Would Detroit Police Have Killed Hakim Littleton If He Was White?

Editor’s Note: Tina M. Patterson, a Detroit native and attorney is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank. She was previously a federal government attorney with the Social Security Administration. During her stint at the Social Security Administration, she wrote legally binding decisions for administrative law judges throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. This column, part of The Douglass Project, the Institute’s research vessel addressing issues of race, equity, democracy and poverty, is an ongoing series that explores the role of race and policing in Detroit. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute at info@thepulseinstitute.org.

“There is a depth of hatred in the bone marrow of this country that supports the killing of the Black body.” -Arica L. Coleman, Ph.D.,Historian, Author, Lecturer

By Tina M. Patterson, Esq.

No crime in the state of Michigan is punishable by death. In fact, Michigan became the first government in the English-speaking world to outlaw capital punishment for murder and lesser crimes just 10 years after its statehood in 1847, and it is the only state in the Union whose constitution bans the death penalty

Another well-established principle of constitutional law and criminal justice is the universal fundamental right that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. In fact, the entire American criminal procedure begins with this sacred presumption. If every suspect was guilty upon first encounter with police, there would be no need for prosecutors, judges, juries, or anyone else employed by our publicly-funded court systems.

The notion that innocence must be protected at all costs is a centuries old axiom. In 1769, preeminent English jurist William Blackstone noted that “the law holds that it is better that 10 guilty persons escape, than that 1 innocent suffer.” Likewise, this fundamental principle has been recognized by the 1895 U.S. Supreme Court case of Coffin et al. v United States, which stated, “it is better to let the crime of a guilty person go unpunished than to condemn the innocent.”  

These same constitutional provisions extend to newly freed Black people in the aftermath of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery with the passage of the 14th amendment, which guarantees no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Yet the shooting death of the 19-year old young Black man, Hakim Littleton, in Detroit on July 10, 2020, and the justification for his death at the hands of the Detroit Police Department, seem to nullify these well-established constitutional liberties, that harken to the days of slavery and Jim Crow policy: “No crime in the state of Michigan is punishable by death… unless you’re Black.” “Innocent until proven guilty… unless you’re Black.” “Due process of law… unless you’re Black.”

This is particularly troubling considering the interaction between white suspects and police response to their violent behavior, which is often noticeably less apprehensive than that of black suspects. Most egregiously, mass murderer and white supremacist, Dylann Roof, was taken into custody without incident by authorities after he murdered 9 Black members of a historically black church, “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, including its senior pastor Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a sitting state senator at the time of his murder. Infamously, the police purchased Burger King for Roof, who was allegedly hungry after committing such heinous crimes, an act that validated his humanity despite his cold-blooded and intentional execution of Black life.

Data proves that blacks are disproportionately more likely to be killed by law enforcement than whites. Additionally, reports have shown that whites who commit violent action against police officers can still be taken in peacefully, which further calls into question the so-called justification for the police shooting that occurred in Detroit on Friday.

Take for instance, the case of Benjamin Murdy in Harford County, Maryland, in January 2020. The Harford County Sheriff, Jeffrey Gahler, stated that during an hour-and-a-half long standoff, Murdy fired almost 200 rounds from a rifle and handgun, while “police never fired a single shot.” The suspect then arranged for his own surrender, and was taken into custody… alive, and guaranteed his day in court. Guaranteed his right to due process and equal protection under the law. How can this extremely and knowingly violent white man fire 200 rounds at police, with multiple weapons, and still be taken into custody alive, without the police firing even one single shot? 

In contrast, Hakim Littleton was killed on the spot, while police were praised for their actions in taking his life. He was robbed of his right to due process, robbed of his day in court, robbed of any other days on Earth, and it was immediately and resoundingly deemed justified. 

With the climate of protest against police violence permeating the globe since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on May 25, Detroit Police Chief James Craig took quick and decisive action to release police video of the encounter with Mr. Littleton. Whether done for transparency or reprieve from culpability, the video showed that Mr. Littleton had a gun and fired at least one shot, close range, at an officer first, before officers returned fire, killing him.

Mr. Littleton’s actions were inexcusable, and police most certainly had probable cause to detain him. In fact, he could have been taken into custody after video showed him restrained on the ground. He could have faced a myriad of charges, including serious felonies such as assault with intent to murder, assault against an officer, aggravated assault, assault with a deadly weapon, and felony firearm, just to name a few.

