By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
On July 6 in the suburb of Eastpointe, located right outside Detroit, 17 mainly African-American households received a duplicate handwritten letter demanding that they move out of the city or face death. The community has been undergoing a rapid demographic shift, with at least 20 African-American families moving onto Sprenger Avenue over the last several months.
Two days later, one of the residents, whose address had been noted in the racist diatribe, fell victim to a break-in and the setting of fires in two separate rooms of the house. The resident’s sister happened to go by the home to meet the landlord. When the door was opened, smoke billowed out.
After the fire department and police were summoned, an investigation revealed that the blazes were deliberately set. A resident of Sprenger Avenue who wished to remain anonymous told Workers World that if the sister of the occupant had not arrived, the entire residence could have been severely damaged.
Nevertheless, the local police and fire departments, along with the FBI — all of whom have been involved in the investigations surrounding the racist letters and the fire — have been reluctant to label the attack as arson. Residents of the area think otherwise.
An African American who has lived on the avenue for nearly two years told Workers World that between 20 and 25 African-American families had moved there just over the last two months. Also, when police arrived at the home where the arson attack took place, the person who rents the house was placed in a police car and questioned for two hours, as if he was a suspect in the fire.
“The man was eventually released because there was nothing they could hold him for in regard to the fire. I received the racist letter and was deeply disturbed by the language, which referred to African Americans in derogatory terms and threatened us with death if we did not move on the other side of Eight Mile Road,” the resident said, referring to the boundary with Detroit.
On July 11, Robert Robinson II, a Detroiter with relatives on Strenger Avenue in Eastpointe, called for people of all races to gather in the area to express their outrage at these racist provocations. Robinson called into the “Fighting for Justice” radio program and has made appeals on Facebook for people throughout the region to support the African-American residents of Eastpointe.
“I do not live in Eastpointe,” Robinson told Workers World, “but my cousin stays on this street and I am going to do everything possible to make sure that she is not harmed.” Robinson also talked to reporters from the local affiliates of Fox and ABC News about the atmosphere prevailing in the neighborhood: “People are afraid to come out because they feel threatened. They do not know who is really behind these incidents.”
Imara Scott, who lives on another street in Eastpointe and moved into the suburb less than a year ago, said people should not be intimidated by the threats and should make it clear that they have no intentions of leaving.
“Ignorance is still alive and well,” Scott said. “It could be an individual or an organization. What bothers me is that this is being done in secret.”
A white woman who lives on the avenue came out to express her solidarity with the African-American residents. She brought cold drinks for people standing outside the firebombed home in near-90-degree weather.
She said, “My kids are Latino. We are a diverse and peaceful community. The mayor of Eastpointe has not been out here. It’s hard economic times and everyone is hurting.”
Police and FBI agents have confiscated some of the letters from the residents. One resident said she immediately turned over her letter to the FBI, which has refused to return it. “I should have made a copy for myself,” she said.
Law-enforcement officials say that they are going to take the letters to the Michigan State Police Crime Lab for possible fingerprint and DNA evidence that could lead to identifying who is responsible for the attacks.
From East Detroit to Eastpointe
The city of Eastpointe was settled during the 1830s by German and Irish immigrants. In 1929, the city was incorporated as East Detroit. However, in 1992, through a vote, the residents chose to rename the suburb Eastpointe in a politically motivated attempt to avoid any association with the majority African-American city of Detroit.
Placing “pointe” at the end of the name presumably sought to identify this mainly working class white community with the more affluent Grosse Pointe, which also borders the east side of Detroit. In recent years more young African-American families have moved into the area. Many people in Detroit view Eastpointe as hostile, with numerous complaints about random stops of African-American motorists by local police.
Residents of Sprenger Avenue say they will establish a neighborhood watch group to monitor the area in light of the racist threats and attacks. Also they are planning to take their concerns to the local City Council to demand that these acts of racism be taken seriously by the local authorities.
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