Harassment, excessive force, beatings and murder are some of the accusations city residents lodged against the Detroit Police Department at the public hearing on police brutality last week.
The Detroit City Council, which was petitioned by the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality to hold the hearing, listened to about 60 people tell their stories and demand answers. Detroit Police Chief Benny Napoleon was present, but did not address the specific allegations. He did say that it is "... unfair to make blanket generalizations when the appropriate level of force depends on ... individual circumstances confronting an officer."
Some of the most compelling testimony came from residents living in the 4th Precinct, which covers the city's southwest side and borders Lincoln Park and Dearborn. Cornell Squires said that on Oct. 23, a white officer called him a "nigger," kicked him in the chest and head, and arrested him. All this happened, he said, for asking why the officer and his partner were questioning Squires' 17-year-old son, who was talking with a friend two doors from his home. Squires also said that his 73-year-old father, who witnessed the incident, had a heart attack later that day. Squires filed a complaint with Internal Affairs and said he intends to sue the city.
Carol Bogden, an elderly white woman, said she was arrested by a 4th Precinct officer earlier this year when she asked why he was arresting a neighbor. The officer told her to mind her own business and when she didn't, Bogden said she was arrested. She also testified that her heart condition was aggravated when the officer drove exceedingly fast and then strip-searched her. She may sue the city.
Judy Roberts testified that in 1995, her then-18-year-old son was arrested for alleged disorderly conduct for talking outside a neighborhood church with friends. According to Roberts, the 4th Precinct police told the boys that they "looked like gang members," and if they did not disperse the police would "take their asses" to jail.
Some said that family members had been murdered by the police, including Arnetta Grable who helped organize the hearing. She said her 20-year-old son was shot and killed by a Detroit officer in 1996. Several others complained about the department's gang squad. "It is out of control," said one person, which brought applause from the 200 or so people in attendance.
Others blamed the rise in police brutality on hiring white officers to police a city where the majority of residents are black. But Councilman Ken Cockrel, who chaired the hearing, said that the testimony showed that police brutality crossed racial lines. "It's not just white on black," he said. "Those who testified were black, white, Latino, young, old, from all different backgrounds."
The hearing concluded with a statement from Napoleon. He read part of a police department policy, which states that "any use of unnecessary or excessive force is never justified under any circumstances." When excessive force is used, Napoleon said that it is "thoroughly and impartially investigated." He added that 64 percent of the police force is African American.
A second police brutality hearing is scheduled to be held in February.