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Data exposing racial disparity within a surge in nonviolent gun arrests have led advocates to call for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to drop all concealed-carry charges.
Since the start of the pandemic, arrests for carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) have soared in Detroit. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, CCW arrests were fewer than 400 per quarter, but that number steeply climbed through the second quarter of 2020 — reaching about 1,400 by the third quarter. It now stands at 1,017, according to data a coalition of activists and defense attorneys presented in a news conference Wednesday.
Beyond this surge in CCW arrests is an overwhelming disparity in the race of those arrested for nonviolent weapons charges. Data analyzed by the coalition found that 97% of people arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in Detroit — a majority-Black city, 77% according to the 2020 census — since the beginning of the pandemic were Black.
"We noticed that the majority of the people who were being arrested were Black people, and we saw this trend continue as time passed," said Chantá Parker, managing director of the Neighborhood Defender Service, which provides criminal defense representation for people who cannot afford to hire legal representation. "As the pandemic raged on, alarm bells went off for us, we thought, 'Hey, this is a crisis,' and what we've discovered is that it was a crisis of policing and prosecution.
"We believe this is an unjust practice that's destroying the lives of Black Detroiters and it must stop."
The majority of people, 70%, arrested for carrying a concealed weapon — a five-year felony — legally owned their guns and were instead accused of improperly storing their guns while driving. Michigan is an open-carry state, but the definition of what constitutes "open" is often misunderstood.
In an annual review of crime statistics Thursday, Detroit Police Chief James White said that homicides and nonfatal shootings saw a decrease in 2021 of 4% and 9%, respectively. Further, DPD was able to recover 7,869 firearms using the Regional Central Gun Intelligence Center, a tracking system that allows for gun tracking across multiple incidents and jurisdictions.
"That likely resulted in a number of people not meeting their demise," White said Thursday. "Getting 7,000 guns off the street there's likely a large number of funerals that did not happen."
The department did not respond to a request for comment from White on Wednesday.
At the annual review, White said the aim is not to target every person with a gun, rather, it's to tackle gun violence at its root: behavior.
"What we're trying to do is change behavior and hopefully people make better decisions, and to make the better decision they don't have to encounter police," White said. "The unfortunate reality is at some point in the next 30 days, I'll be talking about a heinous act in this community."
This surge in arrests, which advocates say are unnecessary, has exacerbated strained resources at the county prosecutor's office. In September, Worthy said her office, which had lost a third of its staff, is in crisis mode and facing an inhumane caseload.
Before the pandemic, CCW-only cases comprised about 6% of cases charged by the county prosecutor's office in the Third Circuit Court; by August 2021, those cases climbed to nearly 30%, according to data presented by the public defender's group on Wednesday.
The coalition said data showcased a racial disparity in prosecution as well, with 32 out of every 33 CCW-only prosecutions in Detroit involving Black people. Since March 2020, NDS’ referral rate for Black clients facing CCW-only charges has risen 205% while the referral rate for all non-Black clients facing the same charge decreased by 8%.
In a statement to the Free Press Wednesday, Worthy said diversion program options for CCW cases, which began in September 2020 to reprieve the backlog, were discontinued in November 2021 because they were not as effective as expected. CCW cases are now reviewed at the district court level to evaluate offering misdemeanor pleas.
"We are charged with reviewing and evaluating cases that are presented to us by police agencies to determine if criminal charges will (be issued). We cannot ignore them," Worthy said in the statement. "Having said that, we are not a rubber stamp for the police, and generally speaking approximately one-third of the cases that are presented do not result in criminal charges."
New programs are expected to be announced in the coming weeks related to CCW and other lower-level cases to tackle the backlog of cases in Wayne County, Worthy said.
"These cases are clearly a strategically designed racist effort to further segregation and particularly the displacement of Black Detroiters," said Nakia Wallace, a leader with activist group Detroit Will Breathe, which is part of the coalition that presented Wednesday. "So there's no coincidence that these cases have been, you know, serving as a means of policing spaces that have been designed by the Duggan administration for gentrification."
The coalition found that the surge in CCW arrests was concentrated in three neighborhoods: Greektown, Corktown and Midtown.
"While we're in the middle of this pandemic, and the people in Detroit and Wayne County desperately needed and still need resources to help us with that," Wallace said, "what we get instead is the targeting of Black people who are doing nothing."
Contact Miriam Marini: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Advocates call on Worthy to drop all nonviolent gun arrests