Detroiters reflect on week, city’s police relations

Breana Noble, The Detroit News

Detroit — In the wake of two shootings of black men by police and the killing of five police officers, activists and law enforcement leaders on Saturday gathered to discuss ways to prevent police brutality and build better relations with Detroiters.

About 75 people met at the Historic King Solomon Baptist Church to hear Detroit Police Chief James Craig and the city’s former police chief, Ralph Godbee, discuss the importance of community-police partnership.

The session followed a day after massive demonstrations and marches around the country to decry the fatal police shootings this week of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota. In Detroit on Friday several hundred people packed Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit simultaneously shouting “Black lives matter!”

Craig said he would not comment on the legality of the events in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, but said the tactics of the police officer who shot and killed Alton Sterling in Louisiana were “not proper.” He emphasized the importance of training.

“When you’re a well-trained police department, you’re less likely to see deadly force,” Craig said during a panel discussion hosted by the National Action Network (NAN) of Michigan.

Craig stressed Detroit’s use of transparency. Although he said he may not be able to share everything with the public, he said he aims to use the media to help the public understand situations and identity suspects.

“To say nothing is not an option any more,” Craig said. “Getting in front of a camera is certainly a necessary strategy to create closure, to create trust because if I lie to you, there is no trust, and I might as well pack my bags.”

Audience members expressed frustration with the week’s events and stressed the need for collaboration.

“I’m just heartbroken,” said Keith Harris of Southfield, a member of All Lives Matter. “It’s been 50 years since Selma, and we’re still fighting for our rights. We need to have all these organizations come together and work together.”

Styron Batchelor, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and lives in Detroit, said the killings in Dallas — committed by suspect Micah Xavier Johnson, an Army veteran — disturb him because they could happen anywhere, and he hopes the police department will reach out to veterans in the community to avoid a similar attack.

Godbee, host of a morning show on 910 AM Superstation, talked about the progress the department has made.

“We do it a lot better than anyone else in the world,” Godbee said of the department’s transparency efforts. “We are no longer being monitored by the Feds because we are a constitutionally sound police department.”

The Rev. Charles Williams II, senior pastor at King Solomon Church and president of the National Action Network of Michigan, said Detroit is fortunate to have a police department with leadership who grew up in the city and are members of its community.

“We’ve got a lot of guys like that,” Williams said. “The fear is that the more we don’t have those types of guys, the more we become disconnected. Detroit is luckier than most cities and states, I feel, in that respect.”

Williams said NAN is working with the police department to develop a community action plan to find solutions to police brutality and to fight violence in the city.

“We aim to have the best opportunity to show how things gets done right here in Detroit,” Williams said.

Murraie Williams of Detroit said she was heartened by what she heard on Saturday.

“It’s really encouraging to see the chief and former chief and community work together,” Williams said. “We’re not enemies. We need to be working together as a community.”

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