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On The Death of A Detroit Police Officer

Five cops were shot in Detroit this morning, one fatally. Been following the reports all morning, and I tell you, there already have been revelations and reactions that give me pause...

First, I gotta say, my own heart sank not just at news of the shooting — after seeing the officer's photo, I realized I've seen him around the city plenty — but also at news about what the cops recovered from that vacant house. One handgun and a pound of marijuana. I've railed before in this space about the stupidity of the drug war, especially the criminalization of weed, so I won't go on much longer here and now. (Plus, news reports say the officers were responding to a 911 call about gunfire, not drugs, so this could've gone down tragically no matter what.) But after reading that, I wonder anew: How many more law enforcement officers have to put their lives on the line before we get real about this failed public policy?

The second report that caught my eye was an article about a local anti-brutality group that's asking whether the shooting suggests heightening tension between some city residents and the cops. The gunfight, which took place on the eastside, comes a little more than a month after members of the Detroit Gang Squad were accused of brazenly and gratuitously terrorizing a westside Detroit neighborhood, allegedly handcuffing and harassing residents all in the name of some show of force. As a result, some say this morning's shooting wasn't particularly shocking.

Ron Scott, the coalition's president, said the shooting isn't surprising given the complaints he's heard recently, most of which he said stem from Evans' Mobile Strike Force. Complaints have jumped 208% this year, he said.

He said it's unusual that a supposed drug dealer would open fire on officers rather than surrender and face a prison stint.

"It's odd that anyone would want to run," he said.

Detroit Police spokesman John Roach said complaints against the department's gang squad, which makes up much of the strike force, indeed are up, but that it's because the officers are more proactive in dealing with residents. The police units are dispatched to hot spots to spot suspicious activity and investigate before a crime is committed rather than wait for a 911 call, he said.

Officer John Bennett said Scott's comments were premature and insensitive.

"This is not the time for that," he said. "This is a time for grieving."

I respect Bennett's position and the deep sense of loss that city residents as well as the slain officer's colleagues, family and friends feel. And to his point about premature speculation, I think Bennett's also right: With the case still unfolding, can we really apply logic to the motives of a gunman trapped in a drug house that's about to be raided by the police? Maybe the gunman feared a harsher jail sentence. Maybe he/she was scared and/or intoxicated. Maybe he/she just had an itchy trigger finger.

However, I don't agree that it's "insensitive" to ask questions about the cops' relationship to the communities. And it's not about providing a smoke screen for cop killers either. Obviously, anybody who'd murder a man in cold blood deserves whatever punishment he or she has coming. That said, even though I think it's probably a stretch to tie this shooting incident to police harassment across town, if there's hint of rising tensions between the cops and residents, it is certainly appropriate and worthwhile to examine that possibility.

The 1967 riots that ripped through this city weren't race riots, as the lazy narrative goes. They were, however, a severe reaction to decades of police brutality. Yes, many of the conditions that contributed to that eruption are gone. But when it comes to Detroit and its police force, even a majority black one, raw hostilities remain very much alive. And with even the police worrying out loud about a long, hot summer, Detroit needs to remain diligent about keeping heads cool all around.

This town has more guns than people. We do not need more of our officers killed because of intensified hostility. Nor do we need any of our residents gunned down by skittish police.

I don't know if I can make sense of this officer's tragic death. But looking at some of the early reports, it's clear that we need to take whatever added steps we can to ensure the safety of the city's police and the Detroiters they serve — and that includes relying on both sensible public policy and honest public discourse.

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  • 1

    Hmmm.... Always seems to default to 'why the stupid and un-winable war on drugs' to explain the violance and crime...

    The 'war on burglery and/or auto theft and/or armed robbery - or even racial discrimination is un-winable as well... why not just 'de-criminalize' these - and we will never have an Officer shot/injured while responding to or attempting to intervening in these...

    'Get real' Darrell and quite attempting to obfuscate the issue with 'side bars'... Society relegates many acts/behaviors to the status of unlawful or taboo based upon community mores or concerns - the inability to eliminate them does not make ignoring them acceptable oe even desirable.

    The solution is not increased tolerance - rather deceeased acceptance... and just why was this person even able to have the freedom to act in this fashion - given his background and record?

    Darrell - for a 'smart guy' I really don't think you 'get it'...

    • 1.1

      "The 'war on burglery and/or auto theft and/or armed robbery - or even racial discrimination is un-winable as well... why not just 'de-criminalize' these"

      These crimes have victims.

