Monday, June 19, 2006

From The Frontlines: A Report on the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality

From the Frontlines: A Report on the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

Introduction & Historical Background

Since 1996 a core group of Detroit activists have been
involved in the fight to end the growing epidemic of
misconduct and brutality emanating from law-enforcement
agencies throughout the city and the broader metropolitian
area. This tradition dates back at least 60 or more years
when the burgeoning population of African-American migrants
began to radically change the demographic composition of the

The so-called race riots of 1942-43, that led to the
intervention of United States military forces, and the 1967
rebellion which also required the deployment of both the
National Guard and the 82nd Airborne Division, illustrated
the underlying racial and class tensions that grew out of the
unresolved social conditions emanating from the inability of
American society to create a just and democratic society.

By the early 1970s, the city of Detroit had become a
battleground between the growing African-American majority
and the predominantly white police force which increasingly
sought to suppress the popular will of the people in the
interests of big business and local as well as national
government. In 1971, the Detroit police created the
notorious STRESS anti-crime unit, which stood for Stop the
Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets. This unit over a two year
period was responsible for the deaths of over 30 individuals
in the city, most of whom were African-American. The anti-
Stress campaigns of 1971-73, eventually led to the rise of
the city's first African-American led administration under
Coleman A. Young. Young, who was elected in November of 1973,
became the first African-American to become mayor of a major
United States city.

During the Young administration of 1974-1993, there was a
broad program to both integrate the police force and to make
it more representative of the increasing black majority in
the city. However, despite these noble efforts, the
persistent problems of poverty and de-industrialization would
not allow the police department to be fully transformed to
reflect the interests of the people in the city. By the
conclusion of the Young administration in November of 1992,
one incident took place which represented the continuing
legacy of police misconduct and brutality.

On November 5, 1992, African-American steelworker Malice
Green was brutality bludgeoned to death by two white officers
on the city's southwest side. This cold blooded killing
sparked outrage throughout the city and the country. It came
just six months after a nationwide rebellion that was
centered in Los Angeles which resulted from the acquittal of
four white police officers in the vicious beating of motorist
Rodney King. In an effort to prevent a rebellion in Detroit,
the administration of Coleman Young immediately terminated
the officers involved in the killing of Green and set out to
prosecute several of the members of the police force involved
in this murder.

By the end of the summer of 1993, two of the officers were
tried and convicted of second-degree murder in the death of
Malice Green. What was interesting about this case was that
one of the officers who was convicted in the Green murder,
Larry Nevers, was a former STRESS officer who had been
involved in a suspicious murder of a Detroit citizen during
the early 1970s. Many Detroiters asked why after nearly
twenty years of a black administration was there still STRESS
members on the force? This question weighed heavily in the
minds of the people.

By 1996, when the first National Day of Protest Against
Police Brutuality was held in Detroit and in dozens of other
cities across the nation, the awareness related to the
continuing problems of police brutality led to the eventual
formation of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality,
Repression and the Criminalizaiton of a Generation in 1997.
This coalition founded by Professor Gloria House and activist
Marge Parsons, began to hold weekly meetings at the First
Unitarian Universalist Church in the city's University
Cultural District.

Since the late 1990s, the Coalition has grown in its ability
to address the ongoing problems related to police brutality
and misconduct in the city of Detroit. In the paragraphs
below we have sought to reflect on some of the major
developments that the organization has been involved in over
the last year of 2004.

The Federal Consent Decrees

The Detroit Police Department has failed consistently to come
into compliance with the over 100 recommendations laid down
by the Federal monitor who is overseeing the implementation
of two consent decrees issued by the United States Judge
Julian Cook of the Southern District of Michigan in July of

These federal consent decrees grew out of a protracted
struggle waged by the Detroit Coalition Against Police
Brutality (DCAPB) in support of the families and friends of
victims of police brutality and misconduct. A string of
killings from 1996-2000 generated widespread public outrage
and protest, which prompted former Detroit Mayor Dennis W.
Archer to agree to a 30-month Justice Department investigation
purportedly designed to re-correct the problems between the
residents of Detroit and law-enforcement.

There are two areas where the monitor, Kroll Associates, has
focused upon in regard to a pattern of police misconduct that
violate federal laws: the frequent and unwarranted use of
lethal force and the deplorable conditions prevailing in the
lock-ups throughout the precincts in the city.

Our Coalition has appealed a ruling by Judge Cook to directly
intervene, along with the Detroit community, in the process
of implementing compliance with the consent decrees.