But in this country, Blackness is a nonexistent crime which renders you immediately guilty of any actions, whether legal or illegal. There is no presumption of innocence that carries through until conviction. Guaranteed constitutional rights are null and void, and imminent and violent death by police becomes a proper and acceptable punishment, regardless of the actions that lead to the encounter. 

If Littleton was white, the burning question is would he be dead? Given the contrasting case of Murdy and the fact that blacks are more often killed by police than whites, there is a strong possibility that if Hakim Littleton was white, he would still be alive. In fact, there are other cases of white violent suspects who were peacefully taken away unharmed in their dealings with police officers.

This is the analysis mainstream media will ignore in Detroit. They reported on the Friday shooting without any context into the documented racial disparities of law enforcement shootings between white suspects and Black suspects. Instead, the media immediately reported information released by police and validated the shooting with headline titles such as “Detroit police chief: Video shows killing of man by officers was justified shooting.

However, every police encounter with Black people in America deserves intense scrutiny beyond the headlines due to the relentless, historical pursuit of state-sanctioned and state-sponsored violence against Blacks in this country.

In a National Geographic article summarizing the history of lynching in America, Arica Coleman, Ph.D., pointed out the dehumanization of Blacks is the link that justifies death in such violent manners. “It doesn’t make a difference what you do… your very presence signifies a threat because of the meanings associated with Blackness- dangerous, impurity, inhumanity, criminal.” 

There is a sinister, underlying belief that Black people are always in the wrong, no matter how innocent or culpable their actions, and their behavior necessitates swift and immediate punitive action, while the police can be excused from liability with murder. Gun or no gun, this is why police can justify the killing of Littleton in Detroit, while Murdy, who posed an arguably more significant threat, can be taken into custody unharmed. This is why Ahmaud Arbery’s killers can walk freely for two months without controversy. It’s why Breonna Taylor’s killers have not been charged, with some still on the force. This is why grand juries declined to indict the killers of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. And, it’s why defenders of George Floyd’s murderers try to use his past criminal record as a justification for his inhumane death. 

This belief in inherent Black criminality is what spawned the lynch mob mentality that allowed angry crowds of white citizens to storm county jails detaining Black suspects, drag those suspects from their jail cells, and institute vigilante justice through violent lynchings, often preceded by beating, mutilation, and other heinous torture tactics inflicted upon the victim while still alive.

The National Geographic article documents a lynching that occurred in Duluth, Minnesota in 1920, 100 years before the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, in which police were “ordered not to use their guns” to deter a white mob of up to 10,000, who came to enforce vigilante justice on six Black men.

As the article noted, these Black men, along with numerous other Black victims, whether suspected of a crime or innocuously passing by, were “killed without due process, never charged with a crime, never offered an opportunity to mount a defense against allegations.” Like George Floyd. Like Breonna Taylor. Like Ahmaud Arbery. Like Rayshard Brooks. And now, like Hakim Littleton.

There are no “perfect” victims. All of these individuals shared the same attributes of being Black, the common denominator that subjected them to extrajudicial killing by police and vigilante citizens alike.

As Dr. Coleman stated, “There is a depth of hatred in the bone marrow of this country that supports the killing of the black body.”

The rush to condemn Mr. Littleton as a menace to society backed by a dehumanizing narrative being weaponized by the media, betrays the inherent natural respect for humanity and fundamental rights that are accorded to white men, who may have a similar or worse background than him.  

Until we tackle this highly uncomfortable but very existent dichotomy in this country, the killing of Hakim Littleton cannot be accepted as justified.

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92 comments

  1. Would Detroit Police Have killed Hakim Littleton if he hadn’t tried to shoot an officer in the head at point blank range? Prolly not.
    Good lord what writer this is. I’ve stumbled into the twilight zone.

    1. This article is pure ignorance. If we continue to attack the police on justified shootings we lose validity when they really are unjustified.

  2. Bullshit. Brother pulled a gun and got put down. White or black he would have been killed. He got exactly what he deserved. Stop glorifying criminals

    1. WHEN will the Afro-Am Community finally ADMIT they have a problem with their young black males that not only have ZERO RESPECT for themselves but ZERO RESPECT for WOMEN, their brethren OR Law Enforcement??

