Detroit — Malik Shabazz tries to clean up crime one candy wrapper at a time.
For 37 years, Shabazz has been working to make Detroit a safer place, which he says can only be accomplished if enough people tackle quality of life issues like picking up the trash in a neighborhood park, as he did recently during a gathering on the city’s east side.
“When you take pride in your neighborhood, that has an effect on everything else, including crime,” said Shabazz, founder of the Detroit New Black Panther Nation/New Marcus Garvey Movement. “We have to take responsibility for our own communities. That means standing up and doing something, and every little bit helps.”
Shabazz is among the countless Detroit community activists who work, often without fanfare, to improve the quality of life for residents. In the nation’s most violent city, that usually means addressing crime, either directly or indirectly.
“There are many different ways of dealing with these issues, such as providing alternatives to crime, and things like utility assistance, help with jobs and schools — but it all starts with love,” Shabazz said. “We can’t solve these problems in the inner city without love. Jesus Christ teaches us that.”
Through the years, Shabazz has organized citizen patrols, passed out flyers about unsolved crimes and missing persons, and led protests of drug houses. He, along with motivational speaker and ex-felon Raphael B. Johnson and the late Angelo Henderson, a former Detroit News reporter and radio host, founded the Detroit 300 patrol group in 2010, after a series of home invasions and sexual assaults of senior citizens.
“A lot of people are running their mouths and not doing anything, but Malik has been out there, and he’s effective,” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said. “At personal risk, he and his group have stood outside drug houses and banged pots and pans, trying to drive them out of business.
“He’s been critical of the Police Department sometimes, but he’s also worked with the police when they’ve been sincere about trying to catch murderers and the like, and I think with the current administration, there’s no doubt he’s been a great partner,” Duggan said. “He can get out there in the community and say and do things the police can’t do.”
Movements like Shabazz’s can help make Detroit safer — even if their efforts aren’t always directly related to curbing crime, said Luther Keith, a former Detroit News editor and director of Arise! Detroit — a nonprofit that helps secure funding and provides other services to the city’s community groups.
“Any program that helps young people is an anti-crime program,” Keith said. “They’re not thought of that way, but that’s exactly what they are, because these programs are giving young people alternatives. Same thing with any program that does things like organize neighborhood cleanups — it’s all related.”
How police view efforts
Many police officials agree with the philosophy. In law enforcement, it’s called the “broken windows” theory, which holds that ignoring visible signs of crime and antisocial behavior creates an environment that allows those problems to fester.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said he appreciates Shabazz’s efforts.
“There’s no question, he and others like him have been a great help toward what we’re trying to do, which is keep this city safe,” Craig said.
The chief credits the efforts of Shabazz and others with helping the city avoid looting and property damage during a summer of protests over the death of George Floyd from a Minneapolis police chokehold.
“We’ve established strong relationships with groups like his, which is why, while other cities burned, Detroit didn’t burn.”
Keith said efforts to improve Detroit are often carried out in obscurity.
“A lot of times, these groups are out there working, and they get no recognition,” he said. “These organizations don’t have PR firms, so they don’t get much publicity, but they are as crucial to Detroit as anybody.”
Rashaan Mix agreed. The 46-year-old Detroit resident was one of about a dozen people who joined Shabazz recently in Dequindre-Grixdale Park on the city’s east side to search for possible witnesses to a hit-and-run homicide.
“I don’t care about fanfare; I love my city, and I love my people,” Mix said. “You see rapes and murders, and all these other crimes that go unsolved, and I want to help find the people who did it, so the families can have some peace.”
Shabazz, Mix and the rest of the small group gathered under a park gazebo to pray and eat hot dogs before passing out Crime Stoppers of Michigan flyers that offer a $2,700 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver who ran down 27-year-old Steven Radcliff about 1:32 a.m. on March 17.
Radcliff had just picked up a pack of Newport 100 cigarettes and was walking home southbound on Dequindre just outside Dequindre-Grixdale Park when a white 2011 or 2012 Ford Escape struck him. The driver sped away, police said.
“I just want to find out who did it,” said Radcliff’s mother, Beverly Winfrey. “I’ve been passing out flyers, and I paid for two billboards (enlargements of the Crime Stoppers flyers). It’s so wonderful to have other people come out to help. It means a lot.”
Winfrey’s longtime friend Dorina Andrews said the support is helping.
“When you’re going through what she’s going through, any little bit can help sometimes,” Andrews said. “I know it’s not the biggest story in the world, a hit-and-run, but the person who did it needs to be held accountable. Stand up and admit what you did. Ease this woman’s pain over losing her son.”
‘We’re responsible’ for ‘our city’
At one point as Shabazz addressed the group, a breeze blew a candy wrapper near his foot. He reached down and picked it up, along with other pieces of trash, which he threw into a nearby garbage can.
“The can is empty, and the garbage is on the ground,” he said. “How would you feel if someone dumped trash in your yard? This is our city. We’re responsible for it.
“My great-grandmother lived in a house in Virginia with a dirt floor, and she’d sweep the dirt,” Shabazz said. “We’d ask, ‘Why are you doing that?’ and she’d say, ‘I’m keeping my dirt clean.’ You have to be responsible for what’s yours.”
Shabazz said he’d like to see more people come out to events like the one at Dequindre-Grixdale Park.
“Sure, sometimes it gets discouraging,” he said. “I think all people get discouraged sometimes. But I get a lot of love, too. Elderly people come up and hold our hands, and give us cookies.
“I do this because I love Detroit, and because I’m a Christian,” he said. “Love motivates me. Love of my city, and love of my people.”
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