POLICE BRUTALITY IN DETROIT
Cops gun down deaf Black yardworker
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
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
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
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
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.
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