It’s easy to become numb to violence when it hangs over your community like the smog over Los Angeles. Beyond the borders of Michigan, Detroit is well-known for its high crime rates. For those who live within its more dangerous communities, the sounds of gunfire and violence can become commonplace.
Russell Woods, in northwest Detroit, is no exception. On August 12, though, things went a step too far. On that date, a 90-year-old woman was attacked and raped. Within that same week, two other elderly women were also assaulted.
“The violators have changed the rules of the streets now,” says Raphael B. Johnson. “It’s a new day in the city of Detroit.”
Johnson has organized the Detroit 300, a group of 300 residents and outsiders from other communities in Detroit that now patrol the streets. They have two goals: keep the streets safe and find the people responsible for the rape.
Johnson is no stranger to community watch programs. He’s successfully run programs to find criminals before. But this time it’s different. They’re better equipped and committed. Cars are equipped with strobe car lights, video cameras, two-way radios, cell phones, flashlights and clipboards. There’s also a difference in attitude.
“We’re the epitome of desperation now,” Johnson said. “We’re No. 1 in crime, No. 1 in foreclosures, No. 1 in homelessness, No. 1 in joblessness.”
It’s a great thing to see people taking pride in their community. When the police fail to protect … When the police fail to investigate … When the police can’t do their jobs … that job falls to the people. And, in this case, they’ve taken that job seriously.
But there are serious risks involved with vigilantes taking to the streets, no matter how well-intentioned they are. When even good-intentioned people feel the power of taking on the role of public safety, there is no way to know how far they will take that power.
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