“Let’s do this in a peaceful way,” Ypsilanti pastor urges law enforcement agencies participating in gang crack down

I decided to take my lunch hour today and attend the press conference called by the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department on the subject of gang violence in Ypsilanti. What follow are my rough notes. If, after reading through them, you find yourself wanting more, I’d suggest watching the video at the end of the post, which, if I’m not mistaken, was shot by the Ann Arbor News.


Things are slow to begin… Word is that we’re waiting for television news crews to arrive from Detroit. I find a spot on the edge of the room, next to a table full of high school kids. I ask them what their interest is in this press conference and they tell me that they’re part of a group called Dedicated to Make a Change. Several times over the coming hour, speakers will point in their direction, reminding folks that Ypsi has a lot more kids working toward positive change than it does kids who are attempting to murder one another. [A speaker later estimates that there are only about 20 to 30 kids involved in gang-like activities in Ypsilanti.] The kinds next to me seem cool, interesting and engaged. They’re wondering what they’ll say if they’re asked to speak. They don’t get asked to speak, though. I get the sense that they’re relieved. I ask them if they’d like to come on the Saturday Six Pack sometime, and they say yes, so I guess I may have a chance to ask them sometime soon.

State Rep David Rutledge steps up to the podium. After confirming “evidence of rival gang activity” in Ypsilanti, he references a letter he’d sent three days ago to Sheriff Jerry Claydon requesting that the County increase police patrols in the City of Ypsilanti and take on more of a role coordinating the activities of our various local law enforcement agencies, all of which have representatives standing behind him. [It occurs to me that I’ve never been in the presence of so many guns in my entire life.] Saying this collaborative effort would essentially follow the template of the Eastern Washtenaw Safety Alliance (EWSA), Representative Rutledge then begins the process of bringing spokespeople up from the Ypsilanti Police Department, Eastern Michigan University’s Public Safety Department, and the Sheriff’s Office, each of whom stressed how dedicated their organizations were to seeing these occurrences of violence come to an end.

The first law enforcement person to speak is Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton. He paints a picture for the members of the media who are present… While the good citizens of Ypsilanti are participating in a “Stop the Violence” march last weekend, he says, bullets are flying across town between warring factions of young adults… He promises that the young men responsible will be found and arrested. While not referring to the two groups responsible for the recent bloodshed as “gangs,” he does say that they are “mimicking gang culture,” and “claiming territory” in a way that gangs would. He assures us that these groups will be stopped, and he names them. The two groups, he says, are called Rakk Life and Finesse Gang. Clayton goes on to say that there are people in the community ready and willing to support those young people who wanted to live in accordance with societal norms, but that, if people choose to engage in violent behavior, they well be dealt with. He then outlines how various agencies will be working together to increase their presence in the City of Ypsilanti.

By the end of the event, it should be noted, Clayton begins talking more broadly. His scope grows beyond just law enforcement. “You cannot enforce your way to a better community,” he says, noting that much of what we’re seeing today is due to factors well outside the scope of what he and other officers are able to handle. “This is a socioeconomic issue,” he says, before offering an example. “Summer jobs,’ he tells us, “would have helped.” He then adds that it had been summer jobs that had kept him occupied in his youth.

And that was one of the big things I’d come to the event hoping to hear… an acknowledgement of the fact that this wasn’t just about catching the young men responsible for these recent events and putting them behind bars, but ensuring that things like this don’t happen in the future by dealing with the root causes, like poverty, hopelessness and a lack of career prospects, in a substantive and meaningful way.

Walking into a room where a few dozen armed and uniformed law enforcement officers were lined up around the perimeter, I was concerned that little attention would be given to either societal causes, or potential solutions that didn’t involve heavily armed officers forcefully putting entire neighborhoods on lockdown. Thankfully, though, Clayton and others were quick to note that this wasn’t just about law enforcement. Clayton, in fact, ended his remarks by saying, “(Law enforcement) is just one small piece.”


Of course, we don’t know how things will play out on the street, and what might happen when our officers begin engaging with people, but I liked that Clayton and others alluded to the complexity of the situation, and at least attempted to frame the problem in such a way that enforcement was not presented as single solution.

Also easing my mind a bit, Clayton promised that local forces would neither “target” nor “profile.” Everything they would do in Ypsilanti, he said, would be evidence driven. Again, we’ll have to see how it works in action, but I appreciated that he was at least sensitive to the issue of civil rights, as were others who spoke.

