Detroit is NOT a police state

The last time I checked, Detroit was not Russia under the KGB. Detroit is not South Africa under P.W. Botha where Blacks were required to have a special pass before moving around. Detroit is part of the United States, a paragon of democracy and one of the best in the world, despite the contradictions we often witness in this democratic experience called the U.S.A.
This therefore begs the question: Who in the Detroit Police Department came up with the idea of implementing a draconian four-day curfew from June 19-22 for all children in Detroit under the age of 17 not accompanied by an adult?
This curfew, if passed by the Detroit City Council, will be in effect during both the Detroit River Days Festival and the Ford Fireworks.
The optics of having children in this city move around with documentation or permission slips, the way South Africa was under Botha and how the KGB ruled Russia is a very bad idea, and its implementation is worst, plain and simple. At a time when conversations around race and economic access for Blacks are boiling up to the center, we don’t need any policies or actions that further create a racial powder keg and gives the false notion that Black children are so bad that they should be quarantined for several days from the public in their own city.
We just came back from Mackinac where race was a topical issue on the minds of business leaders. The leaders that I talked to on Mackinac Island the ones who often serve as patrons to the Detroit Police Department are concerned about the factors that gave rise to Baltimore. Others are worried that Baltimore ccould presage things to come in Detroit.
To have a curfew that will adversely impact the free movement and the freedom of association of Black children, in a city like Detroit, harkens back to an era that reminded us of strict segregation policies. Such amounts to racial profiling because in implementing such a curfew, the majority who would be affected are Black kids. This is not public safety at work. Such a proposal is antithetical to the democratic principles that should guide a constitutional agency like the Detroit Police Department.
” I think Ferguson laid bare a problem that is not unique to St. Louis or that area, and is not unique to our time, and that is a simmering distrust that exists between too many police departments and too many communities of color,” President Obama said in the wake of Ferguson.
Our police force should be working to build trust, not be an appendix to the history of distrust between police departments and communities of color.
The Detroit Police Department is not an occupied force and this is not Baghdad where young people should be under some form of strict monitoring for a festival that is supposed to be open to all families and children in Detroit and around the region.
One of the enduring legacies of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy under its former CEO, Faye Nelson, has been a Detroit River Days Festival that welcomes all families to the riverfront to enjoy the fesitval of music and a host of other fun and family-oriented activities.
I’ve volunteered two years in a row during the summer to read to about 200 or more preschool and kindergarten kids from different parts of the city who converge with their parents on the riverfront for a reading fest.
The Detroit Riverfront Conversavency was not created for some people. It was created for all people. The Detroit River Days Festival is supposed to give Detroiters a sense of pride and ownership at an event that is positive and has become a draw for the city during the summer. If anything, the festival should champion the diversity and equality of all attendees regardless of age.
If the Detroit Police Department thinks that the only way it can curtail crime during the week of the festival and fireworks is to impose a four-day curfew as if we are in a state of emergency, then we should all be concerned about the direction of the police department.
When Chief James Craig took the job as top cop, he and I had some conversations about his plans for a department where morale is low, some of which led to a crime town hall at Wayne County Community College District downtown campus that I moderated. He spoke a lot about residents’ safety and the appearance of feeling safe.
A four-day curfew is not the way to make people feel safe. Such unwarranted action goes against the grain of ensuring that children in the city have access to the activities that are geared toward giving them unique experiences in Detroit. The festival and the fireworks allow young people to explore uninterrupted the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
I like many others attended the festival last year as well as the fireworks. There was no cause for concern. That’s because there are hardworking men and women in the Detroit Police Department and Detroit Riverfront Conservancy security who ensured all of our safety. There was no need for a four-day curfew or overbearing law enforcement.
The last thing the police need to do is to create any kind of policy that suggests that Detroit kids are being treated differently than other children. This leads to racial animosity because children in Detroit are not the only ones who attend this festival. There are kids from all over the region there.
We cannot champion safety and equality of all Detroiters, while at the same time engaging in selective enforcement that underscores power and privilege for some rather than for all.
While the police must work to aggressively curtail crime and needs to do so during the festival and fireworks, it cannot at the same time be engaged in any action that suggest it is giving privilege to a certain group of people.
Already, we know that the Detroit Police Department has been fending off criticisms that its jurisdiction of protection has been mostly downtown intead of the neighborhoods. The four-day curfew only reinforces that notion.
The Detroit Police Department should be the foremost defender of equality, fairness and justice and the curfew has divisive implications. You can remove the bad guys without making everyone, including innocent young people, victims in the process. Given all that is happening around the country — Baltimore and Ferguson in particular — it should serve as a lesson in race and criminal justice reform.
Think about the image of Black children under 17 not with an adult being banned from attending the festival and the fireworks and detained by police while their counterparts in other parts of the region are taking part and soaking in the unique experience of the festivals. What does this say about Detroit? What does this say about the character of the city?
Detroit is better than that. The police department should simply withdraw its proposal and come up with more creative and effective ways to address crime during those two events without giving us any flashbacks to the KGB and P.W. Botha eras.
At all cost, our police department should avoid any appearance that it is enforcing a perceived inferior position of Blacks, an issue that has been the subject of study and research for decades by many scholars and advocates of criminal justice reform, including the late A. Leon Higginbotham Jr., the former chief judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
Whoever conceived the four-day curfew idea with great temptation for abuse can go back to the drawing board and birth an alternative idea with the rule of law. Such will allow the community to work with and accept police authority out of respect and duty, not out of intimidation and unlimited power.

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