Ricardo Buck and Craig Mitchell
On September 17, 1971, STRESS officer Richard Worobec shot and killed two unarmed Black teenagers, Ricardo Buck (15) and Craig Mitchell (16). They were not the first killed unjustly by STRESS, but the shock of children murdered at the hands of STRESS caused a broad coalition of black activists in Detroit to form the State of Emergency Committee. Details around their deaths, as shown by the Labor Defense Coalition (LDC) document and the prosecutor's office document below, point to a coverup by the Detroit Police Department. Officer Worobec claimed that Buck and Mitchell stole his watch, fled, and Worobec ordered them to halt and shot them when they did not comply. Witness accounts contradict this claim. One witness claimed that "a white man" lifted Buck's body and planted a watch under him. A Michigan Chronicle article titled "Thursday March" claimed that the two boys' mothers were never contacted by police about their sons' deaths. Also, for a "considerable length of time" after Buck's body was removed from the scene, the police left Mitchell's body lying in the gutter partially under a parked car. A nun who witnessed the event stated in a Detroit Free Press article that the two boys were "shot in cold blood." Though this shooting sparked activism against STRESS, Worobec and DPD faced no legal consequences. While members of the LDC believed that the deaths of the two teens were unjustified, and saw discrepancies in police reports, coroner reports, and witness statements, they did not pursue Officer Worobec in court. The case was a matter of the community's word versus DPD's word, and they did not believe they would be able to win with only that evidence. "When one attacks," the LDC document stated, "it should be a precise attack at the weakest point."
Season 2, episode 2 of the podcast Crimetown, released in late 2018, interviewed Gino Fortune, a friend of Buck and Mitchell who was with them the night Worobec killed the Recalling this night which happened more than forty years ago, Fortune said:
"All the kids were hangin' out... that's when a white guy comes staggering down John R [Rd.]. The guy had a gas can in his hand... we knew he had no business in the neighborhood... he had a big shiny watch on, a gold chain on his neck. I'm thinking, y'know that he was askin for it... We was just talking to him at first... trying to see where he coming from, see was he drunk or what... we didn't get a chance to take nothing from that guy cause he lunged at Buck. That's when all of us beat him down... who does this guy think he is he just jumped on Buck and we was just talkin... and we kicked his ass. and then he said police officer... all we see was these white guys jumpin' out the bushes and everywhere. You would think you were in a war or something cause it was like Vietnam out there. Buck tried to run, and I seen him drop. I ran back up towards the gym to the steps... I'm hearing gunshots goin by me, zing by my ear, so they were trying to get me too. And I see fire huffing off Craig's back, and he fell down beside the car in front of the gym."
What Fortune's interview shows is that while Buck, Mitchell, and Fortune may have planned to rob Worobec, Worobec attacked them first before they did anything. Worobec deemed the three teens a threat because they were young black males in a group, not because they had tried to rob him. When a STRESS officer like Worobec entered a neighborhood, they went into that neighborhood with the mindset that they would be attacked by people in the community. The interview also supports witness accounts that a STRESS officer planted Worbec's watch under Buck after Worobec had shot him. Though Worobec never saw criminal charges for his actions, years later Buck's and Mitchell's mothers won a total of $270,000 in out of court settlements in a civil suit. The ruling determined that Worobec had lied about the shooting. Worobec said he shot the two while they were fleeing, but Buck and Mitchell died from frontal gunshot wounds.
"State of Emergency"
Black community leaders in Detroit quickly formed a "State of Emergency Committee" mere days after the killings to respond to this atrocity, as well as previous STRESS killings. The group's members included people from the Congress of Black Workers, the Guardians of Michigan, the UAW, the Detroit NAACP, the Detroit SCLC, and the Republic of New Africa. The committee's self-described purpose was to "create a force of unity in the Black and oppressed community to combat repression in whatever form it takes, with whatever necessary programs despite differences in organizational philosophies." The committee argued that STRESS was being used to "kill off blacks." In response, the group organized a march against the "cold-blooded murder" of Mitchell and Buck on September 23, 1971. The group made connections between the STRESS killings and other forms of Black oppression occurring in Detroit and across the nation. For example, the organizers also protested the Attica Prison Uprising that occurred on September 9th of that year in New York, as well as the atrocious conditions in the Wayne County Jail. The Chronicle article pictured here wrote that this protest featured 5,000 Detroiters that were predominately young. Speakers at the protest included Kenneth Cockrel, Chokwe Lumumba of the Republic of New Africa, the Guardians of Michigan, and Claud Young of the Detroit SCLC.
DPD Responds to the Backlash
On October 4th, just days after the protest, Police Commissioner Nichols released a nine-page statement addressing a range of topics, from recruitment to use of firearms in the STRESS unit. The image above shows an excerpt from the statement justifying the use of firearms against fleeing suspects. Nichols' assertion that the police officer "must and should consider the danger and menace to life to which the next victim of the fleeing felon might be subjected" is an extreme claim because it turns the officer into the judge and jury. A police officer cannot deem a suspect a felon because a person becomes a felon only after a criminal conviction. A judge and jury decide who is a felon, not a police officer. Nichols's statement demonized unarmed black teenagers as a "menace to life" simply for running away from an officer.
