Although a compromise agreement has been reached belween the City of Detroit and the Detroit Police Officer's Association to avert layoffs of 550 officers, the memory of that May 9 scene in front of the Federal Building where hundreds of armed policemen engaged in rowdy disorder is still vivid in this community. And from all indications, it will linger for a long time to come.
The one good thing during the melee is that no shots were fired from the untold number of drawn guns as about 20 white cops attacked William Green, a 23-year-old black off duty officer. Green was taken to Detroit General Hospital and treated for cuts about the chest and head and a fractured nose. He was released later that night.
At least tour television and newspaper photographers were attacked by police, and cameras broken, in an apparent attempt to prevent their pictures from being taken. The effort was futile, however, because other photographers were taking pictures of those scenes, and the entire fracas was shown on the three major television networks and in newspapers throughout the country.
An estimated crowd of 1,000 police officers demonstrated around the Federal Building where a hearing was being held before US District Judge Ralph Freeman on the status of 275 black and female police officers who are paid with federal funds through the Law Enforcement Assistance Act (LEAA). Officers from other areas of the state and from as far away as Chicago were reportedly among the pickets. At one point. City Councilman Jack Kelley and David Eberhard joined them, carrying posters reading, "Real Affirmative Action - Fire the Mayor," and "City Violates Contract."
Nearly 200 officers stood crammed together in the back of the courtroom and listened intently until Judge Freeman cited the affirmative action relief the court had given female officers as a result of a suit they had filed two years ago. He said the officers paid with federal funds had no bearing on the city's financial situation one way or another, and ruled that the city could not lay them off. Therefore, white officers with seniority would be laid off instead. The protesting officers did not wait to hear the rest of Freeman's order, but created disruption as they stormed out, shouting insults at the judge.
AN UGLY FRACAS
It was shortly after they left the courtroom (about 2:30) that the fighting erupted outside. Green was standing on the steps of the Federal Building on the Lafayette Street side, a short distance from DPOA President Ron Sexton, who was in the process of giving a report to the officers when a beer can was thrown and it struck Green.
Recognizing the can-thrower as an officer from the 12th Precinct where he was also assigned. Green went down to talk to the officer, but was greeted with derrogatory epitaphs. Seeing that the effort was futile. Green turned to walk away from him and suddenly he was attacked. Someone shouted, "He"s got a gun," and Green was knocked to the ground as they scuffled for Green's gun that had tallen to the street.
A white officer in the Stationary Traffic Section, and a white police inspector, stood by and watched but did not try to stop the attack. Asked by a reporter why he didn't try to break it up, the inspector replied, "There were too many of them and I did not want to bring policemen on other policemen." Green was rescued by Inspector Reginald Turner, who is black, and a white officer.
Prior to the attack on Green, several of the demonstrators. who were seen making trips to nearby bars and returning with beer cans, began blocking traffic and shouting at people driving in the area. Some motorists were forced to stop their cars.
The reason given for the picketing, which was called by the DPOA, was that it was a peaceful demonstration against threatened layoffs of police officers. Mayor Coleman Young had much earlier announced that unless the officers agreed to waive their contracted pay raises for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the city, because of the heavy deficit it is facing, would be forced to go ahead with layoff plans. (The original number of police layoffs cited was 825, but Freeman's order has eliminated the 275 officers who are not paid by the city.) Young also asked the officers to take some days off without pay to help out.
Ironically, on May 9 when the fracas took place, Mayor Young was meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., to solicit their support toward his campaign to get federal money for this ailing city. Upon hearing what had happened, he said:
"When you have a police picket line and they're wearing sidearms (which is a requirement for Detroit police officers at all times), at which time does it cease to become a protest and become intimidation? That's dangerous. At the very least it showed disrespect. These guys who are supposed to be professional police officers became an unruly mob. These men are on duty 24 hours a day, and if they're acting as a mob. who's going to control the city?"
LAYOFF WHITE MALES ONLY
The layoffs to occur May 1, but Judge Freeman issued a nine day restraining order, requested by female officers, that prevented the city from laying them off. He said the nine days would give the city and the women plaintiffs time to come up with an alternative plan.
Subsequent to that action, two black police officers' organizations, the Concerned Police Officers Equal Justice and the Guardians of Michigan, also filed a Federal suit to stop the layoffs of black officers. That case went to U.S. District Judge Damon J. Keith. who issued a temporary injunction against the layoff of blacks. This meant that layoffs would have to be confined to white male olïicers. Soon alter, the Federal Building nielee erupted.
