Forum: Stop Ferguson from happening in Detroit
Could a slaying of an unarmed black teen by police happen in Detroit?
That question, sparked by the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, loomed large over a forum held Friday at Fellowship Chapel on relations between minority communities and law enforcement agencies.
Some participants say the underlying, complex issues of race and authorities’ practices have implications for cities nationwide.
“This is bigger than Ferguson. This is a national issue,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, which coordinated the event. “There’s a distinct difference between the way minority communities are policed and other communities.”
That idea permeated the forum on the city’s west side, which aimed to highlight strategies and programs to protect and serve minority youth.
It was presented in light of several controversial deaths both regionally and nationwide, coordinators said. Those included Brown, who was fatally shot by a white police officer this month, and Renisha McBride, who was slain on a Dearborn Heights porch last fall.
Attendees heard from a panel that included representatives of the FBI, Detroit Police Department and U.S. Attorney’s Office and members of the Arab-American Civil Rights League, American Civil Liberties Union and Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.
Congressman John Conyers, D-Detroit, moderated, and panelists fielded questions from the audience.
Exploring the issues surrounding law enforcement and minorities was a way to help prevent other tragedies and violent events from happening locally, said Donnell White, executive director of the NAACP’s Detroit branch.
“I believe we have the components for this to happen in the city of Detroit if we don’t continue to chip away at what is prevalent in our communities currently today,” said White, who is also on the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.
The panelists addressed U.S. Department of Justice investigations, police procedures on traffic stops and community outreach programs.
Cmdr. Todd Bettison of the Detroit police said the department works regularly to recruit local residents in a bid to have the force reflect the city and build trust.
“We continue to try to strive to build that bridge and keep that transparency,” he said.
Among other measures to combat discriminatory practices, Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon suggested adding more cameras to squad cars and jails. “We need to have that impartial eye out there,” he said. “It protects the officers and ... protects the citizens, too.”
But some participants questioned if enough was being done to stop alleged profiling or communicate effectively.
Comparing the city to Ferguson, “it’s like a powder-keg waiting to happen here in Detroit,” said Raynard Gholston, a lifelong resident, adding that others around him “don’t trust the police.”
Glenda McGadney, also of Detroit, attended with questions and a stark anecdote: A couple years ago, police stopped her son — a college graduate and property owner with no criminal record — while sitting in his car at a grandmother’s home.
Allegations of profiling indicate “a big issue in the United States with race,” she said. “We need some healing and reconciliation.”
Others pointed at policy overhauls. Ralph Simpson, a past president of ACLU of Michigan, warned against excessive force or a culture that encourages militarization. “There are certainly people in Detroit who feel the police activity directed at them is to criminalize and contain them,” he said.
Organizers said they planned to coordinate another forum.
Detroiter Shanay Watson-Whittaker said ongoing efforts are necessary to help change her sons’ negative perceptions of police and prevent other situations like the one in Ferguson.
“If you ignore history,” she said, “you’re doomed to repeat it.”