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A Call for Calm After Riots

Michigan's governor seeks reconciliation in Benton Harbor, beset by poverty and unrest.

June 20, 2003|From Associated Press

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — Several hundred police officers took to the streets to ensure another night of peace after Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for reconciliation and healing in this city plagued by unemployment and racial tension.

Granholm surveyed the damage earlier Thursday from two nights of rioting and met with city leaders.

"The state must wrap its arms around this community," she said. "It should never have to take violence to have elected officials pay attention, but we are paying attention and we are moving forward."

As night fell, officers were out in force for the second night in a row. Police cruisers with lights flashing rolled along the city's streets. Two state police armored vehicles and about 30 officers in riot gear blocked one intersection.

Monday and Tuesday nights, hundreds of people rioted in Benton Harbor after the death of Terrance Shurn, 28, whose speeding motorcycle crashed as police chased him into the city from neighboring Benton Township.

Several fires were set, police and firefighters were attacked, about a dozen people were hurt and 10 were arrested.

Police said the rioting caused about $560,000 in property damage, most of it to 21 homes destroyed by fire. Seven other homes were damaged, as were eight police and fire vehicles and two private vehicles.

Many residents said the death of Shurn, who was black, amplified tensions between Benton Harbor police, many of whom are white, and the predominantly black residents of the city, which suffers from poverty and joblessness.

Resident Brian McKinney, 29, said Thursday that he still sensed the frustration in the city of 12,000 people about a 110-mile drive from Chicago.

"I feel like the tension is still here," he said. After Shurn's funeral Monday "it might be a little bit more peaceful -- but I can't really see it changing too much right now."

Granholm seemed shaken after leaving the meeting with community leaders, which was closed to reporters.

"It was a powerful meeting because people got up and told it like it is," the governor said. "But it's the beginning of a healing process. There are many, many, many very good people in Benton Harbor and Berrien County."

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