DETROIT – After days of silence, Rev. Marvin Winans spoke publicly Sunday for the first time since he was assaulted and carjacked by a group of four men at a Detroit gas station. Winans, still showing signs of injury from the attack, said that he knew that he was in trouble as soon as he went to pay for his gas.
“When I opened the door, I said, ‘Uh oh,’” Winans said during his first sermon at his Perfecting Church since the carjacking. Winans said that he was topping off the tank on his purple 2012 Infiniti QX56 SUV on his way to meet with a pastor in Toledo. He said that he saw at least 12 young men loitering in the CITGO gas station on Linwood & Davison on the city’s west side, around 3:30 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon.
Winans, 54, is a Detroit native and apart of one of gospel music’s most well known families. His latest single “Let the Church Say Amen,” is No. 1 on the Billboard gospel charts.
He is also the pastor of Perfecting Church — a nearly 5,000 seat mega-church which he started in 1989, and moved to its current location on the city’s east side in 1996 — and is one of the more influential political figures in Detroit. Black churches have a heavy influence on public policy and political fundraising in Detroit and most city leaders do most of their heavy campaigning in the church.
Winans is also in the process of building a second multi-million dollar Perfecting Church along Woodward Ave. in Detroit. He famously gave the eulogy at Whitney Houston’s funