City steps forward to counter racist letters

Eastpointe 010

EASTPOINTE, Mich. - We may be living in the 21st century and have an African American president, but racism still survives. It leads to intimidation and violence. Last week, African American families living in Eastpointe, on the border of Detroit, saw it firsthand.

Black residents living on Sprenger Street received letters threatening death if they did not leave the city.

When police arrived in response to an initial call about one of the letters, other residents on the street, 17 in all, approached them with similar letters.
Adding to people's alarm is that two days later a suspected arson took place on the street in a home occupied by an African American. No one was home at the time. Police said they found no direct link between the letters and the fire, but noted the suspicious timing.

What is different from an earlier period is that people of goodwill are not allowing these threats to go unanswered.

In a phone interview, Eastpointe Mayor Suzanne Pixley said, "We work really hard to make everybody feel very well-accepted in our city." She called the hate-fueled letters "horrible" and said the city was alarmed that anyone would dare to send a letter like that.

Eastpointe is a diverse community with 23 different languages spoken. About a quarter of the town's population is African American. President Obama won over 70 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election.

The mayor said, "Police and our police department chaplain went up and down Sprenger and reassured every single one of the residents that police are watching it very closely, that they are on top of it, and that they were going to find the person that did this." She said the city, community leaders and churches are participating in a number of activities to support the Sprenger Street residents and to reinforce the sense of community.

One such activity took place last Sunday. Members of the Immanuel United Methodist Church went door-to-door to deliver homemade cookies, cakes and pies to homes on Sprenger Street to show the residents they are welcome in Eastpointe.

On Tuesday this week, Mayor Pixley said, a meeting of Police and Community for Equality (PACE) discussed the incident. PACE was formed 11 years ago and Pixley says the group is "where city, police and community leaders from the churches and schools sit down on a monthly basis to discuss issues and have events that show more of a unified approach to community problems." The threatening hate mail was the main point on the agenda.

One idea discussed at the meeting was to hold a large picnic in a town park. The mayor said it would be patterned after the recent multi-church-sponsored "Praise in the Park" event that brought 2,000 people, a cross section of the community, together. Now, she said, they are thinking it would be good to "do something like that, without a church service, just to get people to sit down and eat and talk to one another."

Next week a local homeowners association has invited the police to come and discuss the hate letters.

Individuals are also spontaneously responding to the incident. A United Auto Worker union member in a nearby community sent an e-mail blast asking people to express their support for people in the neighborhood by e-mailing state and local elected officials (he included all of their e-mail addresses) "demanding they make sure the letter writer(s) is caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Pixley said the city has spent time developing an appreciation of diversity. "It has been taught both in the schools and in the community, the city employees and so forth; a lot of work has been done with diversity issues."

She also said Eastpointe, like many towns in Southeast Michigan, is being hit very hard by the economic crisis, from joblessness to foreclosures. The city is developing a range of programs including counseling and creation of a resource book to help its residents. "How can we work together," is how Pixley sees the town's responsibility to its residents.

The Michigan State Police, Eastpointe police, the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service are all working on the case. The mayor said law enforcement agencies made an announcement on Monday that they had "some suspicions and were working with it."

Photo: PW/April Smith

 

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  • It is wonderful to see community organization work for the benefit of all. Ending racism depends upon this type of organizing . it shows support and humanity. Most of all it shows love.

    Posted by Rev. Irving C. Jones, 10/05/2010 10:36am (4 years ago)

  • to john delaney if u look at the video of the incident it shows 3 black guys with clubs and one white voter who apparently was not intimidated (he went into the polling place). so what's the problem? and who was taking the pics? this sounds like a setup. another fact is the so called new black panther party consists of 3 people. and who is behind them? where do they get their money? this is just another radical right wing extremist propaganda ploy to divert us from our real problems jobs jobs jobs and extending unemployment insurance and stopping wall st from continuing to move our jobs to low wage countries. all working people need to stand together black americans , white americans , latino americans, arab americans, men women young old , etc. in solidarity jim

    Posted by , 07/20/2010 1:35pm (4 years ago)

  • maybe i read this excellent story differently i think the point is the overwhelming majority of folks in southeast michigan are in favor of all of us americans black white latino arab etc living anywhere u want to this struggle goes way back to the ossian sweet case in which a black american family defended their home in a mostly white american area and a racist was shot and killed and acquitted(sweet was defended by clarence darrow by the way)those days r long gone (in the words of ernie harwell) the fact that a white uaw member on his own mobilized people in support of open housing and for catching the racists and jailing them and throwing away the key says a lot about where we r and how far we have come on this issue. black americans live in every suburb in southeast michigan.this is a long way from the days when henry ford the first set up dearborn for white ford workers and inkster for black ford workers to obviously keep us divided so we wouldn't get together and form the uaw. in solidarity jim

    Posted by , 07/16/2010 3:28pm (4 years ago)

  • Good article. Such attempts to ethnically purge a town or community is much more common than one might think. A fascinating and infuriating read on this topic is Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism by James Loewen (author of Lies My Teacher Told Me). Also, this author has a website where you can look up possible, confirmed, and suspected 'sundown towns' state by state.
    One fact which many will find surprising is that 'sundown towns' are least common in the Deep South...the heaviest concentration of such towns is in the Midwest (with Illinois being a particularly egregious case study).

    Posted by Brad Janzen, 07/15/2010 8:43pm (4 years ago)

  • Are these the patriotic, God-fearing people that Sarah Palin thinks are so wonderful>

    Posted by Smarter-than-a-teabagger, 07/15/2010 4:13pm (4 years ago)

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