Detroit shootings leave city looking for answers

Christine MacDonald and Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — Fresh from a bloody weekend of shootings in the city and ahead of the annual fireworks, the city's police chief tried to ease fears of Metro Detroiters coming downtown for events.

Still, he acknowledged, there is "work to do."

"We shouldn't have to deal with the issue of young people bringing guns into downtown or any other place in the city," he said.

The weekend violence didn't seem to spark major concerns in Greektown, where three shootings were reported.

"I know the shootings are crazy, but you always have to be aware of where you are at," said Flolinda Bernice, 32, of Detroit on Monday, who works near Grand Circus Park. "If you're asking me if I feel less safe — no, not really."

At a press conference Monday after a three-day period when more than two dozen were shot, including a 2-year-old, Craig said carjackings, robberies and non-fatal shootings are down. However, he didn't offer specific numbers for the crime statistics.

He spoke as crowds flowed into downtown for the 57th annual Ford Fireworks on Monday, an event that typically draws hundreds of thousands from the Metro area.

While the spate of violence over the weekend was on her mind, that wasn't enough to keep Dianne champion away from the display Monday night.

"There's quite a police presence here, and the crowd doesn't seem to be out of control at all," she said.

Earlier Monday, a dozen people gathered for a rally on the city's west side, saying police "don't care" about residents, a claim also heard Sunday as police investigated a Saturday shooting in which one person was killed and 11 others injured at a block party.

Resident Tia Perry said she wasn't surprised no one was coming forward to help police solve the shooting.

"We feel police do not care," said Perry, who has lost two brothers to shootings. "I have a teenaged son, and there's nothing for him to do around here. There is no community center. He's just walking around in the street."

Craig acknowledged police can't be on every street corner at every moment but they know they have to build trust in the neighborhoods.

On Sunday, Craig called the two shooters "urban terrorists" and "cowardly punks." He also decried the fact that none of those in attendance at the party came forward as a witness to the incident.

Speaking to the crowd Monday, the Rev. Charles Williams said Craig was wrong to call the area's young people terrorists.

"The folks in the community are not urban terrorists," said Williams, leader of the National Action Network of Michigan. "The young people are killing because they don't have options. They haven't been educated. It should not be easier to get a gun than it is to get a job in the city of Detroit."

Craig defended his characterization of the shooting suspects, saying he has spoken with some of the victims' families who agree that firing upon a group of people with children is a form of terrorism.

The chief then urged church leaders who were critical to partner with police in making neighborhoods safer.

Williams was also at the rally to support the community center, which is closed because of budgetary problems.

"We have no money," said Helen Moore, director of the center that owns the parking lot and basketball court where the shootings occurred. She was not in attendance at the time of the shooting.

"It was a terrible thing that happened on our grounds. We have to be better. We have to get the center open."

According to Moore, the center has been unable to open because of a large water bill it inherited from the building's previous owner.

Moore said the community center also has been the target of vandals and thieves in recent years, including rooftop thefts of equipment and metal, which have also affected the center's operations.

Councilwoman Mary Sheffield said the area near Dexter and Webb is in desperate need of resources. Two days before the block party shooting she held an event nearby through the "Occupy the Corner" campaign effort aimed at bringing residents job training and other help.

"The only resources that are being sent are police officers," Sheffield said. "You have people who are voiceless and being left out of the conversation."

Members of the Dexter Elmhurst Community Center are inviting the public to come to the center at 6 p.m. Tuesday to show their support for the facility at 11825 Dexter.

Meanwhile, it appeared to be mostly business as usual Monday in Greektown, long considered among the city's safest areas.

A police cruiser was seen frequently driving down the small strip, but many say that's always the case. A police officer also walked Monroe and that was new, several frequent Greektown visitors said.

Bernice, the Grand Circus Park worker, said she comes to Greektown at least once a week to eat and occasionally after work with friends. "Someone tried to grab my friend's phone once but everyone stopped him," she said.

Surveillance cameras are posted in various spots on the buildings that house the Greektown Casino-Hotel, a public parking garage, and a pedestrian overpass. The casino-hotel is owned by Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert, a staunch supporter of downtown.

"Greektown Casino-Hotel and Rock Ventures deploy security cameras on all of our properties. As always, we collaborate with all law enforcement agencies to share useful information and video feeds where appropriate," Rock Ventures said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Caroline and Timothy Dzyak of Sterling Heights heard about the shootings on the morning news. As they drove to Greektown Casino, their daughter texted them to be careful.

"The thing is, it didn't sound random from what we can tell," said Caroline Dzyak, 63, referring to the shootings. "We're both Detroiters, we know how to avoid getting involved in scraps."

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