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Police, rain quell mayhem in Benton Harbor after 2 straight nights of riots Berrien County sheriff's deputies pat down a man in Benton Harbor because he was walking too slowly through town.
Berrien County sheriff's deputies pat down a man in Benton Harbor because he was walking too slowly through town.
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Published: Thursday, 6/19/2003

TENSION IN BENTON HARBOR

Police, rain quell mayhem in Benton Harbor after 2 straight nights of riots

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Law enforcement officers, dressed in full riot gear and some in armored vehicles, lined East Empire Avenue yesterday to subdue violence here after two nights of rioting.

But Mother Nature may have provided the biggest deterrence of all -- rain.

The neighborhood where a 28-year-old motorcyclist died after a police chase remained calm, if not quiet, last evening and Michigan State Police troopers and authorities from several jurisdictions numbering as many as 300 helped patrol last night.

Throngs of neighbors walked along East Empire, amongst police, passing the charred remains of a building at Pavone Street where Terrance Devon Shurn died when he lost control of his motorcycle early Monday morning. Most, though, headed for shelter when the rain started to fall about 6:30 p.m.

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Protesters had turned over and burned vehicles, set fires to homes, and pelted police with bottles, bricks, and sticks in two nights of violence.

No serious injuries were reported in Monday's unrest. On Tuesday night rioters shot one person in the shoulder and beat or stabbed others. A total of 10 to 15 people were hurt, none critically.

Benton Harbor City Manager Joel Patterson said 10 to 12 people have been arrested and charged with civil disobedience. One person was arrested on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon. No one has been charged with arson.

Mayor Charles Yarbrough came to the neighborhood to ask for calm along with ministers and civic leaders wearing yellow T-shirts so they could be easily identified.

Jomo Brooks, 27, watches police cars parade past with lights and sirens on to signal the start of a curfew. He wears a shirt with an image of the motorcyclist whose death sparked the riots. Jomo Brooks, 27, watches police cars parade past with lights and sirens on to signal the start of a curfew. He wears a shirt with an image of the motorcyclist whose death sparked the riots.
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Mr. Yarbrough promised an investigation into the police chase during which Mr. Shurn died, but urged citizens to obey a 10 p.m. curfew or they will be arrested.

“There is a long history of distrust between the community and the police,” Mr. Yarbrough said yesterday at the scene. “Terrance was the straw that broke the camel's back. What's important now is that we have to come together to solve this problem so something like this will never happen again.”

The chase started in Royalton Township in Berrien County when sheriff's deputies noticed two motorcycles traveling more than 100 mph.

An officer in nearby Benton Township picked up the chase after deputies backed off, reports stated. The officer, who is white, pursued Mr. Shurn, an African-American, into the center of Benton Harbor.

Three years ago, Benton Township police were involved in another chase that led to the death of an 11-year-old bystander, Trenton Patterson.

Mr. Yarbrough said Benton Harbor police don't participate in high-speed chases and questioned the need for an outside force to do so.

The accident that resulted in Mr. Shurn's death seems to be in question.

Benton Township police said their vehicle was several blocks away when Mr. Shurn lost control of his motorcycle and crashed. Neighbors said eyewitnesses saw the township vehicle closely pursuing the motorcycle and bumped it off course, causing the crash.

The Benton Township police vehicle did not have a video camera. Neighbors said news about the township police being involved in the accident spread quickly and angered residents.

“They just come here and kill people and don't take any responsibility,” said Wyonna Knight, who stood near the crash site with friends. “People are tired of it. [The riot] is the only thing they will listen to. Now that they are finally listening, maybe something can be accomplished.”

A man sitting at his home on Pavone looked at crowds of people along Empire and shook his head. “They don't even know the man and they're throwing bricks,” said the man, who said he worked for the city of Benton Harbor and didn't want to be identified. “If you really want to do something to bring attention to his death, why would you destroy someone's home to do that? This doesn't make any sense at all. It's stupid.”

During rioting Tuesday night, protesters burned down the building where Mr. Shurn crashed. The protesters also torched several other homes. Private contractors hired by the city demolished what was left of the homes and hauled away the debris yesterday.

Residents walked up and down East Empire observing officers with night sticks, riot helmets, and plastic shields.

The base of a tree behind the burned-out building at Pavone was covered with ribbons and balloons as a memorial to Mr. Shurn. A group of women carried hand-written posters protesting the deaths of Mr. Shurn and the Patterson youth.

The Rev. Maurice McAfee, of New Bethel Baptist Church, helped lead a group of ministers through the violence-torn neighborhood.

“We want to listen to the young people and their frustrations,” Mr. McAfee said. “We want to sit down and talk with them and try to solve some of these problems. We don't want another night of violence.”



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