Friday, May 08, 2009

Robert Mitchell, 16, Killed by Law-Enforcement: Detroit Teen's Death Revives Old Images For Warren

Friday, May 8, 2009

Teen's death revives old images for Warren

Use of force by police revives racism claims

Christine Ferretti / The Detroit News

Warren -- With a new mayor, a new police chief and new partnerships with neighboring Detroit, the city's old reputation for racial intolerance seemed to be softening.

But for some, the death last month of a Detroit teen who was shocked with a Taser by Warren police near the Eight Mile border revives an image Warren earned when former Mayor Mark Steenbergh in 2005 likened the city to a "fortress," standing strong against criminals from Detroit.

"It set the tone for the manner in which police officers in Warren have dealt with individuals, specifically from the south side of Eight Mile," said Ron Scott, a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.

"Hostility is going on. It's not a fallacy. It's a reflection of what's actually happening."

The April 10 death of 16-year-old Robert Mitchell, who was black, has spurred a civil rights lawsuit as the teen's family and Detroit ministers and activists plead for changes to the department's use-of-force policy. Mitchell's autopsy results are pending.

Scott said the incident also revives the notion that the predominantly white city operates under a cultural bias, even though there's been significant growth in the minority population. Warren's black population has risen from 0.7 percent of all city residents in 1990 to around 9 percent, according to a three-year census estimate conducted between 2005-07.

Warren's Deputy Police Commissioner Jere Green said the idea that the city is racist is "prehistoric thinking."

"This city has evolved so far beyond that. That's what makes statements like that almost defeat all the progress we've made," said Green, a 30-year veteran of the department. "For someone to hang their hat on a comment made years ago that they think was racially motivated. ...I can't understand it."

Officials reach out

Warren officials say new administrators have forged a stronger partnership with Detroit that's brought about many positives and the best relationship ever in the history of the two cities.

Since Mayor Jim Fouts took office in 2007, the neighboring agencies have worked together to secure grants, fight drugs, prostitution and blight on both sides of Eight Mile, including a tri-county auto theft crackdown.

"We don't want crime to have a haven in either Warren or Detroit," Fouts said. "Criminals of any background and any type of crime will not be tolerated in Warren. We have a very professional police force and have good people working for us."

But Mitchell's grandmother, Charlotte McGlory, who is lobbying for the city to reevaluate its policy on the use of Tasers, doesn't see it that way.

McGlory says she believes Warren officers didn't target her grandson because of his race -- it was simply because "they could."

"It's not a black issue. It's an abuse of power issue. The whole mentality of the department needs to change," said McGlory, of St. Clair Shores, who has vowed to attend City Council meetings until the city changes or eliminates its use of Tasers. "They need to be accountable."

Others are convinced that race is the issue. Lifelong Detroit resident William Ballard, who is black, said police have always been biased against Detroiters.

"They are discriminating. You can't cross (Eight Mile) without them bothering you," said Ballard, 52, who lives near Seven Mile and Van Dyke. "It never changes. The history has been going on so long it's hard to change."

Police deny profiling
Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer, who joined the city in April 2008 after serving as police chief in Farmington Hills, said he "doesn't tolerate" excessive force or profiling.

South-end patrol officers like Matt Nichols say they don't either. When there's a crime, cops react, regardless of where they may be from, he said.

"Once a crime is committed, we have no control over who commits it," he said. "You can't change what people feel or the way they perceive things. If people feel unfairly targeted there's really nothing we can do, other than fairly enforce the law."

Steenbergh made the controversial "fortress" remark during a State of the City. Detroit leaders said it raised racial tensions between the state's first and third-largest cities. Warren officials maintained his comment was not racial, simply factual -- one third of Warren's crimes, they said, were committed by Detroit residents.

Detroit-based minister Tuesday Hicks said a more diversified department could improve relations between officers and the varying cultures in Warren.

"A force should be based on what the community (makeup) is. They would be able to relate if something transpires. It's only fair," she said. "It would save a lot of havoc in these departments."

Green said the Warren department has African-American, female and Pakistani officers and the bond with Detroit's force adds to that diversity.

"The law enforcement community is unified and working together. The bulk of Detroit staff may be African-American, and the bulk of our staff is white," he said. "When they see us working together for a common goal, you can throw that stereotype right out the window." (586) 468-0343

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Critics say cops too quick to pull trigger on Tasers
Police favor devices to guns, while others downplay benefits

George Hunter / The Detroit News

More than a decade after police first started using the Thomas A. Swift Electronic Rifle -- or Taser -- the weapon remains controversial.

Some say the weapons, which use an electric jolt to temporarily stun suspects, give police a nonlethal alternative to shooting. Others claim cops are too quick to use Tasers on people who pose no immediate danger.

And whenever someone dies in the aftermath of Taser use -- such as the April 10 death of 16-year-old Robert Mitchell in Detroit -- the debate is ramped up.

Authorities are awaiting an autopsy report to determine the cause of the teen's death. In the meantime, Warren Mayor Jim Fouts asked for a report from police about the incident and the use of Tasers.

"I asked for a report and a re-evaluation of the use of Tasers, but the police haven't finished that yet," Fouts said Thursday. He declined further comment because the city is being sued over the death.

Ron Scott, spokesman of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said police are too quick to reach for Tasers in situations that don't call for the weapon.

"Officers are supposed to de-escalate situations, and Tasers were originally meant to be used as defensive weapons," Scott said. "But they're being used as offensive weapons, in situations where there is no danger."

But University of Detroit-Mercy criminal justice professor Daniel Kennedy said the benefits of Tasers far outweigh the negatives.

"You have to weigh the risk of injury against the benefits, which is maybe saving someone from further injury," Kennedy said. "It's a balancing act."

Tasers fire two wire-guided probes that puncture a person's clothing and skin, and then shoots them with 50,000 volts of electricity. It causes an involuntary contraction of skeletal muscles and disrupts communication between the brain and the muscles.

Police are taught to use a "continuum of force" to control situations, the lowest form being verbal direction, and the highest deadly force. Tasers provide a middle ground, proponents of the weapon say.

"If Tasers are being used as police are trained to use them, then it gives officers a chance to de-escalate a situation without resorting to deadly force," Kennedy said.

The problem, Scott said, is that officers often use Tasers as a first resort, even in situations that don't call for it. In one case in Florida, police fired a Taser at a 6-year-old boy.

"You have people tasing young children," he said. "It's barbaric."

Scott said he encountered an overzealous police officer while waiting for a flight at Metro Airport.

"My watch went off in the metal detector and they detained me," he said. "I asked, 'Why are you doing this?' and the first thing he said was, 'Be quiet if you don't want to get tased.' That was his first choice."

One way to determine whether police are using Tasers properly is to mount cameras on the weapons. In 2005, Taser International, which manufactures the guns, introduced Taser Cam, an add-on that is mounted to the butt of the Taser. When an officer turns on his Taser, the camera starts recording the encounter. The devices retail for about $500 each. (313) 222-2134

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Anonymous said...

I dont understand how you can cry "racist" when it's cleat the Police are doing their jobs, This is the reason Detroit is the number1 murder state.

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