Wednesday, July 14, 2010

African American Households Threatened With Racist Violence in Detroit Suburb of Eastpointe

African American Households Threatened With Racist Violence in Detroit Suburb of Eastpointe

17 homes receive letters demanding they leave prior to the setting of
suspicious fire

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

EASTPOINTE—On July 6 in the suburb of Eastpointe, located right
outside of Detroit, 17 mainly African American households received a
duplicate letter that was handwritten demanding that they move out of
the city or face death. The community has been undergoing a rapid
demographic shift with at least 20 African American families moving
onto Sprenger Street over the last several months.

In the aftermath of the letters being received, two days later on July
8, one of the residents whose address had been noted in the racist
diatribe, fell victim to a home invasion and the setting of fires in
two separate rooms in the house. The resident’s sister went by the
home to meet the landlord and when the door was opened smoke billowed out from the inside.

The fire department and police were summoned to the home where an
investigation revealed that the blaze was deliberately set. A resident
of Sprenger Street, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Pan-African News Wire that smoke bombs had been set off in two rooms inside the house and that if the sister of the occupant had not arrive the entire residence could have been severely damaged.

Although the local police and fire departments along with the FBI--who
have been involved in the investigations surrounding the racist
letters and the blaze set inside the home--have been reluctant to
label the attack as arson. Nonetheless, residents of the area think

The resident on Sprenger Street who wanted to remain anonymous said that there had been no recent incidents in the area and that the area had been very peaceful and quiet. This African American has lived on the street for nearly two years.

The resident later told the Pan-African News Wire that between 20-25 African American families had moved on to the targeted street just over the last two months. They also recounted how when the police arrived at the home where the arson attack took place, the renter-occupied resident was placed in a police car and questioned for two hours as if he was a suspect in the fire.

“The man was eventually released because there was nothing they could hold him for in regard to the fire. I received the racist letter and
was deeply disturbed by the language which referred to African
Americans in derogatory terms and threatened us with death if we did
not move on the other side of Eight Mile Road (Detroit),” the resident

On July 11, Robert Robinson II, who lives in Detroit but has relatives
that reside on Sprenger Street in Eastpointe, called for people of all
races to gather in the area to express their outrage at these racist
provocations. Robinson, who called into the “Fighting For Justice”
radio program that airs on WDTW 1310 AM every Sunday morning from 10:00-11:00am, said that he is the coordinator of the “It’s Takes a
Village Y’all” Facebook page where he has made appeals for people
throughout the region to support the African American residents of

“I do not live in Eastpointe,” Robinson told the Pan-African News Wire,
“but my cousin stays on this street and I am going to do everything
possible to make sure that she is not harmed.” Robinson also talked to
reporters from the local affiliates of Fox and ABC News about the
atmosphere prevailing in the neighborhood.

“People are afraid to come out because they feel threatened. They do
not know who is really behind these incidents,” Robinson said.

Imara Scott, who lives on another street in Eastpointe said that he
had moved into the suburb less than a year ago. He stated that people
should not be intimidated by the threats because the African Americans
living in the city should make it clear that they have no intentions
of leaving the area.

“Ignorance is still alive and well,” Scott said. “It could be an
individual or an organization. What bothers me is that this is being
done in secret.”

Scott continued by stressing that “If they have a problem with us go
to the City Council or talk to the people.”

One white woman who lives on the street came out to express her
solidarity with the African American residents. She brought cold
drinks for people standing outside the firebombed home in near 90
degree weather.

The woman said that “My kids are Latino/a. We are a diverse and
peaceful community. The mayor of Eastpointe has not been out here.
It’s hard economic times and everyone is hurting.”

Authorities in Eastpointe say that they are taking the threats and
fire seriously. Eastpointe Police Lt. Scott Bourgeois indicated that
the arson may have been linked to the break in and the removal of
items from the home the same day. (Detroit News, July 9)

Bourgeois also said that not all of the letters were sent to
residences occupied by African Americans. “It’s unusual, but it’s very
serious,” Bourgeois said. “We’re going to check it out.” (Detroit
News, July 7)

Police and FBI agents have confiscated some of the letters from the
residents. One resident said that she immediately turned over the
letter to the FBI who has refused to return it. “I should have made a
copy for myself,” she told the Pan-African News Wire on July 11.

Law-enforcement officials say that they are going to take the letters
to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab for possible fingerprint and
DNA evidence that could lead to identifying who is responsible for
these attacks. Interim Fire Chief Bob Niedermaier told the Detroit
News that samples from the burned home were also being submitted to
the State Police Crime Lab.

Daniel Krichbaum, interim director of the Michigan Department of Civil
Rights said in response to the incidents that “Such an event provides
a disappointing view into the minds of those who would use hate to
communicate a world view of exclusion. It is not only a criminal
offense committed against these particular victims, it is also an
attack upon the very essence of community.” (Detroit News, July 9)

From East Detroit to Eastpointe

The city of Eastpointe was settled during the 1830s by German and
Irish immigrants. In 1897 a post office was established with the name
of Half-way, indicating its location between Mount Clemons and
downtown Detroit.

In 1929, the city was incorporated as East Detroit. However, in
1992, through a vote, the residents chose to rename the suburb
Eastpointe in a politically-motivated attempt to avoid any association
with the majority African American neighboring city of Detroit.

Placing “pointe” at the end of the name presumably sought to identify
the mainly working class white community with the more affluent Grosse Pointes, which also border the eastside of Detroit. The 2000 Census states that the population of Eastpointe is 34,077.

In recent years more young African American families have moved into
the area. Many people in Detroit view the city as hostile with
numerous complaints about random stops by local police of African
American motorists.

Residents of Sprenger Street say that they will establish a
neighborhood watch group to monitor the area in light of the racist
threats and attacks. Also they are planning to take their concerns to
the local City Council to demand that these acts of racism be taken
seriously by the local authorities.

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