Detroit’s now infamous cops, Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn, were sentenced October 12 to extensive prison terms for the beating death of a black, unarmed “motorist” (person) Malice Green, some eleven months earlier (see “The (Last) Rights of Malice Green: Cops kill man; Community creates Memorial,” FE #341, Spring, 1993).
Budzyn’s final statement to the court advanced the typical Nuremberg defense word-for-word: “I was just doing my job.” Nevers took another low route, claiming, “I reacted to a situation which was not normal” (yeah, like this time there were a lot of witnesses). At the conclusion of the sentencing (Nevers, 12 to 24 years, Budzyn, 8 to 18), Judge George Crockett droned on about how Detroit demonstrated to the nation its unparalleled judicature, as if to encourage souvenir T-shirt sales.
The predictable media rush quickly proclaimed the worst was over. Broadcasts parroted each other by inventing these guilty cops as good apples gone bad in an otherwise sound police force. Reporters echoed how no one is above the law, how the judicial process basically works despite its flaws, despite failing to identify even one other instance where cops were convicted of second-degree murder in the line of duty. Like, now get back to work everyone….
At the scene of the murder on Detroit’s west side, where the neighborhood created a peoples’ memorial, a small, subdued group of mostly black residents and community organizers gathered the afternoon of the sentencing. They greeted friends and onlookers as if a funeral was just ending. There were no scuffles or near-riots as when the guilty verdicts were returned on August 23. This was partly due to the welcome absence of groups like the Revolutionary Workers’ League and their ridiculous recruiting antics.
At the memorial site on August 23, the tiny RWL sect thought they could “seize the moment” by waving red flags and screaming their way into a crowd of a couple hundred residents. Rehearsed chants for their hour of revolution were countered with shouts of “get-out-of-here-now,” by residents disgusted with this crass opportunism. As the repulsive leftists were physically repulsed, they vainly squawked back how they were the true revolutionaries. Thankfully, the RWL stayed away on the day of sentencing, either because they ran out of empty slogans or were tired of getting booed and kicked out by the community.
The fate of the memorial and the related community activism is in limbo. On this more solemn afternoon of the sentencing, there were no bullhorn battles, extended religious sermons or even calls for further action. The procession of news vans left before sundown. Unmarked patrol cars now seemed less wary of driving by the memorial which has undergone several informal face-lifts since it sprang up around the bloodstained sidewalk where Green was slain.
People continue to emerge from the traffic on Warren Avenue to view or take pictures of the memorial, but noticeably absent from the community wall facing Warren are many of the bolder statements once confronting the police and police brutality. Gone too are most of the haunting artifacts which made the site much more than just a roadside shrine, artifacts which included message boards for anyone to scratch a note or tack up leaflets suggesting how to organize and fight back. The easily identifiable portrait of Malice is now covered by a large plastic shield.
“Now the healing process begins,” declared Dennis Archer, the opportunist successor to Detroit’s 20-year mayor, Coleman Young. The operative word is process, as in institutional control. As in a process, a system, left unchallenged. As in a process of further weakening communities, a process where candidate Archer originally promised 200 more cops on the street before his opponent promised 2,000 more for their eternal wars on crime. As in the judicial process, the legislative process, the law enforcement process….As in processing humans as modern units of service (or if the service is deemed improper, processing humans to prison units).
Nevers and Budzyn have begun the incarceration process they had initiated for so many thousands of others in their lengthy careers. They will soon join the other 135 ex-cops in federal prisons (with their unique distinction of being the only two guilty of murder while on the job). Out of 15,000 police brutality cases from 1985 through 1989, less than fifty officers have been prosecuted according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
In Detroit, cases against cops killing in the line of duty are almost becoming a fad. Trial dates have been set for two black cops also charged with second-degree murder. Instead of flashlights and fists (as with Green), these cops merely pulled out their 40-caliber, 15-round Glock pistols to pump nine bullets into an unarmed Cuban refugee last April, only a couple of miles from the Green tragedy.
Meanwhile, police corruption hearings in New York and trials in Miami and Los Angeles make brief headlines, as other notorious cops like Stacey Koon and Laurence Powell get sent up for thirty months for violating Rodney King’s civil rights (as if most police work seldom violates civil rights). Each time, the process reminds most americans that the streets are still safe to do business, thanks to all the “good” cops, lawyers and judges.
In the weeks leading up to the Detroit sentencing, the thinly-veiled racism surrounding the Malice Green trial reached disturbing new lows. Klan-like vigils in the suburban perimeter of Macomb County (the predominantly white region nationally recognized for its large population of “Reagan Democrats”) helped organize petition drives to pardon Nevers and Budyzn. Some 40,000 signatures were handed over to the governor as the cameras clicked. Such blatant racism was further played up by media photos contrasting white vigils vs. black rallies, always an effortless sensationalism for the most segregated city in the country.
A common remark made at the Green memorial these days: “Maybe this will at least make the cops think twice before busting a few more skulls.” But most of the few dozen people I mingled with at the memorial October 12 seemed to want something more, something far beyond Never’s and Budzyn’s incarceration, beyond any legal process. A home-made tape blaring over a makeshift PA offered a clue. A local rap artist cried out about Green’s bloodied body, and using our rage to organize against the police and media machine, in images far more involved, far more real than any leftist recruitment rhetoric.
A fire still burns at 23rd and Warren, like the wood coals smoldering in the metal can warming my hands that afternoon, a few feet from where Malice Green refused to open his fist, his final act of defiance against the cops.
It is amazing the memorial still exists at all. Amazing too are the similar movements which refuse to die, which seek to free the known and the unknown victims of a brutal or indifferent process; like Leonard Peltier, Geronimo Pratt, Mumia Abu-Jamal, like the hundreds serving mandatory life sentences without parole in Michigan under the “650 gram possession law,” like the hundreds of thousands serving time as the record US prison population rapidly approaches one million.