Slain kids’ bereaved grandfather ‘about 2nd chances’
It comes as no shock to some who know him that Fred Harris, the grandfather of four slain Dearborn Heights children, would vouch for a killer seeking a second chance.
They say Harris, now 78, was practicing his religious convictions when he decided to pen a letter in 2005 asking for the release of Gregory Green, the man who — in a tragic twist — would stand accused of killing Harris’ grandchildren 11 years later.
A pastor with the New Risen Christ Ministries International in Detroit, Harris expressed faith in Green, a former congregant who was serving a 15-25 year prison sentence for stabbing his pregnant then-wife, Tonya Green, to death in 1991.
“He’s about second chances,” said Apostle Rock Reiss of Love Inc. ministry in Cudahy, Wisconsin, and missionary for International Ministers Fellowship-USA. “(Green) probably appeared repentant and said he had changed, and he was moving in a different direction. That may be why (Harris) approved (the letter).”
The connection between Fred Harris and Gregory Green took a heartbreaking turn six years after Green, 49, married Harris’ daughter, Faith Harris-Green. Green is accused of killing Harris-Green’s four children and wounding Harris-Green in their Dearborn Heights home last month.
A female cousin of Green’s told The Detroit News that Harris-Green and her husband had known each for years and met as youngsters in school. The cousin said the couple had a tumultuous marriage and Green “snapped” after receiving divorce papers shortly before the slayings. Harris-Green sought divorce twice, most recently in August.
Friends of Harris say his background as a civil rights activist — and his belief in absolution for “broken” people — explains why he spoke out on Green’s behalf more than a decade ago.
A former drug user, Harris has used his own personal struggles with addiction to preach forgiveness and redemption. In one of several YouTube videos, he speaks about building a center to “stabilize” men in a residential program so they can “make a decent amount of money so they can take care of their families.”
Speaking to a church crowd in Ghana in a video uploaded in 2010, Harris told churchgoers: “The only way we can become solid and solidified is to acknowledge what is in us so that God can take it out and remove it and replace it with more of his Spirit. Our emotion is the strongest organism in us and it controls us and directs us, consciously and unconsciously.”
Contacted Tuesday by The Detroit News at his home in Southfield, Harris refused comment about his connection with Green, whom he has called a friend and a member of his church. Efforts to reach Harris were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Reiss said he and Harris have ministries that believe in transforming people who have had problems in their past and helping put those who show forgiveness on a road to redemption.
“The hardest part of ministry is when you are casting your pearls before swine,” Reiss said Wednesday. “Pastors are in the position of winning people over and bringing them out of the darkness and into the light. He is someone who has a transforming ministry. If we really understood what the gospel is ... it is about forgiveness.”
As part of his ministry, Harris has traveled across the globe delivering the gospel in places such as Ghana, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, London and Ireland, according to Church of the Risen Christ’s website. The church is on Detroit’s west side, but its website says it’s being renovated.
During Harris’ time as a community and political activist in New Haven, Connecticut, during the 1960s and 1970s, he helped incarcerated people from the community, said author Yohuru Williams, a history professor at Fairfield University.
Williams included a chapter about Harris in his book “Black Politics/White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven.” Harris left a legacy as an activist who protested for change and opportunities for African-Americans for better education, job opportunities and housing, Williams said.
Williams dedicates a chapter on Harris’ history as a community organizer in New Haven, a city hit by riots in 1967, just like Detroit.
Williams said Harris became a regular target of New Haven government officials and police, and that “trumped up” drug charges were leveled against Harris when he failed to quell community outrage over alleged police brutality and other issues.
Harris also co-authored a book in 1972 about his activism in New Haven titled “Street Time.”
In the book, Harris discusses the plight of African-Americans living in some poor areas of New Haven during the early 1960s, and a community protest involving a school district allegedly neglected poor and black children.
“For two days, we marched in front of the school,” Harris wrote. “You got to realize that we did this in 1965 and things were different then. I mean, the whole black power thing hadn’t even started. Besides, we had to fight New Haven’s image as a model city. It was a model city — a model city for everyone who didn’t live in the ghetto.”
Harris, according to Williams, “believed in redemption.”
“He believed if you didn’t find a way of helping out, then you are simply perpetuating the problem.”