BENTON HARBOR — A string of troubling incidents and all-too-frequent gunfire in the city has residents and city commissioners angry and concerned that a tragedy could result.
A march to recognize and address the problem – The Citizens United Against Violence & Disorder Peace March – has been rescheduled to start at 3 p.m. Saturday, starting at Broadway Park in Benton Harbor. The original date this past weekend was canceled due to rain.
The focus on Saturday will be for residents to help bring peace to the city, which has been plagued by late-night caravans of cars drag racing and playing loud music, and punctuated by gunfire.
Two residents told city commissioners Monday that something needs to be done or taxpaying people will start moving out of the city.
Lisa Varrie said that Monday afternoon, her family heard what they thought were fireworks. Later, she discovered that a window in one of her vehicles had been shot out. She found the bullet on the dashboard.
Varrie said a neighbor found a bullet hole by their mailbox that went into a bedroom, and another neighbor found a bullet that had gone through the house into the kitchen.
“I don’t know what needs to be done, but something has to be done,” she said. “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, we’re sitting here and these kids out there are (shooting).”
Pastor Steven McCoy said that Sunday night, four cars were gathered in front of his house.
“I heard five shots. I don’t know where they were shooting to or where they were shooting at. By the time I looked out my window, all of them were taking off in different directions,” he said. “Shooting is a common thing now.”
He said some people don’t call the police anymore when they hear gunfire because it’s so common. He said loud music late at night is also a problem.
“What I see is these young women hanging out of the windows, gyrating while they’re speeding down the street, or hanging out of the back of trucks or hanging out of a sun roof,” he said. “And they speed. These cars are literally speeding while individuals are hanging out of the window.”
Deputy Director of Public Safety Mike Clark said his department met with officials from the Michigan State Police earlier on Monday to talk about the problems of loud music and gunfire.
“We’ve also been talking to the sheriff,” Clark said.
He said people playing loud music are being given tickets, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, arraignments can’t be made any earlier than August.
City attorney Richard Racht said the fines for loud music are first offense, $100; second offense, $300; and all other offenses, $500.
In addition, Clark urged people to keep calling in when they hear gunfire.
“The apathy to shots fired is something that we’ve been working on,” he said. “We can much more easily address, investigate and handle accordingly if we’ve got a head start on the call when it’s happening, not, for instance, two hours later.”
One problem is that the department is short on staff.
“We’re trying to work with outside agencies to seek some help,” Clark said. “We’re actively recruiting.”
He said anyone interested in becoming a police officer and firefighter should contact the department.
“We sponsor and send them to the academy,” he said. “We need people.”
Added City Manager Ellis Mitchell, “We met (Monday) for two hours wrestling with the challenges that are going on in our streets and talking about solutions. We’re still working on them. Know that we are listening, know that we do care and know that we are trying to find solutions.”
Saturday’s peace walk is sponsored by the Rev. Maurice McAfee of New Bethel Baptist Church, the Rev. Carlton Lynch of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, the Rev. Taurus Montgomery of Harbor of Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church, community organizer Trenton Bowens, city Commissioner Sharon Henderson and Benton Harbor Director of Public Safety Dan McGinnis.