Hundreds in Detroit rally against violence

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — As bloodshed continues to roil the city, Mary Sheffield looked Friday to the sea of faces standing beneath her at Pingree Park as being key to helping stem the tide.

“If there ever was a time for us to come together and stand united against the violence that is ruining the fabric of our neighborhoods,” the City Council member said to cheers. “I say to you all tonight that the time is now!”

Civic leaders, police officials, activists, entertainers and others gathered at the east-side park for Sheffield’s initiative aimed at helping improve residents’ quality of life and combat violence.

It was the first of her “Occupy the Corner” events this summer, which are slated to run every other week through August.

Sheffield, who represents the city’s District 5 and chairs the Neighborhood and Community Services standing committee, launched the program in 2014. She has also issued a resolution declaring June Gun Violence Awareness Month in Detroit.

Friday’s event coincides with escalating violence citywide — including at least eight youths ages 15 and younger who have been injured or killed by gunfire since Easter as well as a teen’s slaying after an alleged abduction. The carnage has angered residents and authorities alike.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig pointed to the hundreds of attendees — some donning shirts with fatigue designs or the “Occupy the Corner” logo — as evidence that residents are fed up and fighting back.

“Detroit is saying: ‘There’s a war on violence,’ ” he said to applause. “ ‘Enough is enough.’ ”

Sheffield’s initiative centers around connecting city residents with resources, engaging the community on the ground-level and addressing issues that affect their neighborhoods.

Many public officials and activists who spoke Friday called for action.

“You have to see what the face of violence looks like,” said Andrea Clark, who heads Mothers of Murdered Children. “... Every time we lose a baby, we have to live our children’s death all over again.”

Among possible solutions, Craig mentioned a citizen police academy expected to start soon. He also encouraged adults to support and guide youngsters.

“Let’s be about the business of prevention,” he said. “Let’s stop this violence.”

In his opening prayer earlier, the Rev. Curtis Grant urged inner reflection first. “The only way this community is going to be changed is if we change as individuals,” he said.

When people unite to tackle problems such as gun violence, “we can make a difference,” said U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield.

The message resonated with Detroiter Jasmine Jones. “It was very important to bring my son so he can hear and learn about what’s going on in the community,” she said.

As part of the program, participants were offered information on voter registration, employment and job training, minor felony expungement, health care and more. Amid food giveaways, live music and performances, children also sat for haircuts.

Jarriel Carpenter, who lives nearby, savored the scene.

“It brings the community together,” he said while sitting on his white-and-gold custom-made bike. “The people of Detroit know people do care.”