Police Brutality, Detroit and the History of Organized Intervention

by Tawana 'Honeycomb' Petty

Last week I witnessed what happens when police officers are properly trained in de-escalation and when community members respond accordingly. A scene at the corner of my street, which at its height had at least 12 police cars and 20-30 community members, ended with no lives lost. I am cognizant of the fact that decades of organizing, was at least partially responsible for how the officers responded to the incident on my street. I also have the privilege of knowing officers who joined the flawed system of policing with the hopes of making change within it, as well as the idea that they could somehow contribute to the betterment of their communities. Whether I believe that is possible or not, is less important than acknowledging that there are bodies within the system that at least want to make it better. It is, however, my belief that the system is worthy of indictment, and that those who struggle to keep it abusive, lopsided and unaccountable should follow.

When I think of current day community relations with the Detroit Police Department, I think of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and Peace Zones 4 Life. 

In 1996, the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality was founded by Dr. Gloria House, Marge Parsons and myself, partly in response to the killing in 1992 of Malice Green by Detroit police officers Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn; and based on information presented at a National Conference of Black Lawyers conference in 1996 on racial sentencing disparities where the topic of police brutality against African American men was identified as a potential organizing focus.

These words are a reflection from Ron Scott, penned in his new organizing manual How to End Police Brutality, which is available as an e-Book on Amazon.com. This book reflects on a lengthy history of community resistance, including the founding of the coalition and Peace Zones, as well as the establishment of the Detroit Police Commission.

For 20 years citizen-police interactions improved. With the emergence of Black command and control officers who acted in a more constitutionally-appropriate manner, police mini-stations, certainty of punishment for police brutality, and the establishment of the Detroit Police Commission in 1974, the strongest in the nation, Detroit saw a noticeable decline in incidents. The operating phrase then was not “community policing” - a phrase much-ballyhooed today-but “community control of police.

Ron's book also acknowledges the present and past history of racial tensions, as well as the legacy of Black officers who stood up in the face of police brutality for Black citizens, but were met with violence from white officers. 

The few Black officers in those days saw themselves as protectors for Black people who were brutalized. In fact, The Guardians was an African American police organization founded in the 1950s for specifically that reason. Fights actually erupted between White and Black police officers in response to the brutal treatment of Blacks by White officers.

Ron Scott's analysis in this book is important and provides a strategic map for how organizers and community members should move forward as we struggle to resist police brutality. It is a timely study for young and elder revolutionaries. Ron Scott has made it clear that the coalition is not against the police, but that they are against police brutality. That sentiment is further reiterated in his book. As activists across the globe struggle for alternatives to policing, and work towards building better community relations with existing police systems, they should make this book part of their libraries.

Be sure to visit www.detroitcoalition.org for more information about the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and Peace Zones 4 Life and attend your local Detroit Police Commission meetings and get your voices heard.

Posted on October 27, 2015 .