George Hunter, Detroit News, July 31, 2010
Some police officers are furious that Mayor Dave Bing wants to nominate a convicted murderer to serve on a board that metes out discipline to cops and sets department policy.
Others argue Raphael B. Johnson, who served 12 years in prison for second-degree murder and is now a motivational speaker, is an inspiration and would be a good fit for the unpaid, four-member Board of Police Commissioners.
“We can’t ignore the substantial number of ex-offenders in Detroit who are trying to contribute in our community,” Deputy Mayor Saul Green said in a statement. “Raphael Johnson is an example of someone who has made the most of a second opportunity. He can play an important role in strengthening our connection to the community to better address public safety.”
Some, including several officers who did not want to be quoted, fearing reprisal from the Mayor’s Office, say the nomination plan sends a bad message.
Johnson, 35, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1992. When he was 17, he got into a fight at a party, retrieved a handgun from a friend’s car and fatally shot Johnny Havard, who was not involved in the fight. Johnson ran for City Council last year, advanced past the primary and lost in the general election.
He argued that nothing in the City Charter says board members must have clean criminal records.
Johnson said he has paid for the crime. “What are the officers afraid of? I was 17 years old (when the crime was committed)–does that mean I’m marked for life? I’ve paid my dues; how long do you want me to suffer?”
Retired Detroit Police Officer David Malhalab said Johnson should be allowed to get on with his life, but there are “more than enough (other) qualified people to fill that position.”
“He made a mistake and shouldn’t be permanently scarred by it–but at the same time, there are certain things he shouldn’t be allowed to participate in because he committed a heinous crime,” Malhalab said. The position was left vacant when the term of former board Chairman Mohamed Okdie expired July 1.