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. What about the officers that Mr. Littleton fired upon. What about their humanity, their right to life, their families? The video shows Mr. Littleton was not a suspect. While there are disparities in how black lives and neighborhoods are policed, does that apply in THIS situation? I believe if he had been white he would have been killed by police as well.

  2. Absolutely color had no bearing. I retired from DPD after 35 years of service. I would have done the same thing

  3. Chances are when you pull out a gun and shoot at the police you’re going to get fired back on. Stop defending this thug!

  4. Although I can agree with a percentage of your opinion. You leave me no choice but to say, you are a complete and utter fool if you believe a white man can aim a gun at a BLACK officer on THE DETROIT POLICE DEPARTMENT and fire it at the officer’s face from less than 10 feet away and not have police return fire. Here’s a suggestion for you, why don’t you contact Chief Craig and request to go through some police scenarios. I’d be curious to hear your opinion after.

  5. Littleton was not robbed of his right to due process or his day in court. He was not robbed of anything! He willingly gave up those rights and any others when he pulled out a gun and shot at a Police Officer only feet away from him. The outcome would not be any different if he was white or any other race!

  6. You have to be kidding me. The suspect pulls his gun out and shoots at the police unprovoked and they should try to restrain him??? Why?? The question should be is why did he even.pull his gun and shoot?? What was justifiable in HIS BEHAVIOR??? Your writing makes me sick! I’ll stand next to the Detrout Police Chief and support him on this action.

  7. Obviously a justified shooting. Mr. Littleton determined the outcome when he produced a handgun and fired it attempting to commit murder. Thank God that no Police Officers or innocent bystanders were killed! The author of this article clearly is a purveyor of victimization mentality and her assessment is quite flawed and embarrassing.

  8. This is ignorant propaganda. He was discharging a firearm at the police. Endangering other human lives, including black ones. Maybe more black men are shot and killed by police is because they statically commit more violent crimes. So are we as a society supposed to be okay with this? NO!!! More black lives are taken every year by other black individuals so how does play into the BLM movement? The reality of this is that the violence needs to stop within all races. Human life needs to be valued by everyone. To conclude I reiterate that this man was committing a violent crime that was caught on tape, endangering the lives of the people in the area and you feel that was okay? You wouldn’t feel that way if it was your child that caught one of his stray bullets. Black lives did not matter to that black man when he was discharging his weapon.

    1. What an idiotic article
      Hakim aimed a gun at law enforcement, some of them black, and posed an immediate threat to them.
      To say that their self-preservation is equal to the death penalty is about as big of a slippery slope as you can imagine.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sr7WtmM1-XE

      Whereas Dylann Roof literally turned himself in
      https://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/crime/article24921256.html

      But you don’t care about facts because they don’t fit your narrative. The same reason that blacks are more likely to die at the hands of police is same reason they commit more homicides.

    2. Your answer is wrong!

      Is this how you see it playing out with a white man?
      “excuse me white man, please stop shooting your gun at me, thats not very nice. have a good day my good sir.”

    3. Exucse me, Nzingha, but have you watched the bodycam video of the officer who shot him? He aimed a gun at an officer’s head before he got gunned downed himself. Also, the officer who shot Hakim was a black man, something that would not have mattered in my book, but does for some reason for a lot of race obsessed americans.

  9. My answer is yes!!! And then I have a question if Hakim Little were white, would there have been a protest, would there even be an article written or a news story about it? The answer to that is no!!
    All of these people that are outraged over justifiable defenses by officers, need to walk a mile in their shoes!! Everyone that wants to “defund” police departments, need to live in a country that doesn’t have police there to protect them!
    Yes there are some extreme situations where unjustifiable force is used causing death. These instances need to be investigated and punished. However, right now in this country it doesn’t matter what you do as long as the color of your skin is black the public is in an uproar if any action is taken you. That is wrong!!! If you harm another person regardless of your skin color, you should be held accountable for your actions. If you resist arrest “necessary” force should be used to restrain you. If you shoot a gun directly at a police officer or another person, expect that the same will happen to you.
    Police are trained to shoot and injure the person if possible. When not possible, when treat remains after the wound (which was the situation) deadly force is needed to maintain the safety of everyone around. How people can not see a criminal act for what it is and the unfortunate end to the situation for what it is, that I do not understand!! And before anyone starts, I am a black man!

  10. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. He was shot because he shot at the police at point blank range, not because of the color of his skin.

