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Opinion: Detroit never needed Trump's threatened federal troops

Michael Rafferty

The proposed dispatching of federal troops to Detroit to curb protests was both insulting and unnecessary, but did prompt a lot of discussion around what we need to address the issue of violence in our community.

Sending in federal troops would have done more harm than good and jeopardized the slow but peaceful efforts already underway to tackle the issues we know and understand better than any outsiders.

While no justifiable reason was given for the proposed federal presence, here or in other cities, it was a painful reminder that Detroit knows all too well of the damaging impact of federal officers. Washington’s response to Detroit’s 1967 rebellion left a singed imprint on this city, its residents and our reputation.

Then President Lyndon Johnson sent 5,000 troops into Detroit to quail the racial unrest; we were one of more than 150 cities where racial riots erupted during that hot, unforgettable summer. Many will attest that even then their presence was more harmful than not.

Sending in the National Guard was quite shortsighted and lacked depth, Rafferty writes.

As a result, New Detroit emerged as an organization to help build a bridge of understanding and help diffuse the racial tensions that have left a city divided for generations. We continue the work alongside numerous other organizations and individuals, all of whom want a better, peaceful and livable community. The need or desire for the presence of federal agents is not the answer we seek or solution we need.

Sending in federal troops may have sounded tough and decisive, but was quite shortsighted and lacked depth or the anticipation of how already stressed communities would respond. Thankfully, it was also short-lived.

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Protests here, while not perfect, have been peaceful and within the marchers’ rights to organize and oppose. On the larger scale, Detroit — like other major cities — continues to grapple with gun violence, the result of numerous social factors and none of which can be resolved with more violence or military presence or force.

Support by way of other federal resources are already here to help strengthen our overburdened police force. But, if the president really wanted to help Detroit, he would allocate the necessary funds to help restructure our law enforcement and criminal justice systems in ways that truly protect and serve Black communities without prejudice, bias, or the casualties that come with them. Allocate funds that allow us to pay our officers commensurate with the risk they undertake daily, and to invest in the community policing efforts that have kept Detroit from emerging as violent and destructive amid our protests.

Detroit has long been an example of urban America, yet we often stand in ways that are special and unique from other cities. Facing the same issues, we rarely respond in the same manner. We roll up our sleeves, use what we have and work from within. Now is not any different.

We are not looking to create or add to the problems that we are all working to resolve. We don’t need — nor would we welcome — federal deployment of troops now or later, who would only stand to do nothing more than make matters worse. While we don’t have everything resolved, time and circumstances now more than ever demand real solutions, and not the creation of more problems.

Michael Rafferty is the CEO of New Detroit, Inc.