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Walter Jason

Detroit Roused as Cop Kills Negro Youth

(12 June 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 24, 21 June 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, June 12 – The shocking and brutal killing of a 15-year-old Negro youth – the fourth such case in the past year – at the hands of Detroit cops last week has raised tempers to an explosive pitch in this industrial center, and sharpened an already acute political crisis.

Over 3,000 Negroes and many whites attended the funeral of Leon Mosely, the youth killed by the cops,in protest over the “legal lynchings” that continue here. Not very long ago, a 13-year-old Negro boy was shot and killed by Detroit cops.

The burning indignation, especially in the Negro community, over this latest police outrage came from the fact that many witnesses testified that the two cops beat the youth terribly, after dragging him from a car (subsequently reported as stolen) and then shot him as he staggered away from their murderous slugging.

Investigation Demanded

The reaction to this killing was spontaneous. No one organized the funeral protest. Hundreds of Mosely’s fellow students at Miller school came to the church where the services were held. Over 2,000 persons were unable to get into the church. Afterward a large part of this crowd marched to City Hall and demanded that the police be brought to trial.

Demands for an inquest forced action, and a coroner’s report is supposed to be made public next Wednesday. Meanwhile, the atrocity has been given such wide attention that Police Commissioner Harry S. Toy announced today the suspension of the two policemen involved. They are Patrolmen Louis Melasi and John Boland.

Of course, the Communist Party was quick to exploit this situation. They issued a leaflet blasting Detroit’s killer cops and they were prominent at the funeral services.

As a result, the daily newspapers are trying to divert the whole situation into a “red scare” and thus avoid the real problem, which is the policy and conduct of the Detroit police department under the direction of Harry S. Toy, the police commissioner. In this despicable attempt to avoid police responsibility, the newspapers are being aided by some reactionaries and other people who should know better.

Police Commissioner Toy long ago gave “shoot to kill” orders, and Detroit cops are very quick-triggered. The Negro press is filled constantly with stories of police brutality to Negro prisoners. The Detroit police department demonstrated its vicious Jim Crow feelings in the race riots in 1943.

Commissioner Toy repeatedly has made irresponsible statements against “reds,” has made anti-Semitic statements and even declared publicly that Henry Wallace supporters should be shot. He amended the last statement, after criticism arose, that he meant after a trial!

The political responsibility for the death of this Negro youth rests in the first place on Toy. His removal should be demanded, and obtained. As a matter of fact, however, Toy’s suspension of the two cops is an attempt on his part to avoid any such move, and make the two policemen alone the “scapegoats” for his policies.

The task of cleaning up this scandalous situation belongs not to the agitation of the Communist Party, but to the powerful United Automobile Workers, CIO. All the FEPC work of the UAW-CIO becomes a mockery if the union avoids plunging into this fight against police brutality. Until the union movement becomes the most active and aggressive fighter against Jim Crow in every phase of Detroit life, the Communist Party is going to utilize these tragedies, and wailing and gnashing of teeth by opponents of the Communist Party are just so much hypocritical hogwash. The Negro people have every right to demand that the UAW-CIO take the leadership in this fight, and if the union movement doesn’t, any gains the Communist Party makes are the responsibility of the union movement.

Challenge to UAW

The kind of indignation which swept the unions over the attempted murder of Walter Reuther should be aroused over every killing of a human being, no matter what his race,creed or color, when injustice and lynch law are involved.

The union movement should have nothing but contempt for the kind of statements issued by Oscar Cohen, executive secretary of the Jewish Community Council, in connection with the Mosely killing. Cohen said:

“We have a feeling the Communists are going to provoke a riot, and if the situation does not arise spontaneously – which it might because of the feeling in that neighborhood – the Communists will attempt to provoke the police into a fight. We are afraid of a considerable disturbance.”

The only purpose such a statement serves – and Tom Downs of the Michigan CIO Council made a similar statement – is to give the police an alibi if they decide to “put the N_______ in their place,” by provoking violence and killing Negroes as they did in the 1943 race riots. Killer cops, not the Communist Party, is the agitator among the Negroes in Detroit today. It was the cops who killed Mosely!

It begins to look as if public protest is great enough in this particular case to get some action against the two policemen. But this is hardly a solution to the real problem, which is the whole policy of the Detroit police department. Not until Commissioner Toy is removed, until the policemen are convicted on murder charges, until the whole police department policy is changed, and the force reorganized, will there be any semblance of peace, and a decrease in the terrific tensions in the Negro community here.

The whole Jim Crow atmosphere in Detroit, the rent-gouging and terrible housing shortage, especially as they affect the Negroes, combined with the repeated police brutalities, are combining to make Detroit a powder keg of social tensions. The danger of another 1943 riot is in the air. Making protests against race riots and condemning policemen after Negroes are killed are hardly solutions to the problem. The union movement must join with the Negro community now to bring some democratic rights and ordinary legal protection to the 250,000 Negroes living and working here.

The UAW-CIO faces another important challenge which it must meet.

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