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POLICE BRUTALITY IN DETROIT

Cops gun down deaf Black yardworker

By Cheryl LaBash

Detroit

Aug. 29 was a hot sunny day, a good day for grass cutting and lawn work. But it was Errol Shaw Sr. who was cut down by police bullets in front of his home in northwest Detroit.

Shaw, 39, a deaf mute African American man, earned a living doing yard work. He held a rake, facing five police officers who yelled at him to put the rake down. As horrified neighbors and relatives scream ed, "He's deaf, he's deaf, he's deaf," the cops opened fire, hitting Shaw twice.

Detroit Black Deaf Advocates picketed the Police Commission meeting Aug. 31 and joined with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality for a picket line and rally at the Eighth Precinct on Sept. 1. The rally was also supported by the International Action Center/Millions for Mumia.

At the rally Irving Perez, president of DBDA, said in sign language, "Enough is enough." In his passionate address, Perez called for firing the mayor and all his appointees to make way for good representatives who will protect all the people.

He condemned police attempts to justify killing Shaw, likening it to the 1992 beating death of Malice Green. Police tried to excuse that killing because Green refused to open his hand when ordered.

Arnetta Grable, founder and president of the DCAPB, pointed out that Detroit police have shown they will kill anyone--mentally ill, old or young, of all races, nationalities and disabilities, women or men. Police Officer Eugene Brown killed Grable's 20-year-old son, Lamar, with three shots in the chest--all fired at close range--and two bullets in the back.

In his six years as a cop, Brown has single-handedly killed three people and wounded six others. He is currently assigned to desk duty but received a promotion to sergeant and a pay increase last month.

Richard Clay of the Michigan African American Leadership Summit told the rally: "I had a police gun stuck in my face when I was a passenger in a car. They told me to get out. I had to reach for my cane to show them I was blind, but I could have been shot."

Clay continued, "The police are the modern day version of the slave overseers that killed us and lynched us."

High rate of police killings

In 1998, the Washington Post analyzed police and FBI statistics to determine how often residents were killed by police in 10 major cities. Detroit had the highest per capita rate. In the past five years Detroit police killed 40 people. And the death toll continues to rise. Many of the victims were shot in the back.

Along with the outright killings, police brutality is rampant. A recent example, reported in the Michigan Citizen newspaper, took place at Northwest Activity Center on July 5. Lisa Williams, a Detroit schoolteacher and silversmith, was supervising a group of 30 students on the playground. A plainclothes police officer who had driven his civilian van through the area twice assaulted her after she confronted him for endangering the children.

Shouting racist epithets, the cop chased her into the recreation center where Williams and her co-workers barricaded themselves in a room for protection. Williams was cut and bruised. The children, mostly girls, required counseling.

Detroit's history of struggle

The struggle against police brutality has been pivotal in Detroit's history. A major rebellion in 1967 was sparked by a police raid on an after-hours club. In the early 1970s the police vigilante program known as S.T.R.E.S.S. terrorized the African American community. Cop gangs invaded homes, breaking down doors.

S.T.R.E.S.S. cops stopped workers on their way to and from their shifts at the auto plants and killed them indiscriminately. The police department was predominantly white. The outrage and massive social movement against the police lifted on its shoulders Detroit's first African American mayor, the late Coleman Young, who was mayor from 1974 to 1994.

Young had fought racism in the military as a Tuskegee Airman and in the workplace as a union organizer. He stood up to the Joseph McCarthy red-scare hearings in the 1950s. Young integrated the police force and the city administration. The racist officer corps resisted to the point of inciting shootouts between Black and white cops.

Although S.T.R.E.S.S. was disbanded and the police department is now the most representative of any in the United States, the class character of the police was not changed. The bankers and land developers throwing people out of their homes in Brush Park and Graimark are safe from the police.

The utility companies that shut off heat, light or water to families that can't afford to pay are safe from the police. The bosses who lay off workers, close plants or hire scabs are also safe. But Errol Shaw Sr. and workers like him are not.

At the Sept. 1 rally, Arnetta Grable called for Detroit residents to demand justice for Errol Shaw at the Sept. 7 meeting of the Police Commission. Commission meetings are held every Thursday at 3 p.m. at Police Headquarters.

The DCAPB meets every Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Unitarian Church, located at Cass and Forest in Detroit.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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