      Of course their Gang-Bangin Rap Culture has NOTHING to do with it whatsoever??

      First off the BLM Movement is a COMPLETE JOKE as is nothing more than another ruse on behalf of the Party OF the KKK & Slavery otherwise known as the SOULLESS DNC to further their leftist agenda by PLAYING the Afro-American Community FOR VOTES like an Inner-city Streetball.

      Here is a hard message for the ENTIRE young male population of the Afro-Am Community here in America

      Pull a gun a cop and you …TAKE YOUR LUMPS!!!

      It also wouldn’t hurt you to LEARN how to take responsibility for yourselves and LEARN HOW to FATHER a CHILD!!

  3. Yes. When you shoot at cops, they shoot back. If this is beyond your comprehension, you are not living in reality.

  4. He shot at the cop 2 feet from him what does people think is going to happen. I don’t care what race you are if you shoot at a cop and they shoot back chances are you are going to die plain and simple.

  5. Don’t listen to the news, look up the data for yourself on the FBI website or via statista or what ever website that presents actual data, and you will see that police shoot more white people every year than any other race. The answer to the question is an obvious yes when you look at the statistics. If you watch the video, it is clear that the assailant shot at the police first, so the police were given no choice but to protect themselves. If you can watch that video and say that the police did not have the right to defend themselves, then you are saying that the police should have allowed themselves to be killed.

    1. Thats why they always state disproportionately… Taking into account the total black population vers white total population…. Problem is..they never accept or acknowledge that the violent crime is perpetrated disproportionately by blacks. Especially black on black crime.

  6. Interesting point about the police being judge, jury and executioner. However, when standing your ground in Michigan, there is no provision for due process.

    Michigan’s Stand Your Ground Law of Self Defense. In Michigan, you may use deadly force, with no duty to retreat, if you have an honest and reasonable belief that such force is necessary to prevent the imminent death, great bodily harm or sexual assault to yourself or to another individual.

  7. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say you didn’t see the video of Hakim Littleton pulling a gun and firing on an officer. This article is bullshit.

  8. I’m white. I guarantee you that if I pull a gun out and fire it at an officer they are not going to stand there and wait for me to fire it again. They will shoot me until I am no longer able to shoot back at them. If you think I’m wrong let me know and we can get together with a white male that you know, and I’ll record him shooting at police officers and we’ll see what happens.

  9. Another anti-white racist writing a column. You have the right to protect your life using deadly force, dummy. What law school did you go to? Oh that’s right, you only worked for the government since you’re too stupid to be a real attorney in the private sector where no one in their right mind would hire you.

    1. Calm down, spanky.. Your response was about as silly as the sjw’s gibberish on how she thinks it wasn’t justified that police putting down a menace to society. Don’t be as shallow and silly as them and then claim to be any better

  10. The writer of this article seems to believe actions dont have justifiable consequences and that situations shouldnt differ no matter the circumstances, location and environment, dont worry about any situations where unarmed white people have been shot because that wouldnt fit in your one narrow little tiny brained view of the world, truly he was willing to take another mans life, he started this, and he paid the consequence, dont be a dishonest caricature,your drivel is just dividing people further, even with your small reach, and it infuriates me (it shouldnt) that people like you are considered intellectual or have the space to write bullshit fancily worded bias like this, you know your wrong

  11. and its afforded not accorded, in your haste to write bullshit word salad to make up for how smart you are, you actually forgot how to spell, if your gonna spew racist bullshit at least spell it correctly

  12. Your article is despicable. You are the reason we have a divide in this country, shame on you. Littleton attempted to shoot an officer in the head but missed. Anyone of any color would be shot in this scenario. Littleton can burn in hell. Not for his skin color, but for attempting to take the lives of innocent people for murderous rage. Shame on you

  13. You and people like you are the very reason why all this ugliness is happening. Your false narrative and flat out lying article are the worst firm of media. Mr. Littleton not only pulled a gun on the officers but fired on them! He could have killed one of them yet you want it to sound as tho he was just walking by and they decided to shoot him! I’m sure you would have cheered if he had and that not only makes you despicable but as ugly a human being as anything! You should be ashamed!