The Anti-Crime Campaign

During the early months of 2004, there was an upsurge in
violence, particularly affecting youth in the Detroit area.
With the murder of two white Detroit Police officers on the
southwest side in February, the city of Detroit announced a
crackdown on crimes involving firearms. This supposed
escalation of police actions aimed at crime reduction
resulted in the arrests of hundreds of citizens on petty

In response to the deaths of the two officers, Bowens and
Fettig, a statewide campaign was launched to impose a
mandatory death penalty on anyone convicted of killing a
police officer. The Coaltion in recognizing the racist
legacy of the implementation of the death penalty in other
states, initiated the building of a statewide campaign to
stop the march towards death that was emerging in the
Republican dominated Michigan State Legislature. The bill
designed to impose the death penalty in Michigan, which has
not had the death penalty since it was incorporated into the
United States during the mid-19th century, was defeated in
the State House, largely due to the intervention of the
Coalition. A united front of ministers, anti-death penalty
groups, community activists and sympathetic state lawmakers
were able to prevent the passage of the bill in Lansing.
This represented a victory for the anti-death penalty
movement in Michigan as well as throughout the country.

In April of this year, in honor of the 36th anniversary of
the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we invited
national organizer and civil rights veteran Willie Mukasa
Ricks as a the keynote speaker for a mass rally at New Bethel
Baptist Church. Ricks was also the guest speaker at the
National Lawyers Guild annual dinner on April 3. The April
4 "Stop the Violence" rally at New Bethel enjoyed broad media
coverage and properly placed the escalation of crime and
violence in the city within the context of the growing socio-
economic crisis facing the state of Michigan.

A series of meetings had already been held by law-enforcement
agencies in response to the spike in shootings and killings
in the city. However, the DCAPB took a totally different
view than the local political and law-enforcement officials.
Our position was that any analysis of the increase in
shootings and homicides must take into consideration the
extreme economic downturn in the state of Michigan. Tens of
thousands of jobs have been lost since 2001 and many people
have left the city as a result of the lack of employment and
economic opportunities.

Later on in the month of April, the city was shocked again by
the shooting of Ronald Floyd by two police officers on the
west side. Miraculously Floyd survived after being wounded
three times by the officers. Floyd was unarmed and had done
nothing to provoke the assailants. The Coalition immediately
came to Floyd's assistance by seeking legal counsel and
holding a press conference to expose the ongoing police
violence against innocent civilians. Despite the exposure of
this crime against Ronald Floyd, the Wayne County Prosecutor's
office did not proceed with the prosecution of the officers
involved in the shooting. A civil case against the city is

Another important incident that illustrates the fact that no
fundamental reforms have taken place in police practices in
Detroit, young Nehemiah Thompson was returning home in his
vehicle early one morning in the summer when he was struck by
an off-duty Detroit Police Lieutenant, killing Thompson
immediately. After the officer was questioned it was found
that this lieutenant had a severe drinking problem and was
intoxicated when he struck Thompson's car. Initially no
charges were filed, although the officer had a reputation for
heavy drinking.

As a result of the intervention of the DCAPB, the lieutenant
was eventually charged with negligent homicide and operating
a vehicle under the influence. He was placed on suspension
without pay by the Board of Police Commissioners and is
awaiting trial on these charges.

The Fireworks Shootings and the Attempted Frame-up of Daron

One of the most significant cases that the Coalition took up
was the attempt to frame Daron Caldwell for the Fireworks
shootings on June 23 in downtown Detroit at Hart Plaza. This
was a crime that received national news coverage and
threatened the future tourist attractions of the 2005 All-
Star Baseball Game and the 2006 Super Bowl Football Game. As
a result of the negative news coverage surrounding this
apparent random act of violence, Caldwell was picked up and
charged with the crimes.

This shootings had resulted in the injury of several
individuals, one of whom died several months later from
wounds suffered in the June 23 incident. The city of Detroit
administration was desperate to arrest and prosecute someone
for this crime. Much was at stake involving the future
prospects for major events held in downtown Detroit. Hence,
Daron Caldwell, who was at a local motel east of Hart Plaza
at the time of the shooting on June 23, was arrested while he
was at the barber shop preparing for the funeral of a
relative several days later.

Caldwell's family and friends quickly rallied to their love
one's defense. Even after witnesses testified that Caldwell
was not the shooter during the preliminary hearings, the City
continued to falsely claim that Caldwell was guilty. It did
not matter that Caldwell consistently mainted his innocent in
the shootings and provided solid evidence that he was not
even in the area when the incident occured, the Mayor, the
police chief and County prosecutor continued to move ahead
with his prosectuion.