  • 2

    Maybe we need more of those 'skittish police' Darrell - rehire up to the strength authorized before lay-offs. There is a greater need for public safety in this town (READ: MORE POLICE) than there is 'Social Experimentation' and 'Feel Good', 'snuggly' dialogue about 'tension and hurt feelings'

  • 3

    So much for the claims of police brutality--They had a perfect opportunity to shot and kill the man who killed one of their own, and the police officers on the scene didn't do it. That speaks volumes against these claims of police brutality.

    What about us citizens who aren't involve in gang and drug activities and still pay the price?? My husband and I work hard every day. We don't use drugs or drink.

    We pay 3 times more for house insurance and car insurance because of our zip code.

    Our van was stolen in September and we were treated like criminals by SF insurance--interrogated under oath and accused of gambling and drug debts. As of today, May 4th, we still haven't been paid by SF insurance and have had to hire an attorney.

    Yes, I have been stopped by the police. I didn't like the way I was talked to but I can sympathize with police officers and the hard job they have to do. My husband has been handcuffed in our own yard because he looked like someone. It was quickly cleared up. A 69 year old friend of ours is in prison because he had to shoot a man to stop them from beating and robbing him.

    I am in full support of Warren Evans, Dave Bing and Robert Bobb. I know there are days they wonder why they are doing this, and whether anyone even cares. We are only 2 people, but we do care, and we appreciate everything you guys are doing. Let us says thanks to you!

    Our sympathies to the friends and family of the officers who were killed and injured. Their daily sacrifices make Detroit a safer place.

    Thanks for listening!

  • 4

    I don't have all the answers but i really feel strongly that we need more cops that live in the city. We need our cops to live in the neighborhoods they protect. Then, there wouldn't be so much of a dissconnect.

  • 5

    Oh, Man DD..,.. Let's not Start!..You Know ...The dreaded "S" word!...STRESS(Stop The Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets!). When the city had 1.5 million Hi-LO-Med- income residents, How many politicians '..made their political "bones"..' expkloiting both good and bad about S.T.E.S.S.?! THE major crime HERE, what we're debating is MURDER...Of a PoliceMAN! Harrassing citizens pales to THIS CRIME!! It's NOT RIGHT , OF COURSE-- But that's ANOTHER ISSUE ,..IF, IF, THAT happened!! It was proven that STRESS Stopped CrimE!..IT WAS ALLEGED THAT INNOCENT VICTIMS WERE Harrassed!!! ..Let's see now!..875,000 citizens.. Crime per capita almost as high as back then, and STILL ALLGED Harrassment!..It's still not right to profile, but what's worse?..A temporary impingement of US Constitution...Bill of Rights?..OR?! PERMANENT IMPINGEMENT of..''', liberty, and pursuit of freedom...'?..NOT A GOOD CHOICE..It (CRIME) should never have gotten to this POIBNT!!! DRUGs...ANY KIND financed EVERY KIND of CRIME...Organized to '..petty..'. Would legalization have helped?..Hard to say, ..I doubt it! People would still need to commit crimes if people don't see any hope! For food; for HARDER illegal drugs; for prostitution, etc., gambling-numbers...Where does it END EVERYONE OUT THERE?! For this policeman it ended in a drab and dreary house-- allegedly by A CAREER CRIMINAL...Detroiters! Don't roll our/your eyes any MORE!! In a few years OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS WILL BE SAYING SAME THINGS, but with even FEWER JOBS and only 475,000 citizens left...IT STOPS NOW AND IT STOPS With each of US IF WE ARE BRAVE ENOUGH!! THERE are reasons and BLAME FOR ALL OF US!! Dedicate OUR SELVES to LOVING ONE ANOTHER...HERE, AND , NOW!!!

  • 6

    I respectfully disagree with the notion that illegal drug use is a "victimless crime." Drug users become addicted then desperate. Desperation leads to altered behavior--frequently resulting in criminal acts.

    If we could reduce drug use (not just in Detroit but also in northern Michigan, rich suburbs, and everywhere else), we would see a decrease in many other crimes.

    • 6.1

      (My sincere condolences to the family of the officer who was killed yesterday. Mere words are little consolation, but please know that many feel great sympathy.)

  • 7

    I thought Ron Scott's comments were not timely nor advanced anything with regard to police brutality it was selfish of Ron on a number of levels..

  • 8


    You are absolutely RIGHT ON! There is a powerful and compelling new book about the failed policy that is and has been the 'war on drugs.' Please get a copy of "The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the age of 'colorblindness'" by one of the country's most brilliant legal minds - Michelle Alexander.

    Her premise is that the criminal justice system especially in large cities all over the country puts a "racial caste system" into play by sweeping through communities of color and rounding up mostly young, black males. The research is flawless - a great read that backs you up 100%! Good post!

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