Justice, Detroit Style

Let’s get one thing straight: the savage mob attack on a white motorist in Detroit by a dozen or more black men on Wednesday was not a “vigilante style” attack.

Yet that’s what Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones are trying to call it in a joint statement meant to play down the unavoidable racial element.  Says their statement:

Earlier this week, a traffic accident that injured a young boy, David Harris, escalated into a vicious attack on the driver of the vehicle, Steve Utash, who had done the right thing by stopping to check on the boy. This senseless vigilante style attack is not the essence of who we are as Detroiters and will not be tolerated.

If you haven’t heard about this, 10-year-old Harris, who is black, received minor injuries when he stepped into the street and was struck by Utash’s pickup.  Utash, who is white, stopped immediately to check on the boy.  From the beginning, the police have maintained that Utash was not at fault and had done absolutely nothing wrong.

But none of that mattered for at least a dozen or more loitering males, and perhaps as many as 30, all of whom are believed to be black, who attacked Utash, beat him within an inch of his life, and then robbed him.  Right now Utash is in critical condition, in a medically induced coma.

No one seriously regards this as a vigilante-style attack, or anything other than what it is – a black-on-white racial attack, no more deserving of the vigilante name than a Klan-era lynching.  Detroit media cravenly refused until Friday to mention the racial makeup of the participants, until it became impossible to keep it secret any longer.  On Thursday morning, the Detroit News was calling it an “apparent case of vigilante justice,” and Friday’s print-edition News headline again called it a “[v]igilante attack.”

Calling something “vigilante” is much less explosive than calling it racial.  So in order to paint that label on this mayhem, Duggan, Roberts, and the media have to compare this to an actual vigilante attack that took place in Detroit last summer, pretending the two events are part of a pattern.  But the comparison won’t work, and it only makes Wednesday’s attack look even more like exactly what it is.  As reported in the Detroit News, in last July’s incident:

... a group of men on the city’s southwest side attacked a man with a baseball bat in July as he walked on Vernor Highway. The man was believed to be responsible for the rape of a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome.

In that case, a 43-year-old man, who also suffers from a mental disability, was accused of luring the girl into his apartment and sexually assaulting her. The incident enraged residents, who spray-painted the word “Rapist” on the building where the suspect lived and distributed his picture throughout the community.

And just to clear this up, there is no pattern of vigilante attacks in Detroit; if there were, the media wouldn’t have to reach back nine months for the most recent instance of one.

More to the point, no one, including family members of the injured child, has dared to suggest publicly that Utash committed any similar crime to the ones allegedly committed by this other man.  No one has suggested that Utash committed any crime at all, or that he was even the cause of the accident.  Utash was attacked not because his "vigilante" attackers rightly or wrongly believed he was a criminal.  He was attacked because his racist attackers hated him for being a white man who accidentally hit a black kid with his truck.

The spokesman for the Detroit police, Sgt. Michael Woody, seriously expects us to believe that, so far as the investigation has progressed, “it didn’t appear race was a factor.”  Sounds sensible enough, so long as investigators factored out the facts of the black accident victim, the white motorist, and the bloodthirsty black men who did their best to kill the white motorist and then rob him.  Woody admits they’re not ruling race out completely, “but no one has given us a statement that was indicative that this was a racially motivated crime or anything to that extent.”  A statement?  Don’t cops care about circumstantial evidence anymore?  Do most hate crime investigations rely on assailants admitting their motives to police? 

Trying a different tack, Sgt. Woody blames the attack on pent up frustration from the city enduring “a number of hit-and-runs lately.”  Sounds sensible, except for this not being a hit-and-run.  In fact, not running was the proximate cause for Utash’s presently being in a coma.  Woody could more accurately say that a hit-and-run “didn’t appear to be a factor” in the attempted murder of Utash.

May I suggest that the members of this ad-hoc mob of neighborhood goons already harbored racial animus long before Utash’s pickup ever entered their neighborhood?  May I suggest that, after a lifetime of being told by community leaders, schoolteachers, politicians, clergymen, and countless other role models, that every one of them is a victim of racial injustice, and every one of them is righteously entitled to racial justice “by any means necessary” – that these punks spotted a chance for racial vengeance and took it? 

Well, it’s kind of raw and ugly to put it that way.  And it says more about what’s really going on in Detroit than just a lot of cool restaurants opening up downtown.   

What happened in Detroit on Wednesday is that a black child was hurt accidentally by a white man, and then a gang of racist thugs almost killed him, driven by blind, insane revenge.   

Mayor Duggan knows this but can’t say so, because his politics won’t let him.  He’s the first white mayor in majority-black Detroit in 40 years, and he has to watch his step.  As for the police and the prosecutor, I appreciate that they can’t make public declarations about motive yet, as they’ll eventually have to make a case in court on the evidence; they’re not free as others are to call this ugly thing what it is. 

But just because officials and media folks can’t come right out and call this what they know it is, doesn’t mean they get to call this what they already know it’s not.  No one has any right to label this as a case of vigilante justice when it so obviously is nothing of the kind.

Calling for calm and patience is one thing, but lying about this only compounds the crime.  Okay, so Duggan and Jones are politicians, this is Detroit, and we can hardly expect anything else.

But the media lying about it? 

Shame, shame, shame.

TR Clancy entertains himself and sometimes others at the Dearborn Underground blog.

