Dawsey: I Agree With Detroit's Chief About Armed Homeowners Defending Themselves

April 11, 2014, 1:54 PM by  Darrell Dawsey

Detroit Police Chief James Craig has set himself up for plenty of criticism since Kevyn Orr brought him to town.

His posturing following his hasty and ignominious flight from purported carjackers, the overblown claims of death threats, his “dope on the table” theatrics — Craig has the talent of a master chef when it comes to whipping up ado from scratch.

So yeah, I think many of the knocks against him are deserved -- even ones I haven’t leveled.

But to be honest: It’s tough fully understanding the recent criticism of Craig for supporting armed homeowners who, in a scary trend in and around the city, have been forced to shoot burglars and home invaders.

Contending that armed residents could serve as a crime deterrent in neighborhoods, Craig and other police brass have rightly reaffirmed in recent months their support for law-abiding homeowners who take up guns to defend their families and property. 

Ron Scott Takes Umbrage

Ron Scott, a local anti-police violence activist, takes umbrage. Although he agrees that Detroiters have a right to defend themselves, Scott excoriated Craig on Thursday for distinguishing “so-called ‘good citizens’ from the ‘bad citizens,’ suggesting individuals that shoot someone in defense of their home will have the full support of the Detroit Police Department as good Americans.”

Scott calls Craig’s remarks “incendiary and slanted,” according to CBS Detroit

“It is not the time to have us turn against each other,” said Scott, who was expected to speak on the issue at the Detroit Police Commission Meeting on Thursday. “We need to proceed, as the Coalition has, to rebuild neighborhood connections through ‘Peace Zones’ rather than promote ‘Free Fire Zones.’ What if an individual deemed to be breaking into someone’s house is instead an adolescent girl standing on a doorstep asking for help at 2 a.m.; or a police officer responding to a call? Would that “good citizen” have a right to shoot them from behind his door?”

Scott rightly encourages Detroiters to resist the urge to take up a frontier mentality on the city’s streets. No need to fan vigilantism.

And I suspect Scott, a former Black Panther and longtime community organizer, also is reacting to the sense of outright glee often reflected in public discourse when criminals – particularly black ones -- are gunned down. Indeed, there is something especially ghoulish about watching comments sections, social media spaces and blogs resonate with raucous celebration and back-slapping with every new report of justifiable homicide.

(Even some African-Americans join the back-slapping, commiserating with the rants about “animals” and “savages” and “beasts” in the “urban jungle” while naively and wrongly assuming that their law-abiding innocence somehow shields them from the contempt of those who afford blacks no such distinctions.)

Death of a 15-year-old

There is nothing to celebrate when, say, a 15-year-old is shot and killed -- even justifiably -- as appears to have been the case with Damontae Moorer.

Yes, such a killing may very well be necessary in defense of one’s self and loved ones, and yes, the relief that comes with rebuffing a threat to life is natural, not shameful.

But no kid’s mistakes are merely his own. In some ways, they belong to us all.  It takes a village to fail a child. And that is no cause for a party.

That said, though, I still don’t see how Craig merits criticism for supporting armed homeowners or encouraging them to defend themselves — even from teens.

Sure, his publicity-seeking can be grating. But on this, the man isn’t wrong.

If even misguided lives snuffed out justifiably are worth remembering, as I believe, then surely the lives of our senior citizens and single moms and schoolchildren and loving dads are worth protecting.

And if we know a resource-depleted DPD can’t always provide sufficient protection from the threats facing our communities, the very least that department can do is explain the options available.

Gun Are Best Option

Guns are, to my mind, the best of those options.

After all, even if the cops are only minutes away, what does that matter when you only have seconds to act?

Also problematic for me is the invocation of Renisha McBride’s death here.

As Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy explained when she brought murder chargers against McBride’s killer, there was absolutely no sign that McBride was trying to break into his home. Theodore Wafer had time to look out his door, see a young woman on his porch and call the cops.

Even the most ardent gun-rights activists agree that Wafer was dead wrong.

I’m sorry, but McBride’s slaying is not even close to the same as a woman pulling into her garage at 2 in the morning and letting off shots at a would-be attacker.

Or a mom warning teen burglars at her back door that she has a gun and then, when they stubbornly keep trying to come in, being forced to open fire.

Or a woman in her 50s having to shoot a man in the chest as he tries to climb into her rear window.

In the Moorer case, he and a young woman were breaking a window and trying to get into a home on the west side when the owner opened fire with a rifle. The young woman was injured. Moorer, an aspiring football player, died. (I can only imagine how traumatized the homeowner might be.)

Moorer’s relatives have contended that he wasn’t trying to steal anything but rather was helping a friend retrieve her things.

I don’t know. I do know, though, that when you enter anyone’s home uninvited and unannounced, you forfeit the right to the benefit of the doubt. You leave yourself to the mercy of whatever hatred, fear, anger or prejudice that homeowner harbors.

And you have no ground to stand on.

Increasingly, Detroit homeowners are afraid. And that fear has fueled a weary sort of anger.

Scott is a good brother with an admirable history of serious struggle, and I respect that he wants to ease those fears or, at the very least, keep them from morphing into irrational and needless attacks.

And he’s certainly right when he says Detroiters have to avoid turning against each other.

But when armed crooks decide it’s OK to come through a single mom’s back window to do her harm, the betrayal of our community has already been set in motion.

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