Security team at Detroit’s Renaissance Center accused of racism, assault

By TheGrio Staff

On November 16, 2023

“Black hotel guests and visitors to the RenCen are in extreme danger and risk for their lives,” wrote attorney Danielle Safran, representing a client who’s filed a lawsuit against its security firm.

A private security police force at Detroit’s historic Renaissance Center is allegedly plagued with racism and often abuses Black people, from guests to employees, claims contend.

The Detroit Free Press has been investigating the allegations against the Renaissance Center Management Company since August, some dating back to 2011. Court filings indicate General Motors Corp. established the security company to monitor the facility, and it is majority-owned by G4S Secure Solutions, an international security firm located in Florida.

In one of at least two dozen incidents, Black hotel guest Demarko Brown said white Renaissance Center Management officers attacked him so violently, he sustained brain damage. Brown’s attorney, Danielle Safran, recalled another alleged incident in which a Black woman, who, like Brown, claims officers illegally held her in a cell in the RenCen’s basement for so long, she urinated on herself, per a lawsuit filed earlier this year.

General Motors’ Renaissance Center in Detroit, Michigan is shown. The facility’s security police force is allegedly plagued with racism and often abuses Black people, from guests to employees, lawsuits claim. (Photo by Mandi Wright and Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Allied Universal, which purchased G4S in April 2021, declined to comment on specific complaints of excessive force and racism on the RenCen premises.

“Allied Universal is dedicated to the safety of its team members, its clients, their customers and the public,” the company shared in a statement. “The incidents occurred approximately three years ago and prior to Allied Universal’s acquisition of G4S. Allied Universal does not comment on allegations that are resolved during private mediation or on pending litigation.”

The Renaissance Center is a glass skyscraper complex constructed on Detroit’s riverfront in 1977 and also consists of smaller companies and a Marriott hotel. GM purchased it in 1996 and has used it since as the automaker’s global headquarters.

In a second lawsuit Safran filed Tuesday, one of the security firm’s current Black employees, senior use-of-force instructor Robert Barnes Jr., alleges even more racism, excessive force, assault, harassment and false imprisonment against it.

Barnes claims that on one occasion, a white Renaissance Center Management officer — who was then-president of a security officers’ union — circulated a photo of a decapitated Black man’s head, laughing and making racial jokes about it.

His complaint alleges that white officers fabricated documents to justify using force, including deleting surveillance footage.

“Black hotel guests and visitors to the RenCen are in extreme danger and risk for their lives,” Safran wrote in Barnes’ complaint, the Free Press reported.

Safran, who expressed fear there will be more victims if excessive force is allowed to continue, is attempting to turn the complaint into a class action to represent other Black RenCen employees. She is demanding monetary damages.

According to the Free Press, attorney Valerie Mock, representing the defendants listed in Brown’s ongoing lawsuit, including RCMC, G4S and GM, argued that her clients did not act discriminatorily and properly investigated complaints of racism and excessive force. She alleged Brown’s injuries were the result of his actions and says the companies and staffers involved are protected by governmental immunity.

Donald Gambrell, who Safran also represents, said he approached his new job as a RenCen security officer in March 2017 with pride and honesty. However, beginning in October of that year, coworkers began referring to him as a “b—-,” “b—- ass n—-r,” “black jackal,” “rusty” and “n—-r,” per a racial discrimination complaint Gambrell filed in 2021.

Michigan State Police confirmed last week they are investigating the officers’ conduct.

Joseph Kempa, deputy executive director of Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, asked MSP to investigate early this month following media inquiries.

MCOLES has the right to revoke an agency’s license if there are findings of dishonesty, impersonating a law enforcement official and assault, among other offenses, according to the statute PA330, which deals with the licensing of security police personnel.

Gambrell compared the harassment to “buck breaking,” which occurred during slavery and wherein white enslavers raped enslaved Black people.

His lawsuit alleges that the environment became so toxic, he had to seek medical leave due to anxiety. Internal documents reportedly indicate that his human resources representative allegedly told him medical leave is “not a get out of jail free card.”

Gambrell said he stayed to protect other Black coworkers subjected to the same racism, but he went on stress leave in May 2022 and never returned.

Attorneys representing the corporations in Gambrell’s court action rejected the allegations and said he failed to exhaust all options under his collective bargaining agreement. Safran noted that the parties settled in December 2022.

“I wanted justice,” Gambrell told the Free Press. “I didn’t want them to continue to do this to other people of color. Other people, period.”

This piece was republished from Yahoo News.

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