For Release: June 18, 2003
Contact: David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106
Michigan Riots a Perception Problem, Not a Race Problem, Says Black Group
Project 21 Says Black Distrust of Police in Benton Harbor is Misguided
Rioting in the predominantly black city of Benton Harbor, Michigan after a fatal high-speed chase between motorcyclists and local police is being characterized by some as a "race riot." Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 disagree, noting that a distrust of the police as an institution that is held by many blacks is at the heart of this matter, not exploding racial tension.
"The rioters in Benton Harbor were motivated by a misguided perception that police are the 'enemy.' Benton Harbor is a predominantly black town with a black administration and a black police chief," noted Project 21 member Michael King, who grew up in northern Indiana - not far from the southwestern Michigan city. "This perception of the police as an adversary must change. The job of the police is to maintain order regardless of the race, status or wealth of alleged perpetrators. In this case, what should have been the capture of a speeding motorcyclist has been turned into a state of emergency that, from the outside, has been labeled a 'race riot' simply because the rioters are black. This case is not about race."
A Berrien County deputy saw two motorcycles traveling at over 100 miles an hour in the early morning of June 16 and gave chase. While the initial officer dropped his pursuit because of the speed of the motorcycles, another officer later resumed the chase into the city limits of Benton Harbor. With several blocks between the officer and the motorcycles, one motorcycle crashed into a building and killed its presumed driver. A vigil for the deceased that night later turned violent and began two nights of violence in which buildings were burned, police vehicles were damaged and police and firemen were assaulted.
Benton Township resident Evette Taylor was quoted in the local Herald Palladium newspaper saying about the police, "They harass us, they pull us over for nothing. We [are] fed up. When do you say 'enough?'" In this case, the enforcement of the law and public safety is being considered as hostile act against the community. Officers who overstep their charge can and should be dealt with in a formal manner. This occasion, however, was not an instance of abuse of power, and the reaction of many of the residents they serve was improper.
Project 21 members are available for comment on the Benton Harbor, Michigan riots and other issues affecting the black community. Please contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 for details.
Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or Project21@nationalcenter.org, or visit Project 21's website at http://www.project21.org/P21Index.html.
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