The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Porter Burks Murdered at the Hands of Detroit Police

Oct 10, 2022

Five Detroit cops fired 38 shots at Porter Burks, a 20-year-old black man experiencing a mental health crisis, killing him. Burks’ family had called the police for help, after he had slashed his brother’s tires with a pocket knife. His brother had explained Porter’s condition to the cops when they arrived.

The whole situation was caught on video, which has now become public. The video shows Burks wandering in the street, holding a knife, a long distance away from a cop who asks him to drop the knife. While the cops initially tried to de-escalate the situation, as soon as Burks began to run in the direction of the cops, the video shows they immediately opened fire on him.

Burks was a diagnosed schizophrenic. His family has since explained that he had been mugged recently by two other men in the area, so he carried a knife for protection.

Prominent attorney Geoffrey Fieger has agreed to represent Burks’ family. Fieger called out the police department for initially lying to the public about what happened. The cops first claimed they had attempted to tase Burks before shooting him, which the video clearly shows to be false. On the contrary, the cops handcuffed Burks using zip ties even after they put at least 15 shots into him, before dropping him off at the hospital where he was declared dead.

The police department also claimed that Burks was within six feet of the cops when he was shot, in an attempt to portray the cops as being in imminent danger. The video clearly shows he was still much farther away than that when he was killed.

Burks’ family rightfully called his killing “flat-out murder”. As Fieger put it, “Porter needed help. Instead he was executed.” Burks’ family and others have taken to the streets to protest his killing.

The murder of Porter Burks at the hands of the Detroit police is just the latest example of the cops’ inability to deal properly with someone undergoing a mental health crisis, particularly when it involves a black person. It is certainly true, as both Fieger and Detroit Police Chief James White have indicated, that in part this is a result of the practically complete lack of available mental health care in this society, so that it too often falls into the hands of poorly trained cops to deal with such crises.

Nonetheless, that does not excuse the cops’ failure to find a way to deal with the mentally ill, despite all the body armor they are all too ready to put on display in front of the slightest demonstration of protest against their bloody tactics. The murder of Porter Burks and attempted cover-up by the Detroit Police Department is just the latest example showing that the working class and the poor, and especially those who are black, can’t look for the cops to change. It’s like asking a leopard to change its spots.