Benton Harbor: Where Does it Go From Here?

June 23, 2003

A week after an African-American motorcyclist died in a police crash, the Rev. Russell Baker of Benton Harbor examines the impact of the recent protests and riots on Michigan’s poorest city

It was a week ago today that the city of Benton Harbor in Michigan entered the national spotlight.

A 28-year-old African-American motorcyclist died during a police chase.

Soon the city was in flames. For three nights protests and riots shook this city, the poorest and one of the most segregated in Michigan. By Thursday, 21 houses had been burned. Hundreds of police in riot gear marched the streets.

One local resident said Benton Harbor looked more like Beirut than the former popular lakeside vacation spot that it once was.

The problems in Benton Harbor have been growing for years. During the 1980s a team of urban affairs professors examined the city in search of a solution. The effort failed.

One of those professors, Joe Darden, of Michigan State University, told the Detroit News, "When you combine segregation with the intense, concentrated poverty, hopelessness and grievances associated with police brutality, you have potential powder kegs on your hands."

  • Rev. Dr. F. Russell Baker, First Congregational United Church of Christ