Police Resistance Growing In Detroit and Grand Rapids
First published on the Detroit News and Bakersfield Californian.
As police resistance grows in Michigan, including Detroit and Grand Rapids, police are using force against “citizens who fight officers or refuse to comply.” POAM President Tignanelli shares his insights. Read the full article below.
DETROIT — Cops across Michigan say they’re dealing with a rash of citizens who are resisting, fleeing or assaulting officers after more than a year of protesters calling for defunding police and accusing departments of being systemically racist.Law enforcement officials say many of these incidents result in cops using force against citizens who fight officers or refuse to comply — which prompts more protests.Civil rights activists say they’re not surprised more people, particularly minorities, are fleeing, resisting or fighting officers. They insist that’s the fault of police because they say Black and Brown people have been brutalized by cops for so long, they fear for their lives during traffic stops and other police encounters.Officers in Michigan’s two largest cities were more likely to use force during arrests last year than in 2019. Detroit police uses of force increased by 23% in 2020 from the previous year, with a 41% jump in Category 1 force instances, which involve fatalities, broken bones or hospitalization.In Grand Rapids, police say they made 58% fewer arrests last year than in 2019 because of COVID-related issues, while the instances of officers using force also dropped from 386 to 314 — but the percentage of arrests in which police used force doubled in 2020 over the previous year, from 3.5% to 7%.Police say the increased cases of citizen aggression — and the resultant uses of force — are continuing this year. Since March, Detroit police have shot five men, three fatally, after they reportedly threatened or attacked officers with weapons.“Some people will look at that and say, ‘look, the police shot five people in a month’ — but when someone’s shooting at you or pointing a gun at you, what is that officer supposed to do?” Detroit Police Chief James Craig said.“The fact is, we’re seeing far more aggression toward our officers than at any time in my career,” said Craig, who became a police officer in 1977.Mark Fancher, attorney for the ALCU of Michigan’s Racial Justice Project, said people likely are resisting or even attacking police because they fear officers will kill them if they comply.“It wouldn’t surprise me if people are resisting more, or not cooperating more, because they’re terrified of the police,” Fancher said. “Sometimes people may be making a calculation: ‘If I do what they say and submit, they may kill me, and I may be better off taking my chances trying to get away or fighting these guys.'”The Rev. W.J. Rideout, a Metro Detroit activist and senior pastor of All God’s People Church in Roseville, said that attitude is getting people hurt and killed.“You can’t fight with the police, or shoot at the police and think nothing is going to happen to you in return,” he said. “That’s just common sense.“The way things are going now, people are thinking that it’s OK to shoot the police because of the racial tension. Well, that’s never OK.”Fancher said he also doesn’t advocate fleeing or fighting police. “For the record, I think if people are going to gamble, they should gamble on complying,” he said. “But people think for themselves, and they may not feel that way.”Rideout said citizen-police interactions can turn violent because of prejudices on both sides.“It’s going both ways now,” he said. “People are being noncompliant, and they have an attitude with the police. A lot of times, the person that’s being stopped has an attitude, and a lot of times, the cop has an attitude. That leads to problems that shouldn’t happen.“Everyone has their guard up, and by doing that, they’re not thinking. They’re moving out of impulse; some out of fear, some out of desperation. When that happens, you can take a normal traffic stop and it turns into a tragedy.”Neviah Lewis, a 21-year-old resident of Detroit’s east side, said people may resist police for a variety of reasons.“Some are scared of the police, and some are just being defiant,” she said. “Maybe they’re trying to take a stand. But there’s a right and wrong way to do everything.“The police have the badge; they have the handcuffs, and the authority to arrest you, so even if you feel like you’re being wronged, you can’t take things into your hands at that moment. That’s how people end up getting hurt.”
