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Michigan struggles focus on racism, police brutality

Published Aug 19, 2010 8:05 PM

The economic crisis has hit the workers in Michigan, a state of heavy industry, especially hard, and has also brought with it an intensified struggle against racism. These brief reports cover three different areas of the state.

March in Benton Harbor slams land grab

More than 100 people rallied and marched through the southwest Michigan city of Benton Harbor on Aug. 10 to protest the opening of the Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course. The course is located on Lake Michigan in part of Jean Klock Park, land that was deeded decades ago for use by the African-American working-class community. The course was built on a part of the park now known as Harbor Shores, where, in addition to the golf course, there are plans to construct expensive condominiums.

The Nicklaus Signature Golf Course will host the PGA Sr. Championships for both 2012 and 2014. Benton Harbor, a majority African-American city, has been devastated by the loss of jobs coupled with police repression, which sparked a four-day rebellion in 2003.

Demonstrators also blasted the Whirlpool Corporation — which is based in Benton Harbor — for its refusal to pay adequate taxes and utility costs for large-scale use of local land and resources. Whirlpool announced recently that it would build a new, world headquarters in the city, even though critics have accused the appliance manufacturing firm of not hiring local residents.

The Rev. Edward Pinkney, president of the local NAACP branch and a former political prisoner in Michigan, led the demonstration, which attracted Benton Harbor residents as well as people from around the country. The march began with a rally at City Hall and concluded with a picket at the gate of the golf course and then a speak-out in the park across from the new Harbor Shores development.

Those in attendance included Ralph Poynter of the Free Lynne Stewart Committee in New York; Fred Hampton Jr. of Chicago, son of slain Illinois Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton; Larry Pinkney from Minneapolis and a writer for the Black Commentator; Ron Scott and Sandra Hines of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality; as well as members of other organizations from Detroit such as the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Workers World Party, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs.

Arrest made in serial killing of Black men

A suspect has been arrested in the investigation surrounding the stabbing deaths of five African-American men in Flint, Mich., and the wounding of at least 15 other people, including one white male. Similar attacks have taken place in Leesburg, Va., and Toledo, Ohio, where four reported assaults, none of which were fatal, took place.

The suspect arrested is a citizen of Israel and is reported to be a Christian of Arab descent. Most people who knew the suspect, including family members, expressed shock over his  arrest, which occurred as he was boarding a plane to Tel Aviv.

The attacks have come as a further affront to the residents of Flint, which is one of the hardest-hit cities in Michigan as a result of the economic crisis. Even during the 1980s, Flint experienced the unprecedented closing of automotive plants that left tens of thousands of workers idle.

FOI lawsuits filed in imam’s assassination

Attorneys for the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Michigan have filed several lawsuits demanding information from law-enforcement agencies on the assassination of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah. The imam was lured by FBI informants to a warehouse in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn on Oct. 28, 2009, where he was first attacked by a dog and then shot 20 times by government agents.

The U.S. District Attorney’s Office claimed in a 44-page criminal complaint that the imam and his followers at the Masjid al-Haqq on Detroit’s west side were involved in the trafficking of illegal goods and advocated the violent overthrow of the government leading to the establishment of an Islamic state. People who knew the imam, including residents of the neighborhood where he worked, said that he was a dedicated community servant for the poor who provided food, shelter, job referrals and counseling to displaced workers and ex-convicts.

Since the assassination of Imam Luqman, condemnations have been voiced throughout the world. Imam Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, recently traveled to the West African state of Mali. He told an Aug. 15 meeting of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality that the people there were “well aware of the government killing of Imam Luqman.”

Demonstrations against the FBI were held in the immediate aftermath of the assassination by MECAWI and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality in November 2009. MECAWI described the killing of the imam as a targeted assassination.

Various organizations and officials have called for an independent investigation of Imam Luqman’s killing, including the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the National Lawyers Guild, the Congress of Arab American Organizations and the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, among others.

Detroit police hearing gives no details on killing of child

At a public meeting held on Aug. 5, the Board of Police Commissioners responded to a request by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality for an update on the Michigan State Police investigation into the killing of Aiyana Stanley Jones. Jones, a seven-year-old African-American school girl, was severely burned by a flash grenade and shot through the head by a white Detroit police officer on the night of May 16 while she lay in bed.

The killing sparked outrage throughout the country. There have been several demonstrations against the killing and the family of Jones has filed two wrongful death civil suits.

According to the police commission report, the investigation by the state police will be complete within four weeks, at which time the findings will be turned over to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. No details of the specific findings were reported at the police commission meeting on Aug. 5.

The Detroit police have been under two federal consent decrees since 2003. The consent decrees, involving the use of lethal force and the deplorable conditions existing at the time in the precinct lockups, stemmed from a three-year U.S. Justice Department investigation beginning in 2000.

Meanwhile, Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans was forced to resign in July by Mayor Dave Bing. Many speculated that the killing of Jones played a significant role in the removal of the chief, who had openly attacked the Coalition Against Police Brutality for its criticism of law-enforcement practices in the city.

U.S. Congress member John Conyers of Detroit recently wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting a federal investigation into the killing of the child. Conyers also spoke on the “Fighting for Justice” radio program on WDTW, reiterating his commitment to work to end police brutality in Detroit.