During the summer of 2004 the Coalition assisted the family
of Daron Caldwell to rally support in the city for his
immediate release. There were protest demonstrations outside
police headquarters located at 1300 Beaubien, a skating party
to raise funds for his legal defense, prayer vigils and a
display table at the Cass Community Festival in September.
These activities reached hundred of thousands of people
through the media and mass actions in the community.

As a result of this political ferment generated in the
campaign to free Daron Caldwell, the corporate media began to
seriously look into the frame-up and worked to expose the
role of the police heirarchy and the Wayne County Prosecutor's
Office in the conspiracy to railroad the alleged suspect.
The cover-up and framing of Caldwell became so evident that
the County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Police Chief Ella Bully-
Cummings agreed jointly to drop the impending murder trial of
Caldwell and to set him free. Caldwell had been held on $100
million bail, the largest ever in the history of Michigan.
The fact that he was released in a hearing that lasted less
than 60 seconds proves clearly that there never was any
evidence that justified his arrest let alone attempted

These cases point to a consistent pattern that appears to be
unbreakable within police practices in Detroit. Our position
is that only a mass movement controlled and directed by the
people can reverse this trend and place the law-enforcement
apparatus under the control of the community.

Other cases in which the Coalition has become involved

Mark Boyce---who was murdered by an off-duty police officer,
an officer who has now been promoted to lieutenant. This
case is now in civil court and the outcome is pending.

William Parker---who was arrested in his driveway while
sleeping. He was accused of drug trafficking and sentenced
to a correctional facility. His family is still seeking
justice in the illegal frame-up.

Dennis Crawford---this young man was murdered in cold-blood
during a domestic violence call. Crawford was unarmed when
police shot him four times fatally. The Coalition during the
aftermath of this murder implemented its "peace zones"
concept which seeks to resolve conflict without police
intervention, which oftentimes proves fatal.

Frank Wilkerson---was killed by an off-duty officer in
Wyandotte during the fall of 2004. Three Coaltion members
investigated the shooting. They visited the actual scene and
questioned several witnesses. Wilkerson, who was accused of
shoplifting, was shot to death while he sat behind the wheel
of his vehicle.

In addition, the Coalition supported efforts by the Michigan
Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) to end
police surveillance of activists in the city. The issue was
taken before the Detroit City Council by MECAWI in February
and July. A public hearing was held in September where the
Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality submitted a
statement supporting the efforts of MECAWI demanding that
activists be free from political surveillance and
harassment . As a result of MECAWI's efforts, the Board of
Police Commissioners adopted a new surveillance policy that
prohibits political surveillance and harassment.

The Coalition at the end of 2004 was a participant in the
annual Detroit Martin Luther King Day Planning Committee that
is calling for a mass demonstration through downtown on
January 17, 2005. The DCAPB was a part of the first Detroit
march on this federal holiday early in 2004 on MLK Day, and
provided a speaker in solidarity with the anti-war campaign
which is a local, national and international movement to
bring a peace majority in the United States into political


In the coming year we will solidify our implementation of
the 'peace zones' model so that 2005 will not be another
period of escalating violence. Although the passage of
several bond proposals on November 2 aimed at funding police
reforms are being touted as a mechanism to bring the city
into compliance with the federal consent decrees, we
recognize that without the direct empowerment of the people
to take control of their communities, no real peace can be

The city in 2005 will face a series of profound challenges.
The administration will be forced to lay-off over 2,000
employees as a result of a budget deficit in excess of $200
million. In addition, the Detroit Public Schools, which laid-
off over 2,000 workers in June, may be eliminating up to
another 5,700 employees in response to a budget deficit
hovering above $200 million. These massive lay-offs will
inevitably bring about more economic hardships and a drastic
reduction in already poor city services. Also the crime rate
can be expected to spiral and consequently provoke more
police repression and violence against residents of the city.
As a result of this growing municipal crisis, the work of the
Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality will be even more
essential during the coming period.

This statement is not simply one of outrage. We cannot
surrender our rights as citizens to the politicians, judges
and law-enforcement officials. Therefore, our plea to the
citizens of the city is to organize and build a movement of
resistance against police brutality and misconduct. We are
appealing to the public to join the DCAPB in our ongoing
efforts to bring peace, stability and development to the
city of Detroit.

Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality
Contact: (313) 963-8116

No Justice for Eric Williams: Murdered by the State Police

Man killed on the eve of the all-star and superbowl games

By Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

DETROIT, (PANW)--A brief encounter on April 14, 2005 in front of the Detroiter bar near Greektown between Detroiter Eric Williams, known on the streets as "Mr. Magoo", and State Police Officer Jay Morningstar, proved fatal. State Police claimed that Williams had lunged at the officer with his hands down around his waist sparking Morningstar to shoot him down.

The incident gained a considerable amount of attention in the city because despite the police version of the story which attempted to justify Morningstar's actions in gunning down Williams, the victim was unarmed and posed no physical threat to the two state officers. Morningstar's partner, Officer Theresa Malone, did not fire her weapon.

Williams was killed at the age of 40. His life was similar to many other people who live on the streets in Detroit. Their lives are marked by poverty and the lack of medical attention for both mental and psychological ailments. This story would prove relevant to thousands families in Detroit who have loved ones that suffer from mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction and poverty. These men and women often face the wrath of the local police and now the state authorities who are patrolling at an increased rate with a noticeable agressiveness inside the city of Detroit.

The Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality (DCAPB) immediately supported the family of Eric Williams and made attempts to rally homeless people in the downtown area to speak out against the murder of Williams and the stepped-up harassment of people on the street. On the Radio One broadcast, "Fighting for Justice", which aired over AM 1200, WCHB, the program featured the Aunt of Eric Williams who discussed the killing from the perspective of the family.

As a result of public pressure, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office under Kym Worthy filed charges against Morningstar for second degree murder in the death of Eric Williams. Videotape from a Detroit Police patrol car was utilzed by the prosecution as evidence that the murder of Williams was unjustified and warranted conviction.

When the trial of Morningstar began on December 1, 2005, he rejected an offer for a plea bargain where he would accept conviction on manslaughter in exchange for 3 years of probation. This effort was a clear indication that the prosecution would not try this case in a manner that would result in convictions. A second-degree murder charge could have resulted in a sentence of up to life imprisonment. However, this was the first time in Michigan history that a state police officer was charged with such a serious crime.

Morningstar received the support of his colleagues. In a publication put out by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund entitled, "With Justice For All", in the Fall 2005 issue, it stated that: "It was a moment of truth. In a split second Officer Morningstar had to decide: Is this man armed and will my partner and I be his victims? When Williams was just a few feet away, Officer Monringstar, fearing that he would be shot, fired one shot at Williams. That shot killed him instantly."

They then went on to posthumously criminalize Williams stating that: "Eric Williams had a lenghtly police record: 147 encounters with police, including 27 incidents in which he was violent. The 40-year-old black man was a panhandler who lived on the street. He was known to become violent after drinking. That night he had been on a drunken rampage, throwing a chair in the bar and a brick when outside the tavern. At the time of his death, he was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system as well."

This attack on Williams' character after his death was designed to make him look like a criminal rather than the victim of a overzealous state police officer who labeled this man as a potential threat to him and his partner's life. Consequently, with a weak case presented by the Prosecutor's Office and the lack of investigative reporting by the corporate press, it is not suprising that this resulted in the acquittal of Morningstar on all charges.

The fact is that Detroit was being promoted last year as an emerging showpiece for the corporate community. The All-Star Baseball game was scheduled to take place in 3 months downtown after the murder of Williams. There was considerable efforts to clear out the homeless, the poor and mentally ill from the downtown area. Later on prior to the Superbowl XL game at Ford Field, similar efforts took place to sweep the street people out of the area.

Despite the acquittal of Officer Morningstar, the family of Eric Williams have continued to seek some semblance of justice from the state police. Several days after the acquittal of Morningstar, Farmington Hills attorney Arnold Reed argued that the state policeman committed gross negligence and used unnecessary deadly force. The family of Williams wants $10 million in damages for the killing of "Mr. Magoo" by Morningstar.

In a statement of support from the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality the group calls for the representatives of the State Legislature, Wayne County government officials, and other City of Detroit and public agencies to join in the call for justice in the case of Eric 'Mr. Magoo' Williams. The acquittal of Trooper Morningstar on the murder and manslaughter charges by the Wayne County Circuit Court jury is a vote for barbarism and injustice. The Coalition has received numerous calls and e-mails from Detroiters as well as suburbanites demanding that we refuse to let Eric Williams die in vain."
For more information on the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality contact: (313) 963-8116 or e-mail:

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