I’m sure some will say that it was disingenuous, but I should add that I was also happy to hear at least two of the law enforcement representatives offer their condolences to the families of Keandre Duff, who was shot in the head and killed just after midnight on the morning of July 12, and Keon Washington, the 17 year old young man killed last summer. I wasn’t expecting to hear empathy for the families of these young men, who are both thought to have been involved in these warring factions, and I was pleased to hear it. [One of those to express condolences was Ypsilanti Police Chief Tony DeGiusti.]

County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, who was clearly more comfortable speaking to this crowd than the members of the law enforcement community to proceed him, had a few big applause lines. The first was, “We own this town and no one is going to take it. It’s our joint.” The second came just after he said that we needed more resources, so that we could do more in the community, when he raised his voice and promised, “Our streets will be safe, and our neighborhoods peaceful.” Peterson, who was surrounded by half a dozen other elected officials, also made it a point to declare emphatically, “All lives matter,” urging people to come together as one community, across the lines that sometimes divide us, in order to address these issues.

After a number of other speakers, Jeannette Hadden was called to the mic. Hadden, who coordinated last weekend’s “Stop the Violence” march, talked from her experience as a mother living in the community. “Our children need to know more than death and prison,” she told the audience. She said our focus had to be on showing the young that they have opportunities… that they can graduate from high school and be something. She concluded by saying that we, as a community, would “claw our way back,” and get to a better place. [Hadden will be joining me and others on the next episode of the Saturday Six Pack to discuss the community response to these recent events.]

And, at this point Alex Easley, pastor of City of Hope Ministries, took the mic to call on parents to do more to make sure their kids stay on the right path. “The root cause is in our households,” he said. “We’re not raising our kids correctly.” Easley said that it wasn’t just a matter of state spending in the community. The responsibility, he said, lies with us as parents to raise our children well, with discipline. And he noted that this happened in the ’80s as well, when rival gangs were prevalent in Ypsilanti, and that he could have met the same fate, if not for the involvement of his parents. [Easley seems to be very much a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of guy.” Case in point… He says our young people didn’t need to have jobs made for them, as they could create their own jobs. One suspects that his quote in today’s Ann Arbor News – ““Parents, I call you out today. Take care of your children and then you don’t need state funding to help you raise your kids.” – will earn him a lot of fans on the right.]

Easley also noted that he didn’t like the idea of law enforcement coming into our communities. “It hurts me,” I believe I heard him say, before urging the law enforcement officers in the room not to allow this to “become warfare.” “Let’s do this in a peaceful way,” he said. “We don’t need episodes like are happening in other cities.”

At that point, Marlene Radzik, police services commander at the Sheriff’s Department, attempted to assure people that there would be “no heavy hand” and that everyone would be treated “with dignity and respect.”

One just hopes that officers on the street are up to the task for balancing our civil rights with the immediate job at hand, which is getting these dangerous individuals off the street.

One also hopes that, once the bullets stop flying, the leaders who stood up in front of us today don’t forget their promise to get involved in a meaningful way and help our kids not only envision stable, happy, productive lives for themselves, but actually get there.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

[While one hopes that our local officers conduct themselves in the manner outlined by their superiors this morning, it never hurts to be prepared. If you have the time, please consider downloading the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app, which not only provides an overview of your rights when dealing with police officers, but also allows for the fast and easy recording and submission of police interaction videos.]

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  1. Posted July 23, 2015 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I picked the right quote for the headline. I think I should have maybe gone with Jerry Clayton’s, “You cannot enforce your way to a better community.”

  2. Posted July 23, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    Also, the reason I used the image of Ronnie Peterson at the top of the page isn’t necessarily that I liked his quote the best, but because the best photo I took was of him. If I’d had a good photo of Sheriff Clayton, I would have used his “You cannot enforce your way to a better community” quote at the top of the page. [update: OK, I added a photo of Clayton later in the post. I was able to grab a still shot of him from a Sheriff’s Department video.]

  3. Dave
    Posted July 23, 2015 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I think we have a really good police force and sheriff department with excellent leadership. I know and have worked with a lot of the Ypsi Police officers and they are just good people, hardworking, dedicated, professional, you can talk with them, they are informative and they handle on a daily basis a very wide range of calls, many quite dangerous. The wake up each day to help us and our community and they are quite good at it. It frustrates me that some people are so disrespectful and put blame so quickly on them. I don’t think these guys in our County deserve it. If they overstep in anyway, their leaders will aggressively address that, at least in our County. But it wouldn’t hurt people to just be nice and respectful to them, to say hi, to wave at them, talk to them when they can, and if in a situation, just make it easy for them to do their job. They don’t get paid to get shot at or take bullets, they will if they have to … they are on the same team as we all are. I am glad we have them!

