with the BLM movement in Michigan, which is higher than the national rate. Michigan police have repeatedly singled out pro-BLM demonstrators and used force even when other parties appear to have been responsible, or shared responsibility, for violent, disruptive, or destructive activity. For example, on 15 August 2020, Proud Boys marched through Kalamazoo to an anti-racism protest in support of the BLM movement. Proud Boys proceeded to attack the anti-racist and pro-BLM demonstrators with flag poles and pepper spray, leaving at least one man bloodied (MLive, 15 August 2020). Police arrived after the violence broke out and detained anti-racist demonstrators for not dispersing from a police zone and arrested a reporter from MLive for “impeding traffic,” but neither arrested nor detained any Proud Boys (Click on Detroit, 15 August 2020). Likewise, in Shelby Township, 20 miles north of Detroit, police arrested two pro-BLM protesters for “obstructing traffic” after they briefly stepped into the street gutter (Click on Detroit, 29 July 2020). Supporters of the police and former President Donald Trump counter-demonstrated against the pro-BLM group, yet none were arrested despite pro-BLM demonstrators accusing one pro-police demonstrator of assault (Detroit News, 30 July 2020; Click on Detroit, 29 July 2020).
While overall statewide intervention by law enforcement in pro-BLM demonstrations is significantly below the national rate — nearly half as common in Michigan — local interventions against peaceful pro-BLM protests illustrate the relationship between personal beliefs of law enforcement leaders and rates of law enforcement activity. For example, the police chief of Shelby Township, Robert Shelide, called for “body bags for these vicious subhumans” and for then-President Trump to “unleash real cops and let them take care of these barbarians” in a series of tweets around June 2020 referencing pro-BLM demonstrators (Fox News, 6 June 2020; Detroit News, 15 June 2020; Detroit News, 4 June 2020). He was later placed on paid leave and then suspended without pay for a month for his tweets (Buzzfeed News, 17 June 2020). While their chief was on leave and suspended, Shelby Township police refrained from intervening in the four pro-BLM demonstrations that took place during this period. Following Shelide’s return to active duty, however, police in Shelby Township intervened in three-quarters of the pro-BLM demonstrations in the township — all of which were peaceful — accounting for 25% of police interventions against peaceful pro-BLM demonstrations statewide. In other words, under Shelide’s leadership, police in Shelby Township intervened in peaceful pro-BLM demonstrations as often as police in Detroit — despite Detroit accounting for about 10 times the number of peaceful pro-BLM demonstrations. Notably, police in Shelby Township have not intervened in any other types of demonstrations in the suburb. These trends suggest that the decision by police to intervene in pro-BLM demonstrations in the township are likely closely linked with Shelide’s personal beliefs towards the movement, which he made clear in his tweets. As of this writing, Shelide maintains his post as Shelby Township Chief of Police, with 2021 marking his seventh year as police chief (Crime Watch, 2021).
Proud Boys and Boogaloo adherents have interacted with demonstrations associated with the BLM movement in Michigan on at least 10 separate occasions. As noted above, Proud Boys clashed with anti-racist and pro-BLM demonstrators in Kalamazoo in addition to Lansing, Traverse City, and Monroe. The Boogaloo movement, which differs from other armed right-wing movements in that some adherents purport to support BLM activism, were involved in six demonstrations related to BLM. They opposed the BLM movement in two-thirds of these interactions. Boogaloo engagement with BLM demonstrations in Michigan follows the national pattern of Boogaloo engagement — namely, a split between opposition to BLM and support for the movement. The Boogaloo Boys are adherents to a diverse set of neo-dadaist armed aesthetics and modalities aimed at setting off or preparing for a second American Civil War, which they regard as inevitable. Some Boogaloo Boys are explicitly right-wing and others have attempted to infiltrate and use BLM demonstrations as a way to accelerate the political situation towards mass violence, while others still appear to be genuinely antiracist (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 30 June 2021) — hence the split in both pro- and anti-BLM support in demonstrations (for more on the Boogaloo Boys, see this ACLED report). Boogaloo adherents who oppose the BLM movement were mostly active in Lansing, the state capital, in addition to a single event in Detroit. Conversely, one pro–BLM demonstration in Lake Orion included Boogaloo Boys purporting to support the BLM movement, carrying a sign saying “Boogaloo stands with you” and displaying the names of several Black people recently killed by police (Facebook – Lake Orion Review; 6 June 2020). At a 3 April 2021 pro-BLM demonstration in Lansing, armed Boogaloo adherents were asked by protest organizers to stay clear of the demonstration because of the group’s far-right ideology. The Boogaloo adherents stood across the street, expressing their support for the protest as it marched past but refraining from engaging further (YouTube @News2Share, 3 April 2021).
The American Patriots Council (APC), a militia-associated social movement in Michigan, developed out of opposition to COVID-19 lockdown measures, 2nd Amendment (‘2A’) activism, and counter-BLM organizing (Times Herald-Record, 23 October 2020). Despite being active in a midwestern state, the APC has organized demonstrations in defense of Confederate monuments after BLM supporters began to call for their removal (MLive, 20 October 2020). Several of the group’s events, including gatherings in support of Confederate monuments, were attended by members of the Michigan Wolverine Watchmen, the group now charged in association with a plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MLive, 8 October 2020). The leader of the APC, Ryan Kelley — who attended the pro-Trump storming of the US Capitol in Washington, DC on 6 January 2021 — has recently announced a run for governor in Michigan. Kelley’s challenge to current Governor Whitmer, the politician targeted by milita members he organized alongside, suggests ‘2A’ and militia-involved activism in Michigan is unlikely to dissipate in the near term (RawStory, 27 March 2021; MLive, 27 March 2021).
Michigan is also the supposed location of a headquarters of the esoteric neo-Nazi movement known as The Base. The Base sought to establish a white ethnostate in the state’s Upper Peninsula before the group received federal charges related to violent action it was planning (VICE News, 23 February 2021; MLive, 18 May 2021). Also in the Upper Peninsula, the fascist group Patriot Front has spread propaganda explicitly targeting BLM and racial justice activism (Bridge Michigan, 18 March 2021). Much Patriot Front activity appears motivated by the adoption of equity measures and explicit condemnations of racism by local universities — actions taken by the schools in response to the wave of BLM demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder (Bridge Michigan, 9 February 2021).
|Top line statistics: January 2020-May 2021||Michigan||National Rate|
|Pro-BLM demonstrations that did not involve violence, destructive activity, vandalism, or looting||396|
(98% of events)
(94% of events)
|Total Pro-BLM demonstrations that were met with law enforcement intervention||23|
(6% of events)
(10% of events)
|Total Pro-BLM demonstrations that were met with force during police intervention||12|
(52% of events)
(43% of events)
|Peaceful pro-BLM protests that were met with law enforcement intervention||14|
(2% of events)
(6% of events)
|Peaceful pro-BLM protests that were met with force during police intervention||4|
(29% of events)
(31% of events)
|Pro-BLM demonstrations that involve counter-demonstrators||31|
(8% of events)
(7% of events)
|Pro-BLM demonstrations with reports of a car ramming||3|
(less than 1% of events)
(nearly 1% of events)
Visuals and additional data analysis support provided by ACLED Research Analyst Josh Satre.
© 2021 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.