Let’s get one thing straight: the savage mob attack on a white motorist in Detroit by a dozen or more black men on Wednesday was not a “vigilante style” attack.

Yet that’s what Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and City Council President Brenda Jones are trying to call it in a joint statement meant to play down the unavoidable racial element.  Says their statement:

Earlier this week, a traffic accident that injured a young boy, David Harris, escalated into a vicious attack on the driver of the vehicle, Steve Utash, who had done the right thing by stopping to check on the boy. This senseless vigilante style attack is not the essence of who we are as Detroiters and will not be tolerated.

If you haven’t heard about this, 10-year-old Harris, who is black, received minor injuries when he stepped into the street and was struck by Utash’s pickup.  Utash, who is white, stopped immediately to check on the boy.  From the beginning, the police have maintained that Utash was not at fault and had done absolutely nothing wrong.

But none of that mattered for at least a dozen or more loitering males, and perhaps as many as 30, all of whom are believed to be black, who attacked Utash, beat him within an inch of his life, and then robbed him.  Right now Utash is in critical condition, in a medically induced coma.

No one seriously regards this as a vigilante-style attack, or anything other than what it is – a black-on-white racial attack, no more deserving of the vigilante name than a Klan-era lynching.  Detroit media cravenly refused until Friday to mention the racial makeup of the participants, until it became impossible to keep it secret any longer.  On Thursday morning, the Detroit News was calling it an “apparent case of vigilante justice,” and Friday’s print-edition News headline again called it a “[v]igilante attack.”

Calling something “vigilante” is much less explosive than calling it racial.  So in order to paint that label on this mayhem, Duggan, Roberts, and the media have to compare this to an actual vigilante attack that took place in Detroit last summer, pretending the two events are part of a pattern.  But the comparison won’t work, and it only makes Wednesday’s attack look even more like exactly what it is.  As reported in the Detroit News, in last July’s incident:

... a group of men on the city’s southwest side attacked a man with a baseball bat in July as he walked on Vernor Highway. The man was believed to be responsible for the rape of a 15-year-old girl with Down syndrome.

In that case, a 43-year-old man, who also suffers from a mental disability, was accused of luring the girl into his apartment and sexually assaulting her. The incident enraged residents, who spray-painted the word “Rapist” on the building where the suspect lived and distributed his picture throughout the community.

And just to clear this up, there is no pattern of vigilante attacks in Detroit; if there were, the media wouldn’t have to reach back nine months for the most recent instance of one.

More to the point, no one, including family members of the injured child, has dared to suggest publicly that Utash committed any similar crime to the ones allegedly committed by this other man.  No one has suggested that Utash committed any crime at all, or that he was even the cause of the accident.  Utash was attacked not because his "vigilante" attackers rightly or wrongly believed he was a criminal.  He was attacked because his racist attackers hated him for being a white man who accidentally hit a black kid with his truck.

The spokesman for the Detroit police, Sgt. Michael Woody, seriously expects us to believe that, so far as the investigation has progressed, “it didn’t appear race was a factor.”  Sounds sensible enough, so long as investigators factored out the facts of the black accident victim, the white motorist, and the bloodthirsty black men who did their best to kill the white motorist and then rob him.  Woody admits they’re not ruling race out completely, “but no one has given us a statement that was indicative that this was a racially motivated crime or anything to that extent.”  A statement?  Don’t cops care about circumstantial evidence anymore?  Do most hate crime investigations rely on assailants admitting their motives to police? 

Trying a different tack, Sgt. Woody blames the attack on pent up frustration from the city enduring “a number of hit-and-runs lately.”  Sounds sensible, except for this not being a hit-and-run.  In fact, not running was the proximate cause for Utash’s presently being in a coma.  Woody could more accurately say that a hit-and-run “didn’t appear to be a factor” in the attempted murder of Utash.

May I suggest that the members of this ad-hoc mob of neighborhood goons already harbored racial animus long before Utash’s pickup ever entered their neighborhood?  May I suggest that, after a lifetime of being told by community leaders, schoolteachers, politicians, clergymen, and countless other role models, that every one of them is a victim of racial injustice, and every one of them is righteously entitled to racial justice “by any means necessary” – that these punks spotted a chance for racial vengeance and took it? 

Well, it’s kind of raw and ugly to put it that way.  And it says more about what’s really going on in Detroit than just a lot of cool restaurants opening up downtown.   

What happened in Detroit on Wednesday is that a black child was hurt accidentally by a white man, and then a gang of racist thugs almost killed him, driven by blind, insane revenge.   

Mayor Duggan knows this but can’t say so, because his politics won’t let him.  He’s the first white mayor in majority-black Detroit in 40 years, and he has to watch his step.  As for the police and the prosecutor, I appreciate that they can’t make public declarations about motive yet, as they’ll eventually have to make a case in court on the evidence; they’re not free as others are to call this ugly thing what it is. 

But just because officials and media folks can’t come right out and call this what they know it is, doesn’t mean they get to call this what they already know it’s not.  No one has any right to label this as a case of vigilante justice when it so obviously is nothing of the kind.

Calling for calm and patience is one thing, but lying about this only compounds the crime.  Okay, so Duggan and Jones are politicians, this is Detroit, and we can hardly expect anything else.

But the media lying about it? 

Shame, shame, shame.

TR Clancy entertains himself and sometimes others at the Dearborn Underground blog.