[Hpn] Police raid on Pontiac mission has pastor fuming

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Sat, 27 Jan 2001 19:54:52 -0700


http://detnews.com:80/2001/metro/0101/25/b01-179492.htm

Police raid on Pontiac mission has pastor fuming
Clergyman says it's politics; cops say drugs are a problem
Daniel Mears / The Detroit News

    PONTIAC -- An early-morning police raid at the Grace Center of Hope,
formerly the Pontiac Rescue Mission, left children without their parents,
residents in handcuffs and the pastor fuming about the politics behind the
arrests. 

   Police hit the building at 5 a.m. Tuesday, and arrested 28 men and four
women on 37 charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies of rape, robbery,
fraud and auto theft. Some of the minor charges included a person wanted on
a DNR warrant for taking an under-sized fish; another for insufficient funds
on a check; a person named on a 14-year-old warrant that had been taken care
of, and several others for outstanding traffic violations.

   "I have an obligation to do my job," insisted Pontiac Police Chief Larry
Miracle, stressing the raid was motivated by numerous complaints from
business people and city residents alike regarding drug activity at the
mission. Miracle said crack cocaine, heroin and other drugs are in use and
that an investigation found more than 50 of the mission's 150 residents were
wanted on outstanding criminal warrants.

   At least 10 children, many sobbing as their mothers were taken away in
handcuffs, were still waiting hours later for their parent's return, said
Pastor Kent Clark. Many of those in custody were released, penniless, in
Detroit, where they were still arranging rides back to the mission late
Tuesday. 

   "There was no call for this, no need," said Clark, CEO of the mission and
the Grace Center of Hope, as he fielded telephone calls trying to make sense
out of the incident on East Huron Street. "I'm afraid we have something out
now that just won't stop. Maybe that's good. Let's get this out in the open.
A sleeping giant has been awakened here."

   The "giant," according to Clark, is the city's stance against Clark's
plan for a vacant Pontiac church building a few blocks away that Clark's
mission-ministry purchased three years ago for $235,000. Clark wants to
transform the building into a 90-bed, $3.5-million shelter for women and
children. 

   But despite three years of effort, he cannot get the proper zoning from
the city. Officials have been resistant because they don't think the
proposed shelter is in keeping with the rebuilding of Pontiac's downtown.

   "This was harassment," Clark said of the police raid Tuesday.

   Not all of those arrested Tuesday are felons or homeless. Craig Fox and
Byron Martin both voluntarily enrolled in the mission's rehabilitation
program. 

   "I was driven to Ann Arbor (by police) on a charge of catching an
undersized fish," said Fox, 46, who heard of the program through his church
and put his life and job on hold for a year. "They (court) said to forget
about the charge, and fortunately I got a ride back to Pontiac with the
police." 

   Martin, 36, was taken into custody for an outstanding 1996 disorderly
conduct incident in Detroit. He was put in a panel truck with about a dozen
men and women and dropped off in front of Detroit police headquarters.

   "We weren't arrested or fingerprinted -- just walked together over to the
district court and got court dates and told to go home," Martin said. "We
got on a city bus and the driver was nice enough to drive us back to the
mission, even though none of us had any money. He was real nice."

   Police said they intended to speak with officials of Grace Center of Hope
in attempts to have suspects surrender. But someone tipped off staff at the
shelter, and some of the more than 50 suspects fled before police arrived,
Sgt. Terry Healy said.

   Clark said he routinely talks to residents about police raids and whether
they have outstanding warrants. In fact, Clark said, he supplied police with
residents' names and social security numbers two weeks ago.

   "I didn't tell people anything I haven't before," Clark said. "I told
them there had been a plan to raid on Friday and that if they had warrants
we wanted to know about it. This isn't a hideout. This isn't about crack
cocaine -- we're fighting the demon of crack cocaine."

   Clark noted he has accompanied police in the past when they have wanted
to arrest a mission resident on outstanding charges.

   "Do we have prostitutes here? People with criminal backgrounds? Alcohol
and drug problems? Sure we do," he said. "We're giving people hope.

   "I'd guess there are a lot of churches in the area with people who have a
past, wanted on warrants. You don't see them being raided, do you?"

The center, formerly called the Pontiac Rescue Mission, is a Christian,
nonprofit organization serving homeless, destitute and dysfunctional adults
and children. These are among its services:
   * About 90,000 meals are served each year.
   * More than 40,000 nights of care are provided each year.
   * The homeless fill more than 150 beds almost every night.
   * More than 85 percent of the homeless are addicted to drugs, alcohol or
both. Space and personnel allow for up to 20 in recovery in both the male
and female programs.
   * The mission has 27 staffers and depends on donations. It doesn't take
federal, state or county money. By Mike Martindale / The Detroit News
    
You can reach Mike Martindale at 248-647-7226 or mmartindale@detnews.com.


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