Detroit — About 50 people gathered Sunday at the intersection of San Juan and West McNichols, the site of a recent fatal police shooting, to provide a “safe space” as residents called for curbing violence, healing and how to honor Black lives lost.

“This space is about healing. It’s low-key, where we talk about how to heal from violence in our community and honor the lives of the Black people lost,” said organizer PG Watkins from 313 Liberation. “We like to think of it as a sanctuary, where we can learn and know that change will only come about if we change our actions.”

The gathering, also organized by the Metro Detroit Democratic Society and others, is one of many, leaders said, that have been ongoing since June 19, or Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States. They gathered for food, music, reading of literature and praying for and placing flowers at a memorial to three lives lost in Metro Detroit: Shelly Hilliard, Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Aura Rosser.

Hilliard, 19, was found killed and dismembered in 2011 after a member of a regional police drug unit and Madison Heights officer reportedly exposed her as an informant in a drug bust. Aiyana was 7 when she was shot and killed on May 16, 2010, by a Detroit police officer when police raided her home looking for the suspect in a slaying. Rosser, 40, was fatally shot Nov. 9, 2014, after she confronted Ann Arbor officers with a knife.

Watkins said organizers are committed to continuing the safe spaces to have talks about violence in the community.

Watkins said Detroit communities are not seeing the same investment as that which funnels to the Detroit Police Department.

“The police have a $300 million, probably more than 40% of the city’s budget, and what does it mean to have $100 million more invested in schools or $50 million more in parks? Watkins said. “Small incremental changes could make a big difference, not just in the downfall of crime, but in our community.” 

Courtney Smith from Building Better Adults Detroit discussed what it means to defund the police and the effects of gentrification.

Smith, who moved to the Fitzgerald neighborhood, where the gathering took place, in May, said having four men killed by police in the short time she’s lived there doesn’t make her feel safe, and reforming the Police Department won’t solve the issue.

“There’s over-policing in some communities so that people sit comfy in the suburbs,” she said. “They are here to protect property, not people.”

Hakim Littleton’s family members joined the group on Sunday. Littleton, 20, was fatally shot by Detroit police officers on July 10 at McNichols and San Juan. During the arrest of one of his friends, Hakim pulled a pistol and opened fire on an officer, Detroit police said.  Police video shows Littleton walking up to the officers, reaching into the left pocket of his shorts and pull out a gun. He fired a shot a few feet from an officer’s head, but misses. The officer then charges Littleton, as other officers open fire.

“He was my nephew, but was really like my son,” said Dawn Fuller said to the crowd of 50 members from the Fitzerald neighborhood. “We lived together for almost his entire life and I want to thank everyone for their attendance and support.”

The group spoke about slashing of public programming and the federal agents being sent into Detroit in a Trump administration program. Others advocated for the end of the use of facial recognition technology by the police, and called for prosecutors to drop charges against protesters in earlier demonstrations. 

“The choke-hold was banned during Obama’s administration, that didn’t prevent them from killing George Floyd. The problem is there’s no one holding (police) accountable. Defund the police comes with a caveat of investing in our communities and ending inequality, that’s what people need to see.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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