  11. Dylan Roof was caught during a traffic stop and surrendered peacefully. Hakim Littleton tried to execute a police officer point blank. He was subsequently killed by black cops. Your “narrative” holds no merit and you’re nothing but a race-baiting cunt.

  12. You are fucking idiots, the only people spreading hate are you. This idiot shot at police and was killed for it. He did get justice.

  13. So let me get this straight… this woman is saying that if Hakim Littleton was a white man, the police would not have shot him *AFTER HE FIRED A GUN AT THEM FROM A FEW YARDS AWAY?*

    You leftist hacks are so disgustingly racist and stupid.

  14. The guy took out a gun and tries to shoot a cop in the head. the police officer that returned fire was also black.. so the answer is yes. hakim tried to murder someone, and got what he deserved.

  15. Is this a satire website? Are you people for real? I’m really curious because if you think the color of his skin mattered when he was shooting at a police officer point blank then you are absolutely delusional. What was the officer supposed to do? I’m serious please answer that. Was he supposed to matrix the bullets and then go for a football tackle? Everyone refers to Dylan Roof being taken peacefully but the reason he was alive was because when the police stopped him he listened and didn’t try to resist. If he had shot at police he would’ve been lit the fuck up, 100% guaranteed bet my life savings on it. Eat my shorts Tina.

  16. This article reeks of bias. You even state that he opened fire on police and still say they had no right to shoot him. If he was white you probably wouldn’t have even blinked an eye. And I’m guessing you get your false statistics from unreputable libral sources who don’t have a difference of opinion. Black lives only seem to matter when killed justifiably(in this case) or unjustifiably(in George Floyd’s case) by white police officers. Have you or anyone else on this site for that matter done an article on all the shootings that have been going on(mostly of black children). No you haven’t. Why, because black on black crime doesn’t fit your narrative.

  17. You’re an idiot. Shooting was completely justified. Its because of morons like you, the false narrative of police brutality is getting more black men killed. Good job, dummy.

  18. Are you serious?? What are cops supposed to do when someone points a gun in their face and pulls the trigger, do they hope and pray that thugs run out of bullets before they(the police) get shot. You have a platform that reaches out to the public please try to stop the hateful rhetoric by spreading lies about our police

  19. If a white person had fired numerous times at the cops? Yeah, he’d be dead. You don’t “de-escalate” when he’s shooting at you. This is absurd. You read like a white nationalist sock-puppet out to try to delegitimize the movement by including a violent criminal with some innocent people.

  20. WTF is this Lady talking about? OK, a Lawyer….she knows MORE about Michigan laws than I do!!! But WTF….Police want to go home TOO! Mr. Littleton CHOSE to put himself in that situation! Can you HONESTLY SAY, that you wouldn’t have acted he same..to protect one of your associates or friends? Mr. Lttleton sure tried to! Albeit for the wrong type of “Friend”. So you want me to believe “One Criminal defending another Criminal(whom Police are there to arrest) can defend his Friend…but Police cant do the same? Miss me with that nonsense! If said Policeman had been on his own…and I was there….dont think for 1 minute that I wouldnt have acted accordingly. I just dont get how so many “Smart/Educated” folk cant see the flaws in their thinking. ITS NOT ABOUT RACE! It is about doing the BEST you can…FOR EVERYONE…Friend ans Foe Alike! You cant HONESTLY TELL ME…that he wouldnt be alive today, if for him not being a COMPLETE Idiot? Being said…I applaud his standing up for a Friend, but THAT FRIEND? Triple Homicide…and on Black Lives”…YEAH…MISS me with that Bull Shit BLM! PROVE IT!

  21. You are upset that Littleton wasn’t given the option to have a multi-hour standoff with the police?

    How would that work? Would Littleton, instead of pulling his gun, get a time out from the police to go into a nearby house so he can bunker down for a big standoff?

    I think the answer is because creating anger is more important than creating solutions. I think if you actually cared about lives you would be writing about Natalia Wallace, Secoriea Turner, Royta De’Marco Giles to name just some kids who got shot this month in (1) USA city alone.

    peace out, hope you find it.

  22. Most of this article is ideological generalities, very little of it describes what actually took place when Mr. Littleton was shot. I recommend watching the bodycam footage and judging the situation for yourself.

    “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 had already been shot by the time he was on the ground. If someone pulls out a gun and starts shooting at you, you have to return fire. This is a split second, life or death situation. There is no such thing as shoot to wound. When your life is threatened, you have to shoot to stop the threat. Sheltered people have very unrealistic expectations of police performance when dealing with an armed assailant.

