After a decade of growing harassment at the hands of police officers, South Haven, MI, area youth came together and issued the following open letter to business owners, police officers, city council members and the press.
To Whom It May Concern:
Recent summers in South Haven have seen increasing signs of some scary attitudes and practices held by the police department. Pressure from downtown business owners and residents of downtown apartments and condos has increased, and in response, officers of the South Haven police department have ignored the letter of the law, lied outright to law abiding citizens, and sidestepped legal and constitutional rights and procedures. After facing years of verbal abuse, dishonesty, strong-arming, tactics for intimidation, abuse of power and even cases of physical abuse and being repeatedly ignored by the leaders of government and business in this community, we, the youth of South Haven, being law citizens of this community, are demanding action.
The collection of experiences illustrates that the youth has been characterized in the eyes of police officers as nuisances to be removed from view by any means necessary. Harsh language, personal attacks and gross lies as to the nature of the laws and rights have become the expected norm.
In conversations with community leaders including city council members, administrative officials, police officials and business owners we have been promised opportunities to voice our views and hear exactly what has brought about this situation from the viewpoint of both the police and the business people, but this has never happened. To the best of our knowledge, meetings have been held, but always behind closed doors. It has been our desire to find a civil and friendly solution to the problem, and it still is, but we will not be ignored any longer.
The undersigned request some sort of public forum that offers:
- Downtown business owners and residents to make known their complaints
- Harassed youth to make known their experiences at the hands of police officers
- A public description of both the letter of the laws regarding loitering and disturbing the peace, and the methods used to enforce those laws, by a representative of the South Haven Police Department.
Further, we demand that this forum be open to the public, and be announced to the press no less than two weeks before it is held.
It is our sincere hope that the peace and compromise that makes communities strong can be maintained through this situation. We do not believe that it is the intention of the police department, the government or the community to perpetuate these symptoms, and we believe that, through communication and empathy, we can put a universally satisfactory end to it.
Thank you for your attention.
The Youth of the Greater South Haven Area Community
Following that, a closed door meeting was held and was stampeded by business owners. The concerns of those preparing the letter were ignored.
The movement has provided area youth with a voice to the police department, and some organized representation to the business owners, and may, in time, prove to be a Good Thing. At the present, it is uncertain. Steps are being taken by the community to further criminalize youth and shove police enforcement into the rift that has grown in our community.