Confronting drug dealers, prostitutes when police won’t

ShabazzIt sounded incredibly reckless and noble – confront drug dealers and prostitutes operating out of a run-down house on Detroit’s west side.

If police weren’t going to do it, someone had to. Or so went the reasoning.

It was getting dark as we met on a hardscrabble section of Appoline, just a few houses from the target. There were a handful of people, led by Malik Shabazz, whose 6-foot-5 frame and calm, but deliberate demeanor was a reassuring presence.

Shabazz didn’t bring weapons. “Just peace and love,” he told me.

As the founder of the New Marcus Garvey Movement, a black empowerment group that runs voter registration drives, stages protests and takes action when police can’t or won’t, Shabazz has confronted drug dealers so many times that it’s a small miracle he’s still alive.

“It’s this house right here,” Shabazz said, pointing across the street. “They’re selling drugs, and they have prostitution. We’re going to send a message that we won’t tolerate this in our community.”

People peered at us from their lawns. Others strutted by.

But no one answered the door.

As we waited, a woman wearing a yellow-and-orange-patterned dress approached us. She was carrying a bouquet of colorful flowers.

“This is my house,” she said.

Her name was Sylvia Jackson, and she lived at the house for eight months. She said she opened her home to prostitutes and drug users so they would be off the street where children wouldn’t see them.

“If you offer me $10 and I’m hooked on drugs, I’m going to suck your dick, regardless of who sees me,” Jackson said matter-of-factly. “Kids don’t need to see that. I’ll allow you in the basement as long as you don’t act like a fool.”

Jackson insisted she was doing nothing wrong – just concealing an inevitable vice.

Besides, Jackson tried to reason, where were we when a woman was recently found nearby, “wrapped up in a sheet with her face covered in maggots?”

Shabazz and other volunteers warned her that they would continue to watch the house for illegal activity.

“We try to give people an opportunity to change their ways before police raid the place, bust some heads and put them in jail,” volunteer Gabriel Kenyatta, 51, said.

Added Detroit School Board member Wanda Akilah Redmond, the only female on the mission: “It’s up to us to clean up our neighborhoods of the drugs and the crime.”

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.