George Hunter, Detroit News, May 7, 2012
In an apartment complex named for a man who stood for peace and freedom, residents say rampant violence has made them prisoners in their own homes.
The Martin Luther King Apartments on Lafayette near Chene, less than a mile from downtown, is a sprawling 481-unit compound that’s been taken over by drug dealers and other criminals, residents say.
“We’re the forgotten people of Detroit,” said Sharonda Hawkins, 48, whose husband, Brandon Johnson, was gunned down in August, a few doors down from her apartment. Faded bloodstains, which Hawkins said won’t wash away, still mar the doorway where the murder took place.
Hawkins straps her .40-caliber pistol to her belt whenever she leaves her apartment, even to walk a few yards to the community mailboxes. She said the problems in the complex where she’s lived since 1988 are a microcosm of what’s wrong with the city.
“You hear people who come in from the suburbs to go to Comerica Park or the casinos talking about how much they love Detroit,” she said. “But they don’t see the real Detroit: Open drug dealing; rapes; murders. People shouldn’t have to live like this. It’s like we’re hostages in our own homes.”
Hawkins, who has attended recent meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners to complain, said residents are skeptical of promises from police.
“They know about this problem, and they keep saying they’re going to do something about it, (but) nothing ever gets done,” she said.
Board Chairman Donnell White said police need more residents like Hawkins to speak out against crime in their neighborhoods.
[Police Deputy Chief Benjamin] Lee said police recently arrested suspects they believed were responsible for several break-ins in the complex, only to find residents reluctant to cooperate.
“The problem is, nobody wanted to press charges,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
Other residents acknowledged the crime problem in the apartments, but declined to comment because they said they feared retribution.
The Martin Luther King complex, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a series of two- and three-story units that abut parking lots accessible by single driveways. That forces residents to wade through crowds of drug dealers and “thugs,” Hawkins said.
“There’s only one entrance, and you can’t get in without having to go through a bunch of bad people,” she said. “The thugs have taken over. I’m afraid to let my daughter outside; there’s no safe time to let her out.”
Hawkins and Solomon recently pleaded for aid at a meeting of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. “Please — someone help us,” Hawkins said. “People are scared to death.”
Johnson, Hawkins’ husband and father of their 8-year-old daughter, Stormy, was on his way home the night of Aug. 29, 2011, to celebrate the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, when Hawkins said she heard the familiar sound of gunshots just outside her apartment.