PONTIAC - Comments by a councilman referring to the criminal element in some neighborhoods as "terrorists" demonize young black men, instead of leading to safer streets, says local activist Quincy Stewart.
Stewart called a news conference Thursday at City Hall to refute Joe Hansen's comments, as well as the City Council's plans to ask for funds from the United States Department of Homeland Security to contend with local crime.
"I don't want to minimize the effects of crime on anyone, but we have to be careful of this sociopathic mentality of the war on drugs and crime. Our black men are targeted by injecting the word terrorism with youth. It suggests they are evil, menacing .. therefore, you can treat them any way you want to," said Stewart, a teacher at Pontiac Academy for Excellence.
He pointed out that when major acts of violence such as the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh or the recent school shootings by white men occurred, the perpetrators weren't deemed terrorists, but mentally unstable.
Hansen, who is Caucasian, said some happenings, causing residents to fear leaving their homes because of drug dealers, gunshots and bullies blocking cars in the middle of the street, are acts of domestic terrorism and the city should request federal funds to cover the cost of fighting it.
His comments capped a recent council meeting where residents from west and north side neighborhoods expressed anger and terror regarding the drug dealers, prostitutes, pimps and lawless teenagers who prowl their streets.
Residents said they're mostly afraid to confront the troublemakers because they know they carry guns. There's already been retaliation, with some residents saying those who speak up get taunted and threatened. Two residents of Thorpe Street cited shootings with stray bullets that narrowly missed young children.
But Stewart said his organization, Detroit-based Michigan African-American Leadership Summit, wants to assure the council's effort isn't an "all out war on black youth."
"The youth in Pontiac have been completely abandoned and now we are ready to thrown them out to the National Guard?" Stewart asked rhetorically. "We've closed down all our community centers and recreation programs. There's very little for them to do and no place for them to work when they graduate."
"Operation Takedown" was carried out in late September by the Pontiac police and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency. The effort pulled about 30 drug dealers and felons off the streets and resulted in 69 arrest warrants. And since January, the Pontiac narcotics enforcement team executed more than 98 search warrants, made more than 800 arrests, confiscated more than $2 million in drugs and $150,000 in forfeited illegal drug money, said Police Chief Val Gross.
Still, arresting drug dealers and throwing them in prison isn't the solution, said Kenny Anderson, a Pontiac resident and co-chairman of the Michigan African-American Leadership Summit. He suggested job creation, job training, prevention programs and community dialogue, led by church and community officials.
Anderson and Stewart said they've been approaching the City Council with their ideas for the past decade.
"It takes the whole community to address this massive problem. There are more black men in prison than enrolled in college and that's unacceptable," Stewart said.
The root cause of drug dealing and crime in Pontiac is the struggling economy, he said.
"Most young brothers who sell drugs suffer from economic deprivation. They're disconnected from the labor force and are dealing dope to make money for diapers or because their mom just got evicted. There are just no jobs on the local level," Anderson said.
"People resort to doing bad things when they're not working," Gross added.
There have been 12 homicides this year.
Gross said he strongly disagrees with Hansen's statement.
"What does that statement tell businesses that want to do work here in the city?" he asked. "We're handling our business. The men and women of the department are working their tails off. They've been asked to do more with less."
"You could shoot a cannon down Thorpe Street and not hit a soul because it's been quiet. We did have a big effect."
There have been more than three dozen layoffs in the police department in efforts to balance a deficit budget. The community policing initiative that was lauded for cleaning up the city's streets was scrapped.
Voters will be asked Nov. 7 to approve a 1-mill tax to bring back 14 officers and beef up vice operations.
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