From Tue Jul 1 10:00:07 2003
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Subject: wwnews Digest #656
Date: Tue, 01 Jul 2003 09:30:29 -0400

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Date: Tue, 01 Jul 2003 06:46:15 -0400
Subject: [WW] Why Benton Harbor exploded

Why Benton Harbor Exploded

By Jerry Goldberg, Workers World, 3 July 2003

Benton Harbor, Mich.—Benton Harbor, Mich., was rocked by rebellion in mid-June, after police killed a Black man. The rebellion brought into national focus the police brutality, racism and economic devastation that characterize this southwest Michigan town of 12,000 whose population is 95 percent African American—and many other similar communities across the country.

The Rev. Edward Pinkney spends every day monitoring racist treatment of Benton Harbor youths by the Berrien County courts. Pinkney led several community protest meetings against police brutality in Benton Harbor in the past few months.

He described the June 16 police killing that sparked the rebellion as follows. Terrance Shurn was riding his motorcycle in Benton Harbor when a police car began bumping the back of his vehicle. Shurn sped off to escape the police harassment. Another police car cut him off, shunting his motorcycle into a building.

The officer who forced the motorcycle into the building was a white cop, Mark Lundin. Lundin belongs to the Benton Harbor Township police force that encompasses some of the white suburbs surrounding this African American city.

As Shurn lay dead, Lundin and the other officer present reportedly gave each other high fives.

There are more than 40 witnesses to this event.

The alleged crimethat led to Shurn’s death was running a stop sign.

Many in Benton Harbor believe the police are now hard at work covering up evidence—repairing fenders, etc.

After Shurn’s death, some 200 people attended a regularly scheduled Benton Township Trustees meeting to register their complaints about police brutality. Many said they simply can’t take it anymore. They said they hope accounts about conditions here go out far and wide, because the experiences of the African American community have not been fairly or accurately reported.

Yvonne Diggs, Shurn’s cousin, described how he was loved in the community. Columbus Franklin, who grew up with Shurn, said that his friend, like many young adults,was ready to leave Benton Harbor because there are no jobs here. Seventy-five percent of the population is unemployed. Shurn was planning to move to Florida on July 1 to go to school there.


Shurn’s death, which occurred on a Benton Harbor corner where many young people hang out, sparked a June 16-17 rebellion by hundreds of youths. They lit fires, smashed police cars and fought off the police for two nights running.

The comments of many Benton Harbor residents made clear that this rebellion was not just over the police killing of Shurn. It was over the pattern of police abuse and economic devastation to which the African American community has been subjected for years.

The Rev. Pinkney described how 11-year-old Trenton Patterson was struck and killed while he stood on the sidewalk in downtown Benton Harbor in September 2000, in another police pursuit case that turned deadly.

Yvette Taylor, a lifelong resident of Benton Harbor, said she has seen years and years of police brutality and it’s all because of racism.

She told how Benton Harbor police killed Arthur Porter on April 12. His mother had called the police due to a family fight. The police came, put him in a choke hold and killed him.

She told how her cousin, Antoine Osby, was recently at an after-hours club when the Benton Township police arrived and ordered everyone to go outside. When Osby went outside, cops beat him viciously.

On July 19, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm came to Benton Harbor to investigate. Granholm, a recently elected Democrat, never once came to Benton Harbor during her election campaign.

At a town hall meeting, speaker after speaker testified that the root of the rebellion was the economic devastation that characterizes this city— coupled with the racist criminal injustice system that swallows up the youth.

Emma Hall of the African American Arts and Culture Council testified that the rebellion reflected the pain of unemployment, no health care and, for many, no utilities. She said, Because the leaders did not take action, the people took action themselves.

Belinda Brown told of praying for a State of Emergency for Benton Harbor to address the poverty. She offered the following examples: a woman who is living in a house that has been condemned for over four years but still has to pay $400 a month rent; a man who has not been able to find a job for seven years, despite a high school diploma and college; a woman whose water has been turned off in her home because she cannot pay the $200 water bill.

The only things being built, Brown stressed, are a new courthouse and jail to fill up with our youth.

While Granholm promised to set up a task forceto look into what can be done for Benton Harbor, the fact is that Michigan, like states across the country, is cutting funding for social programs and education.

On June 19, Benton Harbor youths held their own town meeting. Many brought hand-made signs protesting racism and police brutality and demanding jobs. They wore T-shirts in remembrance of Terrance Shurn.

Many of the youths had participated in the rebellion. They said they were proud to have stood up and forced the authorities and the country to take note of the devastation to which they have been subjected to for years.

At this meeting, Kevin Hunter, a local leader in the reparations movement, eloquently explained how Benton Harbor’s problems stem from the mindset of St. Joe. He was referring to St Joseph—the affluent, virtually all-white city across the bridge from Benton Harbor.

The situation is reminiscent, Hunter said, of apartheid South Africa, with Black workers laboring for their white bosses for starvation wages and then being sent home to Bantustans at night.

While things have quieted for the moment, the struggle in Benton Harbor is far from over. Despite the talk of reconciliation by Granholm, Jesse Jackson and others, the Benton Harbor police chief announced that the cops are reviewing tapes of the rebellion and will be preparing wholesale prosecutions.

This holds the potential of reigniting the struggle. The Rev. Pinkney announced plans for more mass demonstrations and community rallies in upcoming days.

There are many Benton Harbors across the United States—ready to explode in the period to come.