  4. TJ
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    The “Stop Bully Cops” group said yesterday that they would be at this pres conference to “remind Sheriff Clayton, State Representative Rutledge, EMU Police Chief Heighes, Ypsilanti Police Chief DeGiusti, County Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, and representatives from the City of Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Superior Township that we stand in solidarity against police violence!” (https://www.facebook.com/weareypsi/photos/a.176044872416684.36245.165925446761960/941034865917677/?type=1&notif_t=like) Do we have a problem with police violence in Ypsilanti? Was there a confrontation at the press conference?

  5. Dave
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    There wasn’t a confrontation but they were basically warned to “be good” and not act like what has happened in these other cities. I don’t believe our Police and Sheriff are like that at all and I know the Chief and Sheriff strongly promote a very responsible and well-trained staff. I would have liked someone to say, hey, respect the police, work with the police, and remind everyone that they are there for all of us. It’s a two way street here. If we are collectively helpful and respectful, they can do an even better job.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    There is a respectful way to reference the specter of police violence without being accusatory toward local officers and I applaud Pastor Easley for demonstrating it when he asked officers to be mindful of their actions so as to avoid something like what we saw happen earlier this summer in Baltimore. IMHO this is better than calling our officers violent bullies.

  7. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    It is a blessing to a youth to be turned down for jobs and then to make their own work. Easley is correct– Ypsi/ Ann Arbor is a great place to live. The demand for services in this area is F’ing ridiculous. Enterprising and capable young people can easily help to fill the demand and make very good money for themselves. They need to believe and they need to stop listening to lies. Hats off to Easley.

  8. Kim
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    They’re clearly making a huge push. The police were out everywhere yesterday afternoon. I even saw a police officer walking down Michigan Avenue.

  9. Bee
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Thanks for being there and reporting, Mark.

    It’s a lot to digest and try to to figure out how to honor all the pain and hardship that lives behind the violence. A lot of dumb rhetoric (all lives matter, of course, but why use THAT phraseology when there’s a large #blacklivesmatter movement they MUST be aware of- and the bootstraps/discipline mentality is problematic, but I don’t have a cohesive point to make on that in this moment) combined with obvious good intention and the quote of “you can’t enforce” your way to peace really resonates with me.

    Again, thanks. I have so much I want to say but I’m putting on my cloak of invisibility for the next few days to reflect on all of this in our community (and others)- do you have a lust of the actions/interruptions/meetings relevant to these issues complied yet? I feel like I’ve seen several events for this weekend through next week- if anyone can put them in one place to share, I’d be happy to spread the word and get involved where I can.

  10. Krystal
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    You linked to the gangs and now I have fallen down a rabbit hole of terrible music videos.

  11. Krystal
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    To give a little more context, I do actually find it to be pretty fascinating. It’s clear these kids have a passion for their music (and unfortunate lifestyle) – it’s sad, however, that they are growing up without the love and support necessary to turn that passion into something positive. I understand that this is a cycle, and I hope that our leaders do keep their promises a and keep the momentum going to build up our communities and address this problem at the root. If we put more preventative initiatives in place, there will be fewer bad guys to catch later on.

    This is everybody’s problem! I need to do my part as well.

  12. Meta
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Channel 7 coverage:

  13. Meta
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Fox 2 coverage:

  14. Meta
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    More from Channel 7:

  15. Andy LaBarre
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I have many biases because of my professional and personal relationship with Sheriff Clayton (he’s a colleague and a good friend) but I am very, very glad he’s involved in this effort. He is someone who truly believes in community engagement and building. He’s the best person for this effort.

  16. Catherine D
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate all efforts not to demonize the young men involved in these dangerous and questionable activities. The two young men who have been killed were just teens, barely on the verge of adulthood; their lives could have meant something more, and their deaths are a loss to the whole community. Similarly with those who are still running around looking for trouble. They’re young enough to be turned around.
    It’s definitely more than a matter of law enforcement. It also means creating a community where young men and women have real options and good choices available for the short and long term.
    I am totally not an entrepreneurial person. But I would be happy to help out initiatives that would nurture the necessary skills for local teens and young adults. My own talents lie elsewhere, so maybe I should be seeing what I can do with those. At any rate–clearly there’s a need for programs to enable young people to make a positive transition to adulthood. It’s something that the whole city and county needs to address. Maybe there are already people who are tackling it, who could use some more funds and support?
    Thanks for your reportage, Mark.

