Detroit residents are increasingly arming themselves and fending off intruders with the tacit approval of Police Chief James Craig, who said he supports efforts by people to fight back against criminals when they are in fear for their lives.
Craig raised some eyebrows when he noted publicly
in January that firearms legally obtained by citizens "could be a deterrence to violent crime," although he has been clear to defend his comments as not supporting vigilantism.
"Most burglars know that, one, they don't want to go inside of a home where the resident's at, because there's a likelihood they might be armed," Craig told "The Steve Malzberg Show"
on Newsmax TV in January.
Stories of citizens earning concealed-carry permits, shooting would-be robbers, and blasting home invaders have made headlines as the city reported 12 justifiable homicides through April.
In February, one 50-year-old woman shot an intruder while she was on the phone with 911 as he used a crowbar to break open the only window in her home without bars. She had verbally warned him that she would shoot and made good on her word, wounding the male suspect, 24, with a shot to the arm. She had earned her permit to carry a concealed weapon last year at the urging of her brother.
Her neighbor's reaction, according to media accounts: "That's my hero. That's my hero definitely."
Other would-be criminals got the message that some residents were tired of playing victims. When one woman pulled into her driveway, she was met by two men who approached her in a brazen carjacking attempt. She, too, held a concealed-carry permit and opened fire, killing one man as the other fled.
Less than two hours later, a male homeowner, 47, opened fire on two teens breaking into his house. One of the robbers was killed, and the other got away.
In yet another harrowing incident captured on video after her family installed a security camera, a mother of three watched as three teenagers kicked in her door while she was inside holding a rifle.
"I let them know I had a gun once they were in the house. They challenged me, and said I don't have a gun. That's when I shot the first round," the mother told Detroit's 7 Action News.
"I wasn't feeling anything at the moment. I got scared afterwards."
The woman opened fire, and the trio ran, but one dropped his handgun and tried to re-enter the house. She called 911 and police quickly captured the three intruders.
Sgt. Michael Woody told the TV station that Detroit police mean business in stopping crime.
"As Chief Craig has said in the past, your time is up. We don't have any more patience for criminals in this city. We will get you, we will find you, and you will go to jail."
Mark Fromm, who leads the Detroit-area firearm safety and education group Concealed Carry United, said the environment has changed with the new police chief.
Fromm said the strong and aggressive new climate that the chief has established in the city is helping, and his organization has seen a growing number of citizens seeking to earn concealed-carry certification and learn more about their rights as gun owners.
Through May 1, 81,821 Wayne County residents have been approved
by the state for concealed-carry permits.
Detroit was third in the nation among cities last year for the number of homicides, following Chicago and New York, despite ranking 18th in population. Detroit homicides totaled 332 in 2013, down from 386 in 2012 but higher than the 308 for 2010.
"I think the main reason that we have seen an increase [in concealed-carry permits] here is because of the chief speaking out about the duty of citizens to defend themselves," Fromm told Newsmax.
"He is in favor of concealed-carry firearms for citizens. I think one of the biggest reasons is the Detroit police have been lacking in staff," Fromm said.
Fromm noted that crime is down and said he believes there is a certain correlation with citizens emboldened to protect themselves.
"I believe criminals have seen that, and it has dropped," he said. "The criminals are really starting to realize this isn't working for them. So yes, they are on notice.
"The landscape has changed. We even heard of some [would-be criminals] who now purchase their own bulletproof vests because they are in fear of citizens more than police. Crime is dropping because of that fact. I think they are starting to get the message here that if you do enter our homes — beware.
"We are armed now, and we are not going to put up with what you are trying to do. You take that chance, and you will receive whatever type of return defense that we have available."
Not all in the city, however, are happy with the chief's remarks. Some community activists believe encouraging residents to fight back is the wrong approach.
Ron Scott, a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, compares the current era to the Wild West.
"It would have worked well for 1875, but it's very difficult for 2014," Scott told Newsmax.
"I'm not making excuses for people who do very mean things and make wrong decisions. But police telling people that they have a right to shoot? Certainly they have a right under the Second Amendment, but they also have a responsibility to de-escalate violence."
Scott said he does not think there is a climate of vigilantism in the city and calls such a notion more media hype than reality.
"I think people are afraid and doing what is right to protect themselves. But you can't adopt a military solution to a socioeconomic issue."
As Scott and others spoke out at a recent community meeting, Craig, the police chief, defended himself in an interview with the Detroit News.
"I'm not encouraging vigilantism; vigilantes are cowards who take the law into their own hands," Craig told the paper. "I'm only talking about situations where someone's life is in imminent danger. When a citizen is faced with a life-threatening situation, they absolutely have the right to defend themselves."
Some residents, sick over the city's crime rates and daily stories of violence, seem gratified that criminals who prey on people are now getting their due.
Wrote one man in comments on the Detroit News website: "This is one recurring headline in the news these days that does not get old or boring: 'Homeowner shoots and/or kills intruder' — One more good result for the homeowner."
Said another in response: "I love a happy ending, too."
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