UNITED STATES

Detroit police chief James Craig calls on people to have guns and fight back

Crime and a shortage of police has people opting to fend for themselves

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 9:14pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 9:14pm
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Detroit police chief James Craig has repeatedly called on "good" and "law-abiding" Detroiters to arm themselves against the criminals of the city.

His words have not fallen on deaf ears.

Patricia Champion, 63, a lifelong Detroiter, a grandmother and retired teacher, decided to get her concealed-pistol licence two years ago after her son said he was increasingly worried for her safety. Champion, a resident of northwest Detroit, mostly keeps her gun, a Glock 19 that cost US$600, in her house.

"That's why I got it, because I'm going to be in the house. Now, if somebody chooses to come in and I didn't invite you, between the Glock and the dog, you're gone. If one doesn't get you, the other one will."

Champion's fears of facing a threat in her home are not ill-founded. Besides having the worst homicide rate among large American cities, Detroit experienced 12,935 burglaries last year. With around 250,000 households, that means Detroiters have roughly a one in 20 chance of being burgled.

Wayne County, which includes Detroit and its suburbs, had issued 83,950 concealed-pistol permits at the end of July, meaning one permit for every 21 households.

The city, officially bankrupt, has 2,300 police officers but still not enough. Many residents feel they have to rely on themselves for their security.

For Rick Ector, a firearms instructor, it is simple: "You are your own first line of defence."

But that is not without conflict. This week, police chased and shot two men after allegedly seeing them illegally purchasing a gun, adding another layer of tension to a city already tense about guns and crime.

"There's a lot of stuff going on around here. We watch the news, and every day it's something," says Tanisha Moner, 37, a former hospital administrator.

When Moner was 17, she was raped and robbed at gunpoint. Four years later, Moner was attending Wayne State University in the city and working as a manager at a Burger King on the side. One morning, while she was counting money in her Burger King office, she was again robbed at gunpoint and left in the restaurant's freezer.

"Finally, two years ago I said, I'm either going to let my fear overcome me, or I am going to beat my fear. So I got my [concealed-pistol licence] in the event that something else should ever happen."

And if, as in the case of Patricia Champion, Detroit residents plan on resisting criminals, theoretically the law is on their side.

Michigan passed a self-defence bill in 2006, referred to nationally as a "stand-your-ground law". It removes an individual's duty, when acting in self-defence, to retreat.

Instead, it allows individuals who have an "honest and reasonable belief" that they are in imminent fear for their life, serious bodily harm or sexual assault to use deadly force.

Last November, Renisha McBride, an unarmed black teenager from Detroit, was shot dead by white Theodore Wafer on the porch of his home as she was apparently seeking help after being in a car accident in the early hours of the morning.

Wafer's lawyer quoted Craig encouraging Detroiters to bear arms. It didn't work and Wafer was convicted of murder.