  23. I have never read a more biased, racist bigoted news article than this. The cops had every right to shoot his stupid ass, white, black , brown or purple. HE SHOT AT THEM, when you shoot at someone expect to get shot back at.

  24. He probably would, because he probably would have still tried to shoot the cops, who defended themselves against him.
    Comparing this interaction to interactions where the suspect surrenders peacefully is comparing apples and oranges, it’s dumb. Get a reality check.

  25. He was killed while attempting to murder a police officer, not for being black. It’s pretty simple logic, if you shoot at police (or anyone with a gun), they shoot back. It’s happened to people of all colors, races, creeds or genders. Pulling the race card on a justified incident is ignorant and sets a dangerous precedent. Only in America do we have to fake hate crimes.

  26. Brown, black, or white if you pull a gun and shoot at the police they will kill you. If a white man brutally attacked a black Macy’s employee while his brother recorded it would it be a hate crime?

  27. If the the shooter was white they would have subdued with goose down pillows, put him if the back of a police cruiser and asked where he likes to get his favorite latte from.

    Mr. Littleton wasn’t robbed of any due process. He drew his piece and fired at officers. It’s in the video even. Let me know if your liberal glasses are obfuscating either your vision or critical thinking.

  28. If this shooting wasn’t justified, than no shooting is justified. As a cop, OR AS AN INDIVIDUAL, AS YOURSELF, do you mean to tell me someone just shot at your head, and you’re going to take a chance they don’t get off another shot? Maybe tackle him and if your lucky he won’t get off another shot at you, your partners, or innocent bystanders? How much would you have to pay cops to not have no concern for their own their own lives? You want cops like that? I guess maybe if you’re suicidal, you hate your life, your kids, your wife, and you would just rather roll the dice on dying in the street rather than than going home to your family. The public would be endangered. We pay police to protect the public, not needlessly risk their lives in the process. Littleton could have walked away from that encounter, but he chose cold blooded murder instead. Thankfully, he was a poor marksman, and the cop was not. Thank god he didn’t get off another shot. And why didn’t he? Because a good cop stopped him. You really think Littleton would risk his life to keep from taking one? It’s evident human life is worthless to him. I assume Littleton didn’t know that cop whose head he was about to take off, whose kids he would have orphaned, whose wife he would have widowed. What do you want from cops? They risk their lives to protect the public, to protect you. Not good enough? You want them to willingly sacrifice themselves? How dare you?

  29. Wow your an idiot…. why don’t you ask the black people he robbed… that’s why he had a warrant…. why don’t you ask the three black people his friend he was with killed….that’s why he had a warrant…. Why don’t you ask the innocent Black people who are being terrorized by these pieces of shit in their city how they feel….Or you can keep asking pointless race baiting questions instead of having people look in the mirror and take responsibility for their own actions Regardless of skin color… Or as the black officer he tried to shoot in the head

  30. You’re really defending the death of a man who attempted to murder police officers? He’s dead because he was an imminent threat to others lives and they responded.

  31. Floyd was a tragedy. BTW and white guy was killed by police in Dallas 2 years ago by not being able to breathe. (It didn’t make much news though.)
    Brooks and Littlejon had weapons firing at police. If they are a danger to society, I don’t care what color they are, black white brown yellow whatever, the police were justified in their actions.
    And Littlejon friend was being arrested in connection with murdering three black people. Do the black people who were killed by a black man get any respect from the media, none.
    You were right in the regard Littlejon could have had due process. But if he would have backed up and not been carrying a weapon and then firing upon police, he would most likely be alive.

  32. Yes, if you pull a gun out on a cop and attempt to shoot them, no matter what your skin color is, you will be shot at.That is why white people are killed more by cops and at a hiher rate in the US by law enforcement.

  33. You do know that he already fired to shots and the officer that detained was lucky that he wasn’t killed. Any person that shoots at police officers would probably shot and should be shot if there is no other way to detain them. What would you have the police do otherwise when someone is shooting at them. And to answer the question in your title, yes he would’ve been shot if he was. Anyone would’ve been shot if they did that, and you can find videos on youtube.

    You know I agree with your main points for the most part, but this case just isn’t a good example.

  34. Whoever wrote this article is an idiot. Hakim Littleton should be and thankfully is no more. You do know that white people are also killed by cops? Karen please stop writing articles.

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