By: Alia Harvey-Quinn, Director
On Sunday, June 9th, Pastor Barry Randolph, minister at Church of the Messiah, gathered the congregation to dedicate their new employment training center. The center is being named for DaMarkkus Washington, an eighteen year old young man who recently lost his life to gun violence. DaMarkkus was a regular at the employment center. He was preparing for his future. His family should have been planning his graduation celebration instead of a funeral. This Detroit shooting was one of seven that took place on the same night in May.
As the temperature increases, so does the violence in our communities. In response, a dedicated team of Detroit activists and clergy leaders have organized and led efforts to track down a serial rapist, board up abandoned homes, train community members in self defense practices, protected Pride Parade participants and worked to combat gun violence. Activists are meeting the challenge of violence with the same level of aggression that perpetrators attack victims–often with very little support, virtually no resources and almost no acknowledgment. This op–ed is an attempt to change that last part.
What follows is a personal account of events that took place in just one week on the streets of Detroit:
- On Sunday, June 2nd, after being asked to bury another young, promising parishioner, Pastor Barry Randolph of the Church of Messiah in Detroit, Michigan, focused his sermon on encouraging the people of God to take an active stand against gun violence. The following Monday he buried DaMarkkus Washington, a high school senior who died as an innocent victim of random gun violence.
- Wednesday, June 5th, activists Teferi Brent, Brenda Hill, Negus Vu and many others held a citywide meeting attended by roughly 75 grassroots organizations, community and faith leaders, public officials, and police representatives to create an emergency response to the recent string of women who had been found raped and murdered in various abandoned houses on Detroit’s east side. They went into immediate action patrolling Detroit’s east side in shifts, talking to community members to get intel about the serial rapist at large and partnering with public officials to develop an emergency plan for quickly boarding up homes.
- In alignment with community efforts, the Detroit Police Department focused intently on this search, dedicating manpower and cadaver dogs to search abandoned homes in the target areas. In just two days – on Friday, June 7th – the person of interest in connection with the serial murders and rapes was apprehended.
- On Saturday, June 8th, the community organization New Era Detroit trained over fifty women and children in self defense practices and handed out over one hundred safety whistles. New Era Detroit recently updated their street code and launched this campaign to keep women and children safe in response to the rash of serial murders of women on the east side of Detroit.
- On Sunday, June 9th, local activists met at the Church of the Messiah to pray with the congregation and honor gun violence victim DaMarkkus Washington as the church named its new employment center after him. Washington was helping to build the center at the time of his death.
- Later on Sunday, June 9th, activists and some members of the congregation proceeded downtown to march alongside and protect Pride Parade participants from a neo-nazi group which had harassed community members the day before.
These efforts were led by organizations and individuals such as Teferi Brent, Brenda Hill, Negus Vu and The People’s Action, Church of the Messiah, New Era Detroit, Blair Anderson and the Detroit Black Panther History Project, Detroit 300, Pastor Maurice Hardwick, Dhoruba Diallo, Ortegus Jackson, Minister Fuqua Bey, Nicole Smalls, Joanna Underwood, Meeko Williams and many, many more.
The time frame covered by this opinion editorial doesn’t begin to capture the complete scope of safety work being led by Detroit activists. This account is based on my real-time observations.
We all too often see headlines featuring the Detroit that is plagued by epidemic rates of violent crime. Especially with the weather warming, each Monday seems to bring an ever increasing tally. Detroit activists are fighting to lower these numbers and save lives while reducing incarceration rates. We don’t hear often enough about the anti-violence efforts are being led by community. Often by those who have been directly impacted themselves as victims or former perpetrators of violence.
I believe community involvement and strategic partnerships can make a deep difference in neighborhood safety. To further support community leadership, a two-day gun violence reduction strategy workshop was held in Detroit on June 28th and 29th with national leaders in criminal justice reform . The 11th annual Silence the Violence March followed the training on June 29th at Church of the Messiah, Detroit.