News & Views » Politics & Prejudices

Awash in denial


News Hits normally rejoices when the daily competition in Detroit gets criticized for being unfair and inaccurate, but not this week.

Specifically under attack during a recent City Council meeting was a May series by Detroit Free Press writers Joe Swickard and David Ashenfelter. Among other things, the pair reported FBI statistics revealing that, between 1990 and 1998, Detroit led the nation’s largest cities in fatal shootings by police officers.

"The articles did not tell the whole story" and had an "unfair slant," complained Assistant Police Chief Marvin Winkler Jr.

What the reporters should have included, said Winkler – and Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair – is the violent environment (i.e. crime rate) in which cops must conduct themselves.

They have a point. The Washington Post included that info in its Pulitzer Prize winning series on the same issue a few years back.

But any way you cut the numbers, they don’t exonerate Detroit’s police force. And instead of admitting there’s a problem, Detroit police officials are relying on the time-honored tradition of shooting the messenger.

Second Deputy Chief Paula Bridges went so far as to say the Freep reporters "didn’t have any basis for their articles." Bridges also pointed out that the Detroit News, which ran a couple of stories on the issue, did not bother to ask the police department officials for an interview. But according to Norm Sinclair, a Detroit News reporter who worked on the stories, his news team interviewed Homicide Section Inspector William Rice. Sinclair also pointed out that Chief Benny Napoleon declined to comment because of pending litigation. (Bridges didn’t specifically complain about the Metro Times or Michigan Citizen, which both published articles about police shootings six weeks before either daily. Damning information reported in weekly papers apparently isn’t worthy of response.)

It didn’t take long for council members to pile on. Kay Everett flat out said that she doesn’t believe what she reads in the newspapers. And Council President Gil Hill scolded the mayor and department for reacting to "negative stories" by transferring police shooting investigations from homicide to the Internal Controls Bureau, which is already "overburdened." The media reported that the Homicide Section did not thoroughly investigate officers involved in fatal and nonfatal shootings.

As for Ashenfelter and Swickard, who also attended the meeting, the pair did what reporters do: They listened and took notes.

"We stand by the story," said Ashenfelter, when asked by News Hits what he made of the comments. "We have not gotten one call from one police executive challenging one detail in the series." Swickard had only this to say: "Democracy is a wonderful thing."

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.