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Mon, 06.16.2003

A Racial Protest Takes Place in Benton Harbor, Michigan

On this date in 2003, a racial disturbance occurred in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Benton Harbor at the time was a city of 12,000, of which 92% were Black, and plagued for years by poverty, high unemployment, and racial tensions. The riot began after the death of Terrance Shurn, 28, of Benton Harbor.  His speeding motorcycle crashed into a building as Benton Township police chased him. Shurn was Black and the officers who chased him into the city were white. No serious injuries were reported in Monday's violence, but late Tuesday, bottle-throwing residents overpowered the small police force.

Hundreds spilled into the streets, burning five buildings, and beating or stabbing about a dozen people. Two firefighters trying to reach a burning building near the crash scene were attacked by a mob, even though about 130 state troopers and 100 other officers armed with tear gas were on patrol.  It was 4 a.m. Wednesday before the violence was quelled. Benton Harbor City Manager Joel Patterson said 10 to 12 people were arrested and charged with civil disobedience; one was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. "It is so unnecessary. It is unbelievable to see this in our community," said Police Chief Samuel Harris.

Black residents complained that they long have been harassed by the 25-member police force.  Area ministers walked through the area talking to residents and discouraging violence.

Reference:

Michigan.gov

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