Benton Harbor protests police brutality
by JoNina M. Abron
Benton Harbor – Some 300 people from throughout the Midwest took over the streets of downtown Benton Harbor, Mich., on Saturday, July 12, in a mass march and rally against racism and police brutality.
Benton Harbor residents were joined by protesters from Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Indiana, Detroit, Muskegon, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Lansing and elsewhere in Michigan.
The march and rally was held in response to the black community’s two-day rebellion protesting the June 16 death of Terrance “T-shirt” Shurn, 28, a black motorcyclist who crashed to his death after a high-speed chase by white police officers.
Protesters defied an order by city officials restricting them to the sidewalks and spilled into the streets for the mile-long march mile from Benton Harbor City Hall to a rally at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph.
“We are here today in solidarity with the black community of Benton Harbor and the youth who rebelled on June 16 and 17 against years of racism and police brutality in this city,” said JoNina M. Abron, acting chair of the Southwest Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality. “We are also here to put the white racist officials of Berrien County on notice that they can no longer conduct business as usual. We have to continue the protests and work to build an even larger base of support inside and outside of Benton Harbor.”
Abron said the coalition is a regional organization that has been active in Benton Harbor for the last three years. It has held meetings with local residents and protests against police brutality.
Lorenzo Komboa Ervin, acting vice president of the coalition, said it was important to build a mass movement in Benton Harbor that reflects the desires of the people of the city. He said that like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists of the 1960s, the marchers were falsely depicted by local officials as “outside agitators.”
“Benton Harbor is a symbol of racism and injustice, just like South Central Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and other cities that have had rebellions against racist police crimes,” Ervin said.
Ervin gave the demands of the marchers, which include an end to police brutality and the prosecution of Wes Koza, the police officer involved in the chase that resulted in Shurn’s death. Ervin said the coalition supports the campaign for the recall of Berrien County Prosecutor James Cherry, whom Ervin accused of covering up for the police.
Ervin also said that the coalition is calling for an international boycott of the Whirlpool Corp., the economic power base Benton Harbor, whose headquarters are located here, and a boycott of the tourist economy of St. Joseph. Officials of St. Joseph, a popular tourist attraction in the Midwest, have “stolen all of the wealth that rightfully should go to Benton Harbor,” Ervin said. Over the course of time, he explained, the boycott would hurt the economy of St. Joseph.
The Rev. Edward Pinkney, acting chair of the Benton Harbor BANCO (Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers), said that he has been leading marches at the courthouse for almost two years to protest the county’s racist criminal justice system. According to Pinkney, Benton Harbor has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in Michigan. He is seeking the recall of several county judges.
Ron Scott, spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, recalled the black rebellion that erupted in Cincinnati after a white policeman killed Timothy Thomas, a black man, in 1999. “The people of Cincinnati have organized to fight police brutality, and the people of Benton Harbor can do it, too,” Scott said.
Other speakers included Arnetta Grable, a member of the board of directors of the October 22 Coalition, a national anti-police group; Fred Hampton Jr., of the Prison Activist Coordinating Committee and son of slain Chicago Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton; and Yvette Cruz, of the Comite Exigimos Justicia (We Demand Justice) of the Humboldt Park community of Chicago.
The march and rally was sponsored by the Southwest Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality, the Benton Harbor chapter of the Black Autonomy Network of Community Organizers and the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality.
In addition to the Comite Exigimos Justicia, the two dozen organizations and individuals who endorsed the march and rally included the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati, the Committee for Justice in Palestine at Ohio State University, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Justice, Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit and David Sole, president of United Auto Workers Local 2334, Detroit.
Distributed by HYPE, www.urbanrainbow.org/hype , email@example.com. For more information, contact Southwest Michigan Coalition Against Racism and Police Brutality, P.O. Box 19962, Kalamazoo MI 49019, or JoNina Abron at firstname.lastname@example.org.