Back slaps

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When Detroit cop John Bennett hosted a party at Bert's on Broadway last week, it felt to News Hits a bit like we were watching a group of combat veterans enjoying a little well-earned R & R before returning to the front lines.

Bennett, you might recall, was fired in 2002 after creating a Web site ( critical of then-Chief Jerry Oliver. From the outset, it was apparent to us that Bennett was doing nothing more than exercising the right to free speech granted him by something called the First Amendment. You would think officials sworn to uphold the law might have a working familiarity with the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but Oliver, and by extension his boss at city hall, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, seemed to have never heard of those founding documents.

So Bennett struggled for more than four years, selling flowers alongside the road and working as a security guard as he pressed his case for reinstatement. He finally won the right to return to the force earlier this year. Although still waiting for the check containing his accumulated back pay, Bennett threw last week's shindig as a way to say thanks to all those who stood by him.

Among those gathered around the bar were Gary Brown, the former head of the DPD's internal affairs unit who was fired after launching an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing on the part of Kilpatrick's security detail. Brown and two other cops filed whistle-blower lawsuits claiming the administration orchestrated retaliation against them for doing nothing more than their jobs. Those lawsuits eventually led to the text-message scandal that has gripped Detroit for more than a month.

Also there was Mildred Gaddis, the radio talk show host (WCHB 1200 AM) who was among the very first in the media to start pointing out that there was a dark side to Kwame Kilpatrick the public wasn't seeing. A few staffers from the Free Press showed up as well, including M.L. Elrick, one half of the reporting team that broke the text-message story.

You know the old saying about there being no problem a well-placed stick of dynamite can't solve? Had this crew that assembled all come together in one place a few years ago, the ignition of a little TNT might have saved Kilpatrick a world of trouble.

But not now. The shit has gotten too deep. Even if he somehow escapes without being indicted and convicted of perjury for lying under oath and manages to stay in office, more and more people in Detroit are seeing the mayor for who he really is. And some of those gathered at Bert's last week deserve a share of the credit for making that happen. In different ways, they stood up to a bully when others wouldn't.

Bennett, who says he plans to run for City Council, wanted to say thanks. But he, too, has earned our gratitude. His Web site became required reading for those who wanted to know what's been going on with this administration and the city's police department. He paid the price of personal hardship for speaking out, and deserves our admiration for that.

As for as the media, we're used to being vilified. Often, we deserve it. But there are also times when we rise to the occasion and show real spine, times when our reporting and advocacy helps sustain people like John Bennett.

Every once in a while, it's nice to get a slap on the back and feel the love. Last week at Bert's was one of those times. Such moments are fleeting, though. When morning rolled around, the celebration had already faded, and it was time to return to the trenches.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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