  14. I also like that in this bs article this person is condemning the media for writing dehumanizing this guy with their weaponized media….. have you, mr./ms. Sucky reporter, looked in the mirror lately?

  15. It is either through disingenuous propaganda attempts to mislead, or actual ignorance to the use and utility of statistics, that I continue to see blm-types claim that the reason blacks are 2x’s more likely to be killed by cop than a white person, is “due to ‘institutional/white racism'”.

    All the stats do is show ‘correlation’, and in no way indicate ANY ‘causation’.

    It could just as easily be asserted that the behavior of the black perp that drives the stats. The stats do not say one way or the other.

    You claim to be an officer of the court, yet use as ‘proof’ the ‘Dylan Roof got BK’ deflection.

    You KNOW that the local LEO turned Roof over to state/Fed authorities immediately, but were still in charge of his housing. You know that the perp has Constitutional rights (Cruel/unusual punishment) that needed to be carefully guarded so Roofs lawyer could not use the fact that his client was not provided food/safety, as something to gum-up the prosecution of the pos Roof.

    BK was the closest burger joint and that’s what he got.

    You cite random cases of white men firing shots and not being harmed when arrested.

    I can counter those with account after account of blacks being taken into custody ‘without incident’ after committing murder(s), as long as you want to keep responding… But, that would make me as unprofessional, and child-like in my thinking, as you, ma’am.

  16. This is without a doubt the worst article ever written in the history of mankind. And I’ve read every article that has ever been written.

  17. The only reason this officer’s friends and family are not attending his funeral, the only reason his kids (if he has them) aren’t fatherless and his wife (if he has one) isn’t a widow, the only reason he still has a head, is that wanna-be cop killer, wanna-be cold-blooded murderer Littleton missed, at nearly point blank range.

  18. Absurd article and premise. Both examples of (genuinely) criminal white men who committed outrageous acts of violence but were not shot by police _were not actively shooting at police at the time of arrest_. The former was apprehended some 240 miles from the original crime scene and did not shoot at police; the latter was shooting at police, but they did not know where he was in the house and so did not return fire. Presumably the author is intelligent enough to know these facts—the only reasonable conclusion is that she purposefully ignores the facts to further her narrative.

  19. If he shot at them like Hakim did? Absolutely. Your race bait narrative fails hard in this one. Writing an irresponsible story like this without facts should be illegal

  20. Let me guess, you got your college degree in African Cultural Studies, not in journalism?
    Oh, by the way, you are a Racist and you are not helping the Black communities by printing and spewing hatred.
    Here’s a question. Why did Hakim Littleton feel it necessary to pull a gun and shoot at the police officer? There is no justification for that.
    You should focus your energy on helping the Black community. Focus on the problems of the absentee fathers, high homicide rates among the Black on Black. How about writing an article on why Blacks are targeted in abortions or why Blacks have the highest percentage of out of wedlock births. Here’s a good one! Do you know that Racial Segregation is still practiced today? Yes, the inner cities. Especially, those run by Democrats. Why?

  21. While there are people like Tina Patterson to stir up trouble, there will never be peace in the US. This woman would see racist intentions in a goldfish. Instead of trying to justify criminals she would do better in trying to improve the lives of law abiding citizens.

  22. How you manage to be this stupid and find a job writing articles at a legitimate outlet is beyond me

  23. Could this writer be any more racist and anti-white?
    Apparently it’s not justified for cops to shoot BACK at a man (a POS felon mind you) who fired a gun at the officers face 2 times…
    The left is showing their true colors more and more every day.

  24. Plain and simple one word to describe this editor ” RETARDED” ! ! ! !
    this is the majority of the problem now a days with schmucks fueling the fire of all these protest, not only the stupidity of some of these protest, but watching the video of this shooting the cops had every right in the world to shoot this piece of shit dead or alive, I say dead better so we dont have to pay for his boarding in Jail….

  25. Stop with the racial talk when it’s not justified. Please write about something that makes sense. Go back and rewatch the video – I’ve watched it several times. This is a slam dunk. Plain and simple, if you try to kill a cop, you’re going to be shot and potentially killed. Period. It completely defies logic and the fact that groups are forming to stop excessive force by police in light of this is beyond me.

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