Pastors urge blacks to avoid going to Eastpointe

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News

Detroit — A coalition of Detroit pastors has a strong message for black Americans in the Metro area: Stay away from Eastpointe.

The leaders issued what they are calling a “travel warning” for blacks to avoid the city after an African-American man alleged he was beaten unconscious by several officers while in police custody last year.

The Rev. W.J. Rideout III said a pattern of racism and discrimination is occurring in the city’s police department and he’s received several complaints from black residents who are fearful.

He was joined by a group of activists at his Detroit church, All God’s People, Tuesday and announced plans to protest soon at the police department. Rideout is founder of the grassroots group Defenders of Truth and Justice which he says fights for victims of injustice.

“The shame of it is we’ve got to designate an American city as unsafe for black Americans because of the brutality of the police department which engages in systemic racism by not only stereotyping but profiling African-Americans,” said Sam Riddle, political director for the Michigan National Action Network. “The ones (black people) that live there are already aware of it.”

Rideout and Riddle said they are meeting with John McNeilance, the Easpointe Department of Public Safety director, at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the city hall.

Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley said the police department does not discriminate against blacks and it isn’t necessary for them to stay away from the city. Eastpointe has a growing African-American population and recently hired its first black officer in several years.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” she said. “They (police) are not going to pull an African-American over in preference over a white person. All of our laws apply equally to everybody.”

Frankie Taylor, 38, of Warren filed a federal lawsuit this past September against Public Safety Director John McNeilance and five officers that alleges Eastpointe police put Taylor in a restraint chair, bound his arms and legs, and punched him in the head and face more than 10 times in the booking room.

He had been arrested Aug. 10, 2015, for drunken driving.

Taylor is now partially blind in one eye after the beating dislodged an artificial lens that was implanted during a surgery about 10 years ago, according to Taylor’s attorney, James Rasor. The issue became irreparable when Taylor did not receive immediate medical attention, he said.

But a department police report says Taylor was being uncooperative and intentionally fell to the ground during the booking process. In the report, an officer writes Taylor then hit his head against a bench and the floor in an attempt to injure himself. It also says Taylor sprayed himself in the face with Windex and spit on an officer.

Rasor said the police were aware during the arrest Taylor is handicapped from a permanent injury to his leg.

Rasor, along with the Detroit pastors, say they believe the Eastpointe police are creating a false narrative.

“I think the police report is a spectacular work of fiction created some time after the fact to justify an unlawful beating and to justify excessive force,” he said.

Added Rideout: “We know they are lying.”

Eastpointe officials declined to discuss the lawsuit saying they can’t comment on pending litigation.

Rasor said Taylor’s case is another example of the “institutional racism” in Eastpointe that has been backed by research showing police disproportionately target black people in the city.

He referenced a 2010 study by the Wayne State University that says black motorists in Eastpointe were more likely to be ticketed, arrested and searched than whites, particularly on side streets.

“You’re taking your life in your hands driving through these communities if you are black,” Rasor said. “Isn’t it time we grew out of that as a Metro region?”

Edward Williams, who is black, has lived in Eastpointe since 2008 and told The Detroit News he’s never experienced racial profiling by the police.

“Some areas are targeted for speeding but that’s in all suburban cities,” he said.