- The Washington Times - Friday, April 12, 2002

WARREN, Mich. The Rev. Horace Sheffield III calls this town a "travel hazard" for blacks, the first target of a national effort to warn blacks to avoid communities that he deems guilty of racial profiling.
"Warren is seen by most African-Americans as reminiscent of Mississippi," said Mr. Sheffield, who heads the Michigan chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network. "We are trying to warn African-Americans that there are towns like this and that they should stay away."
The minister said the Warren boycott is only the beginning; he promised that the metropolitan areas of Washington, Chicago and St. Louis will face similar scrutiny on racial-profiling charges.
Mr. Sheffield said that Warren, whose population of 138,000 is 91 percent white, is a perfect example of towns and cities in America where minorities are unjustly being charged with the majority of the crimes.
"We have always received complaints about cities like this, and now we are going to do something about it," he said.
Mr. Sharpton will visit the city for a demonstration later this month, a protest that Mr. Sheffield promised "will be confrontational."
The national travel advisory campaign will include a Web site and radio and newspaper advertisements for a toll-free complaint number.
"We are going to look into these suburban areas, where minorities are 3 percent of the population but make up 90 percent of the local court dockets," Mr. Sheffield said. "We will open dialogs with these towns and cities and address the problems that we find."
Mr. Sheffield's plan for targeting communities on racial-profiling charges had a successful test run last month in another mostly white Detroit suburb.
He announced that the city of Novi and its high-end Twelve Oaks Mall were guilty of racial profiling, often detaining blacks shoppers on suspicion of theft and making traffic stops based on race.
But Novi city officials immediately agreed to meet with Mr. Sheffield and promised to address the accusations.
"I rescinded that advisory because Novi was willing to meet with me and has made some adjustments," Mr. Sheffield said. Among those "adjustments" were "consultation" with the National Action Network on minority contracting for city projects.
"From our perspective, the more competition for projects and jobs the better," said Craig Klaver, chief executive officer for the 98 percent-white city in Detroit's western suburbs. "We did not explicitly agree to increase the number of minorities hired, although that may be the end result."
But Warren hasn't been so easy.
Mr. Sheffield offers a January incident in the city as a typical example of racial-profiling practices in suburban enclaves across the country.
Melvina Johnson, a black woman, was charged by police with ethnic intimidation and assault after a physical confrontation with two white women outside an elementary school.
Several witnesses reported Miss Johnson encountered the women in a dispute over parking while the three were waiting for their children after school.
"Johnson got out of her vehicle and approached the driver's side of [one of the complainants] van yelling and screaming obscenities and ethnic slurs including 'honkies' and 'white bitches,'" a witness statement says.
Mr. Sheffield said the police report is wrong and there are other witnesses whom police did not interview who said Miss Johnson was assaulted.
"We won't back off on this," said Mike Wiecek, a spokesman for the city. "This is not a racial issue, it's a criminal issue. And we haven't got anything to talk to Reverend Sheffield about. I don't think anyone is ready to negotiate on this."
Added City Council member Daniel Woodhouse: "A crime is a crime, no matter what color the person is who commits it."


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