  17. Chuck Warpehoski
    Posted July 24, 2015 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    I think sheriff Clayton’s leadership is key here. He has earned the respect of many in the community, including many who have been involved in criticizing police violence and mass incarceration. I heard from one such pastor that he will be out there on Saturday supporting the community outreach, and if he hears about abuse he will be one of the first to hold the officers accountable. Few law enforcement leaders are able to get this kind of support.

  18. Brad
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    It’s the perpetuation of the Police State and they know it. There is nothing responsible or proactive about this. Dave suggested “wave at them” … guess what … you’ll be in cuffs in no time for hindering their duties or insulting their masculinity. Call this conspiracy, call this extreme. But it’s what’s happening. We supposedly have rights yet we can’t even walk down the street or organize peacefully without complying with “their” orders. The time is now to step up and let their superiors know that they are civil servants … and not the military in a country they’re occupying.

  19. Demetrius
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    @ Brad

    How is there nothing “responsible” or “proactive” about what Sheriff Clayton and his team are trying to do.

    What would you have community leaders do instead?

    It seems you have conflated what has been going on nationally with what is going on locally, and they’re not necessary the the same thing.

    National issues of police reform, unequal justice, and the militarization of law enforcement are very real, and need to be addressed.

    That said, everyone who lives, works, visits, or owns a business in Ypsilanti deserves to do so free of the threat of gang violence and mayhem.

    It seems like that’s what our local law enforcement officials have been asked to do, and are trying to do.

    Yesterday, I walked around town, and it seems as if 99.9999% of people in Ypsilanti were doing just that – living their lives as they had done before.

  20. kjc
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    you can’t walk around town and know 99.999% of people’s lives. and the idea that national issues have no relation to local ones is absurd, as is the assumption that this person you don’t know has falsely “conflated” them. what is his experience? whose experiences is he speaking of? not the “wave at the police” crowd i’m quite sure.

    “National issues of police reform, unequal justice, and the militarization of law enforcement are very real, and need to be addressed. That said, everyone who lives, works, visits, or owns a business in Ypsilanti deserves to do so free of the threat of gang violence and mayhem.”

    at the national level many instances of “unequal justice” revolve around protecting white people and businesses from the horde. (you might wanna conflate these two ideas.) everyone knows nobody went crazy over gun violence till shots rang out on cross street.

    meanwhile in the Township, they’re enshrining housing against low income residents and renters in general. not that you will find the words “housing discrimination” anywhere in the piece. thanks for sussing that out Tom Perkins! Brenda Stumbo bragging about a “watershed moment” makes me ill. She probably wants to bring back redlining as well.


  21. kjc
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    *housing discrimination

  22. Dan
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the link kjc. The township leadership is awesome. They’ve banned panhandling and now section 8. More for you to enjoy in the city, since you like all of that so much

  23. anony
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Wanted to report back that I waved at every police officer I have seen since Brad made his grandiose statement above. Brad was shooting off BS. Turns out the Ypsi Police smile and wave back. All of them.

  24. Demetrius
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Apparently wanting to live or work in a community that is relatively peaceful or safe makes one automatically racist, fascist, blind to inequality, etc.

    Apparently there is no middle ground here – either you support the “rights” of wayward young men to to literally shoot at each other (and at innocent bystanders), or you support wayward police.

  25. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Brad’s statement seems out of touch with reality.

  26. Frosted Flakes
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Demetrius was being generous when he said B-RAD was guilty of just conflating.

  27. anony
    Posted July 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Demetrius – don’t get me started. However, if that is the choice, bring on the blue!

4 Trackbacks

  1. […] http://markmaynard.com/2015/07/lets-do-this-in-a-peaceful-way-ypsilanti-pastor-urges-law-enforcement… […]

  2. […] [More on the war between Rakk Life and Finesse Gang, and the community response, can be found here.] When asked what he, as Superintendent, intended to do in order to move things in a more positive […]

  3. […] about this once the bullets stop flying, and things return to normal for us adults. We cannot, as Sheriff Clayton said at last week’s press conference, just rely on law enforcement to lock up the people we perceive as being bad. That’s not who […]

  4. […] expressed several weeks ago by Sheriff Clayton, who told members of the press that, “We can’t just enforce our way to a better community.” It’s not enough to just lock up the kids with guns. We need to deal with the root […]

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