Finley: In Detroit, do all black lives matter?

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

What I noticed about the first-day news accounts of the woman stabbed to death on a Detroit bus last week after accidentally bumping a fellow passenger with her walker is that her name never even appeared in the stories.

She was identified only as a woman in her 50s, with no further details about who she was or who she leaves behind. The next thing I noticed is how quickly the story faded, replaced by news of the next set of murders in a city where even the most heinous crimes fight for a headline.

If only the bus lady had been killed by a cop.

Maybe then, her black life would have mattered enough for us to more fully explore the significance of its loss, and to gin up some anger about how casually it was taken.

“When a white cop shoots a black male, that’s big news,” says Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “But other murders, like the little girl who was shot while riding her bicycle in her neighborhood last year, get ignored. “That’s the tragedy in the narrative.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, which coalesced in response to the killings of African-Americans by police officers, proved that outrage in response to injustice can get results. The boisterous and sometimes violent street protests have caused nearly every police department in the country to review its practices. Body cameras are being purchased in Detroit and other cities, training enhanced and new efforts are underway to improve community relations.

The movement bristles when their hashtag is co-opted by those who insist all lives matter, arguing that it diminishes the unique victimhood of African-Americans. OK. But from the way we shrug off the everyday killing in Detroit, it’s hard to make the case that all black lives matter.

Over the past year, roughly 300 Detroiters were murdered. They weren’t all gang bangers and drug dealers.

Several were like Renee Bradford, the grandmother caught in the crossfire of a gang shoot-out last week. Some were like Patrick Jones, 19, gunned down while trying to catch a bus to work in March. Too many were like the 14-year-old girl killed in a single night of mayhem in January that also left a pregnant woman dead and a 5-year-old shot in the face by a stray bullet.

Yet the only protest marches I remember were those that came after Terrance Kellom was killed by a customs officer in a shooting ruled justified by the Wayne County prosecutor.

Why didn’t those other black lives matter as much as Kellom’s? Why did the black life of a 21-year-old killed when someone sprayed bullets into a crowd of 300 at a June block party matter so little that not a single witness came forward?

Teddy bears and tender notes left at a crime scene don’t have the same impact as a community that rises and shouts “Enough!”

“If people stood up when these things happen and said, ‘We aren’t going to take this,’ maybe something would happen,” Craig says. “If there were more outrage, it would have a direct effect on reducing violence.”

And the declaration that black lives matter might become reality.