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Despite federal consent decrees
Detroit still struggles against police brutality
Published May 29, 2008 9:45 PM
When New York City police were absolved of criminal culpability in the killing
of Sean Bell, the continuing problems of law-enforcement misconduct and
criminality gained nationwide attention. In an obvious response to mass
protests and condemnation of the acquittal of these cops, the New York City
Police Department announced that there would be an internal investigation into
the conduct of the officers who were found not guilty in a bench trial.
fails to meet reform
deadlines in reducing
deadly force and
cleaning up the
in the lock-ups.
In subsequent weeks a videotaped beating of several African-American men by
police in Philadelphia brought about the termination of some of the officers
involved. Similar to the Rodney King incident of 1991, if there had been no
videotaping of the beating, it is highly unlikely that any action would have
been taken against these officers.
A trial in Atlanta involved another egregious case of police terrorism when a
92-year-old woman, Kathyrn Johnston, was gunned down by the police when they
mistakenly raided her home in a purported search for illegal drugs. One of the
officers connected to this killing pled guilty to perjury.
African Americans, Latin@s, young people, LGBT communities and other oppressed
groups in the United States know and understand the dangers of police
brutality. In most cases, police are allowed to get away with blatant
violations of the law when they insult, rob, assault, maim and kill people
without provocation and walk free absent of any fear of prosecution or the loss
of their jobs.
In the city of Detroit, police brutality has been an important part of the
repressive apparatus of the ruling class. In 1967, the community rose up in
rebellion after police raided a private party being held for a soldier
returning from Vietnam.
During the 1970s the ascendancy of the first African-American mayoral
administration of Coleman A. Young (1974-1993) was in response to a mass
struggle for the abolition of a racist police decoy unit known then as STRESS
(Stop Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets). Young, a state senator in 1973, had
been a left-wing labor organizer for the National Negro Labor Councils in the
aftermath of World War II. He had been brought before the House Un-American
Activities Committee during the early 1950s, where he defied their attempted
interrogation and became a respected activist in the city.
Under the Young administration there was at least a perception that police
brutality was on the decline. However, during the second Black administration
in the city under Dennis W. Archer (1994-2001), a more moderate political
figure, there was a sharp rise in police killings of Detroit residents.
A Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality (DCAPB) was formed in 1996-1997.
The organization documented acts of law-enforcement misconduct and brutality,
held demonstrations outside police precincts and the main headquarters
downtown. The DCAPB created an atmosphere where the City Council was forced to
hold a public hearing on police misconduct in late 1997.
By 2000 the situation involving police-community relations became so outrageous
that activists began to call for the resignation of Mayor Archer and the then
police chief, Benny Napoleon. That summer a deaf man, Errol Shaw, Sr., was shot
down dead in front of his mother on the northwest side of the city while she
pleaded for the white police officer to refrain from firing his weapon.
Assessing the ongoing struggle to end police
Several months later Mayor Archer announced that his administration would
welcome a Justice Department investigation of the police department. Archer did
not seek a third term in 2001. Kwame Kilpatrick was elected that year and in
2003 the Department of Justice announced its finding which indicated that there
were serious violations of federal civil rights laws taking place through the
operations of the Detroit Police Department in the areas of the use of lethal
force and the deplorable conditions found in the city lockups.
Judge Julius Cook was appointed to enforce two federal consent decrees which
mandated drastic reforms in the operations of the police department in Detroit.
A private firm, Kroll, Inc., was appointed to monitor the city’s
compliance over a five-year period with what was required by the Justice
Department. A motion to intervene in the monitoring process was filed by the
DCAPB in 2003; however, the motion was denied by Judge Cook.
Since 2003, the city has failed to implement the reforms mandated by the two
federal consent decrees. Members of the DCAPB continue to emphasize that it
will require a mass struggle against law-enforcement misconduct to effectively
address the need for ending abusive behavior by local area cops.
In a recent interview with Ron Scott and Sandra Hines, leaders of the DCAPB, it
was acknowledged that the federally-appointed monitor, Kroll Associates, had
not taken any effective action to force the local police department to finally
resolve the issues uncovered by years of harassment, abuse, assault and
Pointing to the successes of the DCAPB’s work, the organization stated
that there had been advancements made in mobilizing large numbers of people to
fight police misconduct and terrorism. In addition, Scott and Hines stated
that, “We have broadened our political analysis, effectively utilized the
mass media to increase awareness and consciousness about police brutality.
Moreover, we have educated our constituency about the origins and character of
police violence against people and that they have been effective in court
monitoring, legislative advocacy and the pressuring of the local Board of
Police Commissioners which is appointed by the mayor.”
The DCAPB representatives also stated that, “We have defeated a City of
Detroit panhandling ordinance, publicized the necessity of ending police chases
that endanger people’s lives, defeated on a state level a legislative
effort to impose the death penalty in Michigan, and supported cab
drivers’ rights to equitable access to passengers in the city and to end
police intimidation and harassment of taxi drivers.”
Hines and Scott went on to say that, “The DCAPB challenged the Greektown
Merchants Association downtown and their so-called ‘Men-in-Black’
private security guards who were actively engaged in assaulting the homeless
population in the entertainment district. We have worked in conjunction with
several organizations to establish a Ten Year Plan to End
Through its weekly radio broadcast entitled “Fighting For Justice,”
which is heard over the local Air America affiliate on 1310 AM, WDTW, the DCAPB
utilizes this access to the mass media to both inform the public about the
ongoing problems of police terrorism and to effectively mobilize the public to
fight law enforcement, the city administration and the courts, which provide no
justice for the victims of this state sanctioned violence.
According to Ron Scott, “It is necessary for us to build a real parallel
institution focusing on more research, discipline and resource-gathering. We
must balance the nationalization of policing with stronger organizational and
political efforts which counter government agencies.”
Scott and Hines concluded by emphasizing that, “Police and governmental
agencies are responding by centralizing and transforming their approach. We
must be smart and agile enough to respond and extend our program beyond what we
have been able to achieve in the current situation.”
For more information on the activities of the Detroit Coalition Against
Police Brutality, people locally can listen to the “Fighting for
Justice” radio program every Sunday morning from 10:00-11:00 a.m. over
WDTW, AM 1310. Write to the DCAPB at 220 Bagley Ave., Ste. 808, Detroit, MI
48226 or call 313.963.8116 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To read the
quarterly reports of Kroll’s monitoring of the Detroit Police
Department’s lack of compliance with the federal consent decrees just log
on to http://www.kroll.com/about/library/detroit/
E-mail the writer at email@example.com.
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