INCREASED HOSTILITYCraig said three factors are driving aggression toward his officers: Pandemic-related stresses, “anti-police rhetoric” and judges granting release without bond to pretrial defendants, “which emboldens criminals, because they feel like there are no consequences,” he said.James Tignanelli, president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, the state’s largest police union, said officers across Michigan also are dealing with increased citizen hostility in many forms.“They’re not just shooting at us; they’re resisting every type of arrest,” Tignanelli said. “It’s almost automatic now when we show up. Everywhere I go, officers are telling me unsolicited that this is becoming a huge problem.”According to the Officer Down Memorial page, which tracks police deaths, 19 officers have been killed by gunfire in 2021 as of Friday, up 12% from the same period last year.As of April 1, according to the Fraternal Order of Police, there have been 68 officers shot, 16 of whom were attacked in 13 separate ambush attacks.Statewide year-to-date data for police use of force and arrests for resisting or fleeing police aren’t yet available, and 2020 statistics aren’t likely to be ready until June, although Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said state troopers have dealt with increased citizen hostility over the past year.“(People are) definitely more vocal toward troopers,” he said. “More people (are) fleeing for minor traffic violations. Our troopers in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint are seeing some stuff where drivers try and intimidate them or see if they can back down.”Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Dan Adams said “a lot of people are focused on the why,” “we’re focused on getting it under control.”“It could be that a lot of police departments held back on engaging citizens during COVID, and the message was that officers weren’t as active as before,” he said. “Whether you want to chalk it up to COVID, or anti-police sentiment, or whatever, unfortunately, we are seeing (citizen aggression) happening more often.”
GROWING FORCE USAGEGrand Rapids police in 2019 made 10,869 arrests and used force 386 times for a 3.5% force-to-arrest ratio, according to department statistics. Last year, that percentage doubled, Adams said.“In 2020, we arrested 4,612 people,” Adams said. “(That’s) down significantly, mostly due to COVID and not engaging as much proactively. However, we had to use force 314 times, which is 7% of the time. So, we arrested fewer people but they resisted and we had to respond with force more often.”Last year, Detroit officers’ use of Category 1 force, which involves death, discharge of a firearm, Taser use or injuries requiring hospitalization, was up 41% from 2019. All four other force categories also saw double-digit increases.One of the uses of force by Detroit police last year that drew criticism and protests was the July 10 fatal shooting of 20-year-old Hakim Littleton. In the immediate wake of the shooting, protesters pelted Detroit officers with projectiles and were heard on video threatening to escalate the violence.In response to the growing tension at the protest — fueled in part by social media posts claiming Littleton was unarmed and had been shot in the back — Craig released video that showed Littleton walk up to an officer and fire shots at his head before continuing to fire after he fell to the ground. Officers returned fire, killing him.Police were at the scene near McNichols and San Juan on the city’s west side to investigate a shooting at a block party five days earlier that left three people dead and five others wounded.In April, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced no officers would be charged in Littleton’s killing. She said she determined the officers who shot Littleton “acted with lawful self-defense and in defense of others.”“People need to look at that and think about why (Littleton) would do such a thing,” Fancher said. “Those officers were in that neighborhood to place one young man under arrest, and they sent in a virtual army of officers.“That’s an intimidating and terrifying sight, especially in a community where there’s already tension between the community and the police,” Fancher said.“Maybe if the officers had a good relationship with the people in the neighborhood and this young man’s family, one officer could’ve made a phone call to Mom and Dad to tell them, ‘Junior’s got a warrant; can you have him ready for us to pick him up?’ That way, it wouldn’t be necessary to send in an army,” Fancher said.Craig replied: “That’s an absurd response. When you hear statements like that, the victims are never talked about. We were in that neighborhood because eight people had been shot. What about those victims and their families?”