This paragraph from page nine of the statement is directly preceded by a set of quotes collected by DPD from African American citizens and organizations. The DPD intended to display widespread support in the African American community for the STRESS unit. More than likely, Nichols was aware of the community pushing back against the unit following the deaths of Ricardo Buck and Craig Mitchell and the creation of the "State of Emergency" Committee. He may have released this statement in the following weeks to counteract their protests by reaffirming both the effectiveness of STRESS training and policing practices as well as support from Black Detroiters, who appeared to be vehemently against the unit's current practices.
Add: Council postponed an open hearing on STRESS, in Chronicle 10-16-71, do not allow Sarah Mitchell and Louella Buck to talk, white homeowners present 7,000 signatures pro-STRESS, Nichols gives statement, quotes state law (not DPD policy) on use of force
"An officer may use such force as seems to him to be necessary in forcibly arresting an offender, or in preventing his escape after an arrest. Both officers and private persons seeking to prevent a felon's escape must exercise reasonable care to prevent his escape without doing personal violence, and it is only when killing is necessary to prevent his escape that killing is justified."
DPD policy: "There should be no doubt in the officer's mind as to the guilt of the fleeing felon"
Black peole there say STRESS is exercising capital punishment in a state that does not have it
Differing Responses to Buck and Mitchell from Black Detroit
Black Detroiters were not unanimous on what to do about STRESS. More radical organizations like the LDC believed it should be abolished immediately, while more moderate organizations like the Detroit Urban League believed the police should just reform STRESS. The Detroit Urban League, a Black middle-class political group, issued a press release supporting STRESS on October 3, 1971. The release stated that the League supported the "concept and need" for STRESS and that they believed STRESS was effective in curbing crime. However, they questioned the qualifications for joining STRESS and the mandate given to STRESS officers. Although the Urban League lamented the killing of two teenagers at the hands of the police unit, they believed in reforming STRESS rather than abolishing it. The Urban League would eventually shift positions as atrocious incidents of STRESS abuses and killings increased and adopted an anti-STRESS stance. As the letter to Francis Kornegay, director of the Detroit Urban League, shows, white conservative Detroiters saw even the Urban League's more moderate position on STRESS as a threat. The racist letter stated, "why all the fuss over good for nothing individuals who would never be any good to society... stop criticizing the police and tell your Welfare Chislers to raise their children to be good citizens."
On October 29, 1971, the Civil Rights Commission of Michigan released a memo (shown on the left) contradicting Nichols's assertions. The findings showed that ..... While Nichols advertised the support he received from the African American community, a survey filled out by 177 Black Detroiters indicated that most of them wanted the unit improved (usually with the addition of Black officers). In a press conference on November 14, 1971, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission recommended that the DPD immediately discontinued the decoy techniques of the STRESS unit. They still believed the Detroit Police Department should continue the STRESS unit, but reforms needed to be made in order for it to be a professional unit, such as more black officers hired into the unit and better training and screening for STRESS officers.
Urban League March 1972: reform or abolish. Kornegay: "muggers should be arrested for the crimes they commit, but they should not be killed for them" (this document is below right but probably also goes on Rochester page)
On September 1971, the editorial board of the Michigan Chronicle, Detroit's mainstream African American newspaper, published an editorial directed at Police Commissioner John Nichols. Excerpted above, the editorial demonstrates that the Black, middle-class Detroiters recognized and would not tolerate the horror of Worobec's actions and wanton violence; yet, like the Detroit Urban League, the editorial board still supported the idea of STRESS. "We do not believe there is a law-abiding citizen in this city who disagrees with the concept of STRESS, properly applied." The Chronicle argued that since STRESS was created, there was "a significant drop in street robberies," and hundreds of handguns were confiscated. However, the Chronicle claimed that "the regularity of using fatal force in effecting arrests is highly disturbing," The Chronicle wrote that they do not understand how "a fleeing person armed only with a knife or as in one case a metal rod, constitutes a danger to an officer's life and limb." The Chronicle believed Worobec harbored racial prejudice based on his experience in the New Bethel Incident, and that he, and officers like him, should not be part of STRESS. Ultimately, they thought STRESS could continue if officers were properly screened and trained.
DFP 9-22-71: Guardians president Thomas Moss: killings a "It's a form of genocide" and "black officers are not going to stand for the continued killing of blacks by the STRESS unit", they will participate in SOE demonstration. Says if Buck and Mitchell "had happened in the suburbs, and if the victim had been white, the officers would be tried for murder". Also says unjustified because there was no "immediade danger" to Worobec when he shot: "The issue is whether a police officer has a carte blanche to kill as he pleases. Where does it say that a police officer is judge, jury and executioner?" Also says Worobec a "time bomb waiting to go off" because of New Bethel
Bannon addresses this in Police Chief article
add Nichols DPD Congress report on black support after Buck and Mitchell
Detroit Free Press, September 18, 1971
Detroit Free Press, September 21, 1971
Kenneth V. and Sheila M. Cockrel Collection, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Detroit Urban League Records, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan
Michigan Chronicle, September, 1971
Michigan Chronicle, March 3, 1973
Detroit Commission on Community Relations (DCCR)/ Human Rights Department Records, Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University
Michigan Department of Civil Rights, Community Relations Bureau, RG 83-55, Michigan State Archives
Marc Smerling and Zach Stuart-Pontier, "The Battle for Detroit," October 1, 2018, in Crimetown, accessed June 22, 2019, https://www.crimetownshow.com/episodes-detroit/2018/9/25/s2e02.
The Detroit News, August 30, 1976