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  • Writer's pictureDeb Seaton

Save Our Children. Stop the Crime.

This column was published several years ago in response to a series of fatal shootings in Detroit. It is still a problem as the city continues to struggle to curb community violence.



By Luther Keith

Executive Director, ARISE Detroit!

Editorials declaring “where is the outrage” don’t stop people from killing people.

People do.

That’s why the reaction of Detroiters, along with law enforcement agencies, to the latest senseless shooting death is so important. We should NEVER accept violence as a way of life in our community.

We should not make apologies for it. We should not look the other way when it happens.

We should not make excuses for the criminals who are raping and thugging our mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children and other loved ones.

While all lives are important, the shooting death of nine month-old Delric Miller IV when his family’s home was sprayed by gunfire —following the equally tragic shooting of a 12-year-old Kade’jah Davis—was particularly heinous.

Children truly are our future. They are our treasures, our gems, and must be protected at all costs.

Kudos to the Detroit 300, leaders Raphael Johnson, Angelo Henderson, and the scores of other hit-the-street volunteers who have vowed to patrol in search of the killer. And law enforcement has weighed with Detroit police collaborating with the FBI, the bureaus of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.

Rewards have been offered through the Crime Stoppers program. Somebody knows who did it and somebody needs to talk.

To be sure, many Detroiters are outraged by crime. But outrage is not enough. Work must follow the outrage.

All over Detroit, in groups of various kinds, churches and others, people are making it clear that they are fed up with the violence. It is the kind of holistic community response that must be sustained and elevated.

But understand this – we may be fed up but the bad guys are not. The bad guys do not take days off and we should not either.

Yes, Detroiters are outraged.

In the past month, more than 800 people turned out for a Detroit 300 anti-crime forum. Longtime funeral home operator O’Neill Swanson led a motorcade for 20 hearses through the city to highlight the toll crime is taking on our young people.

For nearly a year, Detroit Pastor Ovella Andreas has promoted the 22nd of every month as a Day of Peace and Healing in Detroit, holding demonstrations and programs against violence in churches and community centers throughout Metro Detroit.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Police Chief Ralph Godbee recently hosted an anti-youth violence basketball game between Detroit police officers and young people. As part of that experience, the young people were counseled on doing the right thing and making the right choices.

An Oak Park woman, Ingrid Hatcher, has even taken to making random phone calls to Metro Detroit homes and urging whom ever answers the phone to refrain from using violence.

Yet, the violence continues, though overall crime is down in Detroit. That is all the more reason to redouble our efforts and renew our commitment to make all neighborhoods safe. Detroit has many wonderful assets and of late has gained a good dose of positive national publicity.

But to truly solve the violence piece, we need a “community values” transformation. This is much easier said than done. Gun violence is not just a Detroit problem or an urban problem. It is an American problem.

“We have to change the mindset of the young people,” said community activist Yusef Shakur, who has seen life inside and outside the prison system. “The values of the people on the street are not like your values. Violence and revenge are what they know.”

Raphael Johnson of Detroit 300, who like Shakur also has served time and turned his life around, agrees.

“It (violence) starts with a way of thinking,” he said. “We have to change their way of thinking and actions will follow.”

Of course, we aren’t just talking about teen-agers. Many, if not most, of the senseless killing in the city is done by adults, who have “beefs” with others, or simply want to resort to a life of crime to make up for their own deficiencies.

All that being said, there is still a lot we all can do. The first and most important rule is “not to give up” no matter what happens. And to remember that most folks in Detroit are good people who are doing the right thing.

A few months ago, I took in a little-noticed independent movie that was produced in Detroit. Called CornerStore, it captures a comedic day in the life of patrons and owners of a Detroit party store. In the closing scene, a group of neighborhood residents stand up and back down a gunman who threatens to shoot someone at a party.

This is not a movie.

Detroit, it’s long past for all of us to stand up.


Portions of what follows appeared in a commentary I wrote last year that was published in The Detroit News after a weekend shootings in Detroit. Here are some things we can do right now, some short term, some long term. Let me hear your ideas.


1. Continue to Mobilize the Neighborhoods. This is already underway in many parts of the city. An organized community is bad news for the bad guys. Forming block clubs, CB patrols are essential. Mayor Bing’s Catch the Spirit program and a number of community organizations, such as Black Family Development and Ravendale Community, are working on this.

2. Police on the Streets. The mayor has moved in this direction already with a number of initiatives. We should continue to look for creative ways to deploy uniformed personnel across the city.

3. Get the guns off the street. Access to illegal guns remains a huge problem. More gun buy-back programs, underwritten by corporate and foundation support, could be an effective tool in this effort.

4. Raise the volume on anti-crime PSA/media campaigns. Yes, I know we already have some of this in play – such as the 1-800 Crime Stoppers effort -- but they need to be bigger and louder.

5. Increase conflict resolution programs in the schools. Having “beef,” or a dispute with someone, is no reason to grab a gun and blow them away. We need many more programs in schools, churches and other forums to hammer this idea home. By the way, this is an area where many adults need help as well.

6. Bust the dope houses. The police are on this but we need more people like Minister Malik Shabbazz to point the fingers at these houses that destroy neighborhoods and lives and are at the heart of so much of the city violence.

7. Bring down the abandoned houses. The city has already knocked down thousands of these homes, often breeding grounds for crime, but many more need to go. It would be great if the business community would help with this.

8. Increase recreational opportunities and youth development programs. Among the best anti-crime programs are youth activities that expose them to positive environments, such as Selena Johnson’s Hollywood Golf Institute in Detroit or the Detroit City Chess Club, headed by Kevin Fite. Youngsters in these types of programs are less likely to be exposed to dangerous situations or to hang out with the wrong crowd.

9. Step up enforcement of youth curfews and anti-loitering ordinances. By city ordinance, 14, 15 and 16 year old youngsters should not be walking the street at 2 a.m. in the morning. Parents, this is for you. Too many of our local gas stations and party stores have unsavory types hanging around looking for the wrong kind of opportunity.

10. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Everybody know this, but working people – whether youth or adults – are less inclined to hold folks up. Local foundations have supported creating youth employment and need to continue do so. The small business community can be a great help in this area as well. Employment for those returning from the prison system must be part of this effort.

11. Graduate our students, continue to fight illiteracy. As we cut our high school dropout rate, we can cut crime. Along with reducing the high adult illiteracy rate, hovering in the 50 percent range for years, an education remains the best deterrent to crime and criminal behavior.

12. Stop supporting the culture of violence. In movies, music, television, videos and countless other ways, we embrace and glorify all manner of murder, mayhem and violence if it means making a buck. Our kids are constantly exposed this. It’s more than just entertainment. It is having a deleterious effect with some folks, not all, acting out these this madness on our streets. We can’t really change out community values as long as we open our pockets to the people who make this stuff.

13. Report our victories. This is where the often maligned media can have a major impact. I am not one to blame the media for the reporting of crime (there is an important public service role to be played on the issue). Local media is doing a better job in this area, but more can be done to show the successes of groups stepping up to change the community for the better. In doing so, others will be encouraged to become involved and be part of the solution.

14. Emphasize personal responsibility. At the end of the day, it all comes down to choices-- right ones and wrong ones, good ones and bad ones and the willingness not just to say “no more,” but the willingness to do something about it.

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