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Rain, curfew help bring quiet night to Benton Harbor

Heavy police presence after two nights of riots

A Michigan state trooper monitors a corner after curfew Wednesday night in Benton Harbor.
A Michigan state trooper monitors a corner after curfew Wednesday night in Benton Harbor.

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Rain and heavy security dampened arson and rioting in Benton Harbor, Michigan, following the death of a local man in a police chase (June 19)
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Bullets, fire and rage on the streets of Benton Harbor, Michigan. WSBT reporter Jennifer Kuk is on the scene (June 18)
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BENTON HARBOR, Michigan (CNN) -- Heavy rains and a nighttime curfew helped bring calm Wednesday evening to this Michigan town, rocked by two nights of violence set off by the death of a black motorcyclist fleeing white officers in a high-speed chase.

As many as 300 officers from the Michigan State Police and surrounding jurisdictions had moved onto the streets of the economically depressed small town Wednesday, looking to restore calm. The city is under a state of emergency and a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew for children under the age of 16. Adults going to and from work are not affected by the curfew.

Heavy rains poured through the city of 12,000 as night fell, fostering hopes that the bad weather would keep people inside.

Benton Harbor Mayor Charles Yarbrough urged residents to stay home.

"The burning must stop, the rocks must stop, people must stop being hurt," Yarbrough said after Tuesday's violent protests left five homes burned and at least 10 people injured.

Police used tear gas to break up a crowd of about 300 people early Wednesday. Some of the protesters shot at police, and as many as 12 people were arrested, mostly on charges of civil disturbance and vandalism, Yarbrough said.

"It was very violent," Benton Harbor Police Chief Sam Harris said. "We had gunfire. They shot at our trucks, they shot at the captain of police, ran barricades."

The violence followed the death Monday night of a black motorcyclist in a high-speed chase by white police officers from nearby Benton Township. The motorcyclist, 28-year-old Terrance Shurn, of Benton Harbor, was killed when he crashed into a vacant building in a neighborhood near the city's center.

City Manager Joe Patterson said the Michigan State Police are investigating the incident.

Wednesday afternoon, police officers from several different jurisdictions began arriving in Benton Harbor. Some carried riot gear, and several reinforced vans called "peacekeepers" were parked downtown. The bullet-proof vans help protect officers from gunshots, rocks and bottles.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said about 130 state police officers are assisting local law enforcement, but she urged local leaders to come together to restore calm.

"The civil unrest of recent days must come to an end, and the healing process must begin for the future of the community," Granholm said in a written statement. "We will provide assistance both in ending the violence and enabling the healing process in Benton Harbor."

Yarbrough said the governor has promised to visit the city, but he did not say when.

Many of the city's residents believe they are unfairly targeted by police from the more prosperous white communities that surround them, said Charlie Ammeson, a local attorney.

"The real underlying cause, in my opinion, is that we have a segregated community up here," Ammeson said. "The fear, the distrust that develops just gets blown out of proportion."

About 12,000 people live in Benton Harbor, a predominantly black city on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Though it was once home to foundries, boat yards and appliance factories, many of its jobs have evaporated and unemployment now runs above 25 percent, according to state records.

"It's not racial as much as you have a very poor community," Ammeson said.

Firefighters put out a fire Wednesday morning in Benton Harbor. In the foreground is an overturned burned-out vehicle.
Firefighters put out a fire Wednesday morning in Benton Harbor. In the foreground is an overturned burned-out vehicle.

Another resident, Cynthia Caldwell, said people in Benton Harbor are "frustrated and angry." Many of them aired their grievances Tuesday night at a packed meeting of Benton Township's Board of Trustees.

Lt. Mike Risko, a Michigan State Police spokesman, said a Berrien County sheriff's deputy clocked Shurn doing 100 mph and attempted to pursue him. The deputy broke off pursuit, but police from Benton Township picked up the chase into Benton Harbor, he said.

"The driver of the motorcycle ended up losing control and ran into a vacant building," Risko said.

Shurn's uncle, Ralph Crenshaw, said the officers knew who they were chasing and could have picked up his nephew later without risking lives in a high-speed chase.

Ammeson said Shurn was popular and likable, but the rioting "could have happened six months ago, or six years."

"This community needs to deal with these issues rather than inflame them and ignore them," he said.

-- CNN Chicago Bureau Chief Jeff Flock contributed to this report.

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