It was this deadlocked situation that prompted Judge Keith to call all parties together to his chambers. He acted as mediator during the bargaining sessions that ensued. The Lieutenants and Sergeants Association that was not confronted with any layoffs, but would suffer massive demotions in their ranks, agreed to the first proposal that came out of the Keith meeting. But the DPOA rejected it. Keith called the parties together again, and after a two-day session. June 4, Sexton and DPOA executive board membeis wljo were present assured Keith that they would urge the membersliip to accept the new proposal. The agreement was ratified by a slim margin of 50 votes - 1,833 to 1,783.
Under the no-layoff agreement, officers will take 14 straight-time days off without pay and 10 days off with pay, over the next 18 months. Those who work a holiday within the next 13 months are to receive 12 hours of compensatory time off instead of overtime pay. The LSA pact was amended to match the DPOA's.
Black officers, who had announced their willingness to go along with the mayor's no-raise offer at the outset, charged that the DPOA was not interested in representing black officers. They cited the makeup of the 4000-member organization's structure as evidence of biased intent. They said there are no blacks on the DPOA's 9-member executive board, and there is only 1 black steward among the 72 who make up the union's board of directors.
Citizens in the black community, and many whites, are well aware of the long history of racism on the part of some white police officers and the poor police community relations that has permeated throughout the city. Therefore, a large segment does not believe that the May 9 disorder was brought on solely because of Mayor Young's ultimatum.
There have been many cases to substantiate this opinion. But even though they know that such racism exists, those who watched the happenings on their television screens said they were appalled by what they saw. And several commented that it was fortunate that there was not a very big turnout of community people at the Federal Building May 9, because a far worse confrontation may have erupted.
YOUNG vs. DPOA
The conflict between Mayor Young and the DPOA showed evidence of surfacing almost as soon as Young took office. When the Mayor announced that affirmative action would be a top priority item in his
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program, as well as his vow to have a 50 percent black police force by 1977, he certainly rubbed some people the wrong way. Moreover, his stand on the question of residency was not well received by police officers and other city employees who prefer to reside in the suburbs while they earn their living in Detroit.
The residency issue is now in arbitration, and Young, who hasn't backed off one inch, maintains that if a person doesn't want to live in this city they shouldn't expect to work here.
Another thing that immediately alerted foes of his program that he really meant to follow through on all of the promises he made, was his quick action in abolishing the notorious police STRESS unit (Stop The Robberies - Enjoy Safe Streets).
His goal to obtain a 50-50 police force was affected last year by the lawsuit filed by women, charging the police department with discrimination against females in its hiring and promotional practices. The court ordered a halt to all hiring of police until the department could hire one woman for every man hired. This set the hiring program back some seven months, as the department set out to recruit more qualified women. who were difficult to locate.
Then by the time it looked like the way was open to begin hiring again. the huge deficit loomed ominously. In spite of the interruptions, however, there have been more blacks on the police force during Mayor Young's first 18 months in office than in the full 4 years any other mayor has served. Out of 5,191 officers, 1,018. or 18.79 percent are black. Three of the 5 Deputy Chiefs are black; live of the 17 Commanders are black. There are only 6 black Inspectors out of 56; 13 black Lieutenants out of 225, and 92 black Sargeants out of 1,178.
At the present time, recruiting has been halted, beeause of lack of funds. Thomas Farabee, who heads the departments recruiting section, says there are 1,150 male and female recruits ready to be hired, yet they can't do anything about it unless federal funds can be obtained which Young has been and is trying to get from Washington.
About 85 percent of the recruitment staff of 60 officers and civilians are being cut back. Farabee said. However, the officers will be transferred to patrol duty.
Despite the opposition to his affirmative action program, those close to him say Mayor Young is determined to continue in that direction. Police Chief Philip Tannian has been cooperating in that effort, they said. But they also said that Young fully understands the nature of racism and that perseverance is a must in doing the right thing.
Sgt. Fred Williams, who is quite an expert on the history of the Detroit Police Department, has cited on numerous occasions, in speeches and articles, the experiences he and other older black police officers have had, and they are not pleasant to hear.
CORRUPTION GOES WAY BACK
Several Detroiters are acquainted with the many incidents of police brutality in days gone by. They remember the old Hunt Street (Police) Station that was notorious for cracking black heads. Moreover, they remember the old "round-theloop" practice of holding a person 72 hours under investigation, and the person could be transferred from one station to another and another, spending 72 hours in each. That's how the name "roundthe-loop" was acquired.
Detroit's first real police force, called the Metropolitan Police of the City of Detroit, was formed in 1865, May 15. Everybody should know what was happening to blacks during that period. Police had a major responsibility to keep blacks in line, and that they did, except for some who were just plain stubborn.
That same attitude, only more streamlined, continued today among some white officers. All are not followers of those racist practices, however, but enough are to make it pretty difficult to set the record straight.
