Lessons from 2003 Benton Harbor riots, help city from 'going up in flames' in 2016

Lessons learned from Benton Harbor riots in 2003

BENTON HARBOR, MICH. (WZZM) - Investigators are still looking into a police shooting of an alleged gunman in Benton Harbor.

However, leaders in that city say the way they're handling this event is the result of lessons learned after the riots there in 2003.

Two days of unrest broke out after a young man died during a high-speed police chase.

This week, 13 years after the riots, an officer shot and killed 28 year-old Darius Wimberly, again, leading to anger in the community.

Benton Harbor's mayor says he's taking steps to prevent a repeat of 2003. 

When a city is torn apart by a self-inflicted wound, all sides feel the pain; both police and the people they serve. 

"We  got guns put in our face by them (police) saying, 'who are you?', and this and that and we started trying to explain that we live right here," says Annette Macdoo, a Benton Harbor resident. 

"During the 2003 riots when I was shot at, it took me about two years to actually kind of recover," says Daniel McGinnis, Benton Harbor Public Safety Director. 

"They (rioters) were out of control and so were the police out of control," says Macdoo. 

"It took me probably nine months to realize I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder," says McGinnis. 

Sometimes what takes the longest to rebuild is trust.

"There's a reason there's two ears and one mouth and do more listening as opposed to talking," says Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. 

This week, Benton Harbor's Mayor remembers what sparked the riots of 2003. He says a routine traffic stop for a non-violent offense led to much more.

"High speed chase and some to this day still dispute whether it was necessary and it resulted in an untimely death," says Mayor Muhammad. 

Now, 13 years later there's been another deadly police-involved incident. Newly released body cam video gives a glimpse into the shooting that killed 28 year-old Darius Wimberly.

"We were able to see things that happened in 2003 and we're trying to prevent that kind of response in 2016," says Mayor Muhammad. "We wanted to stay ahead of it, so we contacted clergy, community leaders, we met with the family immediately."

At times, the city still appears divided.

"The crazy stuff that's constantly going on like the situation over here," says Macdoo. "Somebody is getting too trigger happy."

However, thinking about returning to the past is almost unthinkable for those who've been through it.

"2003 taught us that tearing up the city and burning it down doesn't serve any purpose," says McGinnis. 

Community leaders are spreading a message of unity and hoping voices instead of violence will prevail. 

"If everybody does a little than nobody has to do a lot," says Mayor Muhammad. "A key factor in keeping this city from going up in flames."

Benton Harbor's Mayor said the high speed chase in 2003 involved an agency outside of Benton Harbor. He believes that played a factor in what happened back then. 

(© 2016 WZZM)


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