A VICIOUS CYCLEPolice say combative citizens start a vicious cycle because when officers respond with force, the community blames the officers. One such instance is being claimed by Grand Rapids police in response to social media outrage over a video of a March 26 traffic stop that included a White officer punching a Black motorist in the face.Police said in an April 21 press release they had no choice but to use force against 25-year-old Diabate Hood because they say he grabbed at an officer’s gun. Four illegal guns were confiscated from Hood’s car.Hood’s attorney, Tyrone Bynum, called the claim against his client “a bald-faced lie.”“He never went after any officer’s gun,” Bynum said. “They were punching him in the face, and saying ‘stop resisting’ while he was trying to protect his face.”The incident started, police say, when officers stopped the vehicle for a littering violation.Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said in an April 29 statement that one of the car’s occupants was “making movements under his seat. The passenger was removed from the car legally, safely and without force.”The video, which presents two angles from officers’ body-worn cameras, shows police officers telling Hood multiple times to get out of his vehicle.Hood, sitting in the driver’s seat, repeatedly refuses the officers’ orders to exit his car before he suddenly bolts across the seat toward the open passenger’s-side door. Officers tackle Hood and pull him from the car.As the cops and Hood struggle, one camera angle shows an officer repeatedly punching Hood in the face as Hood screams, “I didn’t do nothing.”Prior to the punches, another angle shows Hood briefly reach into his pocket as officers try to pull him from the car. Seconds later, as Hood and the officers wrestle, Hood’s hand is seen reaching toward an officer’s belt. The officer tells Hood to stop grabbing him.In the press release, police said Hood attempted “to disarm an officer during the incident. Force was deemed necessary to stop the threat and effect the arrest.”Hood was later charged with crimes, including attempting to disarm a police officer, a four-year felony.“I am very sympathetic to the fact that the use of force by police officers, in any manner, can be disturbing for the public to see,” Payne said. “I also feel very strongly that my officers exhibit tremendous discretion in determining when force is required, and that they use the verbal commands and de-escalation techniques they have been trained on before resorting to physical engagement or other use of force.”Bynum said police are lying about the incident.“This is what they do: They change the narrative, and try to get people to interpret the video differently than what it shows,” he said. “What I saw were overzealous police officers abusing their authority.”Bynum acknowledged his client tried to bolt out of his car’s passenger’s-side door but added: “He became afraid of the police.“Young Black men have been afraid of the police for years,” he said. “I’ve been afraid of the police. Nothing has changed — except people are filming them now, and everyone can see what they do.”
DANGEROUS ATTITUDEIn addition to shooting, resisting, fighting or fleeing officers, more people are taunting them, Tignanelli said.“We’re seeing ‘drones,’ which is one car following another vehicle,” he said. “One driver will break traffic laws, maybe go 10-20 mph over the limit so they’ll get pulled over. Then, the people in the trailing vehicle can record the officer on their phones. They’re taunting them, and trying to distract them.”Tignanelli and Craig blamed rhetoric by Democratic U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters of California and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit for some citizens’ confrontational attitudes toward police.Before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the May 25 choking death of George Floyd, Waters said: “We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”Tlaib earlier this month tweeted that policing in the United States is “intentionally racist” and “can’t be reformed” after 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who was Black, was shot by White former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb. Potter, who reportedly mistook her pistol for her Taser, resigned and has been charged with manslaughter.“People like that have taken what I believe is an honorable occupation, and because of a few unfortunate incidents, made us all out to be monsters,” Tignanelli said. “In Michigan, we have more than 12 million citizen contacts a year, with very few problems.”“But some people, they act like we’re out to kill everyone,” he said. “Anyone under age 21 must think this is the worst profession in the world.”Rideout said that’s a dangerous attitude.“There are a tiny fraction of racist, murdering cops, but you can’t go around saying they’re all like that, because it’s not true,” he said. “When police do wrong, we call them out — but when you go around demonizing all officers, that puts them in danger.”Fancher insists police need to change before the situation improves.“The police are stuck in a method of policing where the idea is that all these Black and Brown people are animals,” he said. “The thinking is, ‘they’re criminals and when you come in contact with one of them, let them know who’s boss.’“It’s hard to dislodge this problem. But the ball is in the police’s court. They need to change that way of thinking. We’ve got an explosive situation out here, and it’s only going to get worse if they don’t.”