Detroit chief blames 'anti-police rhetoric' for gunfire incidents

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Following a week that saw four suspects either fire shots or point guns at Detroit police officers, the city's top cop Monday criticized "anti-police rhetoric" that he says is driving the violence, and community leaders he insists should speak out more against it.

During a press conference at Detroit Public Safety Headquarters, police chief James Craig said the four violent incidents pushed the total to six in the first three months of 2021, compared with 12 cases all of last year where suspects fired shots or pointed firearms at Detroit officers.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig

"As the anti-police rhetoric continues, criminals are feeling emboldened and are becoming more violent toward police officers," Craig said. "This isn't just happening in Detroit; police across the country are also dealing with this."

According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks the on-duty deaths of police officers nationwide, there have been 67 on-duty officer deaths in 2021, up 191% from the same period last year. Thirty-eight of those deaths were COVID-related, accounting for some of the increase, although 11 officers this year have been killed by gunfire — up 38% from the same period in 2020.

"I’ve never seen a week like last week, where four officers were fired upon or had firearms pointed at them, although we did start to see a trend of increasing violence against officers after the George Floyd murder," Craig said, referring to Floyd, a Minneapolis resident who died May 25 after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for several minutes.

Detroit police chief James Craig addresses four violent incidents against his officers in one week.

Chauvin's trial on second-degree murder charges began Monday, although jury selection was halted pending the outcome of an appeal seeking to reinstate third-degree murder charges against the ex-officer.

Craig said the months of protests that were sparked by Floyd's death have fostered an anti-police atmosphere. 

"These senseless acts of violence must end," he said. "Here's the question: Who will stand with us to denounce this violence? We do know a few who are recognized as community leaders who, when asked to stand with us, politely said they would not."

Craig said the most recent instance of last week's violence against police was Saturday morning, when officers from the 8th Precinct saw a car back into another vehicle before the driver fled.

"The officers then tried to pull over the car, but the car continued to drive away," Craig said. "While police were following the car, someone in the passenger side allegedly fired shots out the window at our officers."

After a chase, the car jumped the curb at Winthrop and Davison, and the occupants ran away. Police eventually used a K-9 tracking unit to arrest one adult and four juveniles.

On March 4, officers shot a man after he allegedly ran toward them brandishing an AR-15-style rifle. In that case, officers were called to a Sunoco gas station after getting a report that a man was inside threatening customers with a rifle.

The man, identified by Craig as Anthony Winn, was gone by the time police arrived; they caught up with him a few blocks away before he ran into a house, Craig said. After darting outside several times, Craig said Winn ran straight toward a group of officers, who opened fire.

Winn, who was listed in temporary serious condition, has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, Craig said.

There were two violent incidents against Detroit police officers on March 1. About 9:45 a.m., officers got into a shootout with Chandra Moore, whom police say killed his wife and two other people in Cincinnati before fleeing to Detroit and holing up in the Rivertown Inn & Suites on Jefferson Avenue.

Moore died Friday from his injuries.

About three hours later that Monday, an off-duty officer from the 12th Precinct was shot at during a road rage incident near the Chrysler Freeway and Seven Mile, Craig said.

"That person has been arrested, but has since been released, and detectives are working on a warrant package," the chief said.

Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners and a Detroit cop for 32 years, said he's also concerned about the recent wave of violence against officers.

"We should all be concerned and on Thursday (during the weekly police board meeting), I hope my board will make a resolution to that effect," Bell said. "And our community leaders need to take a stand on this issue."

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN