Detroit community activist Ron Scott dies

Holly Fournier, and James David Dickson

The death on Sunday of 68-year-old Ron Scott, a longtime Detroit activist who tackled police brutality issues, has left a void in the city’s civil rights community that likely won’t be filled by one pair of shoes.

Community activist and former Detroit 300 spokesman Martin Jones said dozens are needed to carry Scott’s torch forward.

“We need 10, 20, hundreds to take Ron Scott’s place,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon each and every one of us to take a stand, and our collective efforts will equal Ron Scott.”

Detroit 300 is a community-led organization targeting crime against women, children and the elderly.

“Ron Scott is obviously an irreplaceable individual and anytime a movement loses such a strong figure, there’s always a deficit,” said close friend Dawud Walid, executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations — Michigan.

“I don’t think there’s going to be one charismatic individual that’s going to immediately fill his shoes,” Walid said. “It’s all of our responsibility to step up.”

Scott was known for his fight against police brutality in Detroit and beyond through the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, an organization he founded in 1996.

“The organization is still going to continue,” co-chair Sandra Hines said. “We’re going to continue to fulfill his legacy and his promise to address the concerns of police brutality. We’re not disbanding.”

Hines said she would act as interim spokesperson as the group prepared to continue without Scott.

“There’s nobody in Detroit to fill Ron’s shoes. He was really the founder of the organization, the one who saw the need to even establish the coalition,” Hines said. “He valued people and believed in people. We want to continue that legacy.”

The activist’s family said in a statement Monday afternoon that they are grateful for the outpouring of support locally and nationally following Scott’s death.

“Ron was our brother, and we all benefited from his wisdom and love as the elder member of the family; but we also know and understand that he belonged to the community as well. The tributes that we have already seen have helped to assuage our sadness at this tremendous loss.

They said funeral arrangements are being planned as well as a way to contribute to the group so his legacy can continue.

City leaders also praised Scott.

“Ron Scott dedicated his life to the fight for civil rights and the pursuit of justice,” Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement. “While Ron may be gone, his legacy and work must continue. He will be missed.”

As recently as August, standing outside Frank Murphy Hall of Justice in Detroit, Scott called on the community to demand answers in the death of Terrance Kellom, who was shot and killed during a raid in April, as well as others killed in encounters with police. The federal agent who killed Kellom did not face criminal charges after the county prosecutor said evidence supported the agent’s story that the shooting was justified.

“We are determined because it could have been any of us sitting in our house, who could have been called a fugitive and could have had a bullet in their head,” Scott told a small crowd then.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig spoke of plans to meet with Scott to discuss civil rights in the city.

“I am shocked and saddened,” by Scott’s passing, “I had tremendous respect for him and the principles he fought for. We had recently talked about meeting to discuss the history of civil rights in Detroit. His memory and his mission will live on.”

Chris White, who met Scott as a teen, said Scott’s advocacy was one reason Detroit hasn’t had the type of anti-police brutality riots seen in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; and Chicago.

The Detroit Police Department has civilian oversight in the form of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, which Scott sought.

Detroit’s police commission was created in 1974. When the commission lost its powers in September 2014 during the city’s bankruptcy, Scott argued in The Detroit News for those powers to be restored.

“The Detroit Police Commission has been recognized as a hallmark of citizen oversight by similar groups around the country. It is a model to follow,” Scott wrote.

In September, the Detroit City Council voted to restore the commission’s powers, which will return in December. The board, in consultation with the police chief and the approval of the mayor, sets rules and regulations for the Police Department, according to the 2012 Detroit City Charter.

Previously, he opposed police using of hollow-point bullets and regional police task forces, which he said lacked public accountability.

For Scott, it came down to police accountability, supporters said.

“Ron’s critics would call him ‘anti-police,’ ” Detroit Police Commissioner Ricardo Moore said. “He wasn’t anti-police. He was pro-transparency and accountability in policing.”

Scott also worked as a political consultant and media strategist, with clients including the late Coleman A. Young, U.S. Rep. John Conyers and former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot. He also consulted for the campaigns of former U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, according to his biography.

He also was a producer of one of the longest-running African-American-focused television shows, “Detroit Black Journal.”

“(I) am proudest of my interviews with some of the 20th century’s most intriguing people, from Martha Reeves and James Brown and the group ‘Enchantment’ to the Archbishop of Durban (Wilfrid Napier), South Africa, to Ladysmith Black Mambazo to G. Gordon Liddy to George H.W. Bush,” Scott once wrote about his career.

Other activities included membership in the James and Grace Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, founded by the late activists James and Grace Lee Boggs; co-founder of the Detroit Chapter of the Black Panther Party, board member of the National Lawyers Guild, Detroit & Michigan Chapter.

“Ron was a powerhouse,” said Tawana Petty, a fellow board member at the Boggs Center. “I was fortunate enough to be following under his leadership and guidance as a board member and as a student, a young revolutionary.”

Walid and Scott were present outside Aiyana Stanley-Jones’ home the morning after the 7-year-old was fatally shot in May 2010 by Detroit police during a raid.

“I remember that there were people in the community that were incensed, that wanted to retaliate against the Detroit police, and it was Ron who helped bring some sense of stability to that situation and encouraged the young men there to be patient and for us to protest and let things play out through the legal process,” Walid said. “A lot of people mischaracterize Ron as someone who incited people to be angry against law enforcement. But in that and other situations, Ron actually de-escalated matters.”

Luther Keith, former Detroit News assistant managing editor, said the current political climate calls for more vigilance surrounding police misconduct.

“At a time when people are concerned about police brutality, we need this (organization) more than ever,” said Keith, executive director of ARISE Detroit! who had known Scott for more than 30 years.

“All he wanted was a society that was fair and just for all,” Keith said. “He wanted police accountability.”

Supporters offered praise for Scott’s commitment to social justice, describing his death as “a great loss” at a time of social upheaval.

Sandra Hines, co-chair along with Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said Scott “reared and mentored” her and many other activists in Detroit.

Scott grew up in the Jeffries Projects in Detroit, he wrote in his biography recently given to a reporter for a profile of his life.

“My political and social worldview was shaped by an astute single mother who eventually earned a degree and became a teacher, and by conservative as well as progressive teachers who angered, challenged and ultimately inspired me,” he wrote of his childhood in the projects.

Scott went to the University of Michigan in 1965, he said, “before affirmative action was in place to ensure educational equity.”

He had weighty role models as inspiration: the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in whose 1963 Detroit march he participated, and an “electrifying Kathleen Cleaver,” whom he heard speak as a college student, his biography said.

Scott called himself a “transformational anthropologist.”

“I am deeply interested and engaged in activities and projects that change human and social behavior in the direction of peace and reconciliation — locally, nationally and internationally,” he wrote in the biography.