Coleman Young is the first mayor of Detroit who has squared off in a sudden death match with the Detroit police unions. A couple of other mayors have made an attempt but backed off when the heat was put to them. But Young is tougher than they expected him to be, and is viewed as a real threat to the old power. He got his training from the school of hard knocks from Black Bottom and on up to these days.
Many citizens have the same knowledge about police union power that Young has, but most have always felt that they couldn't do anything about it anyway, so some of them just rolled with the punches.
During a discussion last week, several old-timers cited incidents that occurred three, four and five decades ago, and how the top brass on the police department controlled everything, including the city. It was common practice in earlier days, and it still is among some of us who respect the wisdom of the elders, to be present at such sessions and listen.
They talked about Ben Turpin, the black cop who walked the beat in Black Bottom to which he was confined. After all, white folks ran the police department. But Turpin made good use of his limited area, they said. He kept the young black dudes in line, and the things some of our young people are doing today wasn't even heard of much less allowed then.
The conversation got around to the corruption scandal in Detroit in the early 40s when the suicide of a young white woman developed into an investigation when the complaints she had raised about police corruption had been 'white-washed.' That case caused the creation of the Homer Ferguson grand jury, they said, and the jury probe resulted in indictments and convictions of the mayor, a sheriff and a prosecuting attorney, all of whom went to prison.
They related how police unions had controlled and dictated what the policy would be for everybody, and how crime flourishes so well when there are corrupt cops. This is an opinion that is shared by many people in the community. Whether the police are corrupt or are turning their heads because of racism, it amounts to the same results.
FIGHTING POLICE DRUG TRAFFIC
In 1972, George Bennett, the present Deputy Chief in charge of the police department's Internal Affairs Division, was removed from the post of commanding officer of the 12th Precinct after he demanded strict adherence to the rules in the Police Manual. He was ousted because he insisted on the predominately white police force in the 12th following the police rules and regulations. Sound ridiculous? It is.
Since that time, Bennett, who is black, has devoted his efforts to fighting drug traffic and weeding out corrupt police from the force, whether they are patrol officers or higher placed brass. He was designated commander of a special unit by the then Police Commissioner John Nichols, and was promoted to the rank of Commander of Special Detail 318 last year by Chief Philip Tannian. During his designation period. Bennett's probe resulted in the indictments by a citizen's grand jury of 28 persons for heroin traffic, including 12 police officers. The case is nnw underway in Recorder's Court.
Former Detroit Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy. who preceded Nichols, said several months prior to his resignation that, "the record will show that there have not been enough examples of police officers reporting wrongdoing by other officers, especially superiors and commanders." He said the police haven't been doing their job as far as integrity is concerned, and "I'm fed up."
But apparently none have been able to deal with racism on the force. In 1973, they terrorized Detroit citizens, whose homes were illegally broken into and searched when police were engaged in the manhunt for John Boyd, Mark Bethune and Hayward Brown. Atty. Ernest Goodman filed suit on behalf of seven relatives of the three men in Circuit Court.
The case was heard by Circuit Judge Thomas Foley, who granted Goodman's motion to extend the class action suit to all Detroit citizens who might suffer similar harassment by police in the search for the fugitives. Foley cited the fourth amendment of the Bill of Rights, which states: "The rights of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation. and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."
In what was termed a "landmark decision," Foley ruled that Detroit police had violated the constitutional rights of citizens whose homes they entered without search warrants in their hunt for the suspects, and ordered an end to such invasions. Cases of brutality were numerous, not only on private citizens, but there were re ports of white police officers attacking black officers. One such case, that received wide publicity in April 1973, involved confrontations at the Fifth Precinct, where black officers charged that they were attacked and beaten by white officers.
A white police officer who testified on the side of the black officers was reportedly threatened and resigned from the force. There are many other cases. But since Mayor Young has created some 18 mini-stations around the city, many overt acts of racism have been minimized. Moreover, the climate is quite a bit better, because Young, in keeping with his campaign promise, has put more police on the street. They are visible, and the difference is demonstrated by the attitude of the people where these services are available.
Although the same situations do not exist totally in all of the mini-stations, several people in the area can be seen visiting the stations. A number of officers know many of their neighbors by name, and the people around there say they feel much more comfortable and safer.
Young's promise of 50 mini-stations has not been met because of the financial slump, but he has vowed that the goal will be accomplished as soon as the adequate funds are available.
"It's one good way to put a roadblock in the path of rising crime," Young said. 'Ive always believed that visibility of police officers will surely bring about better police-community relations. Where the people trust and respect their police, they will cooperate, and with that kind of relationship, we are bound to have a safer community for all the citizens of Detroit.".
Coleman Young is the first Mayor of Detroit who has squared off in a sudden death match with the police unions. Young is tougher than they expected him to be, and is viewed as a real threat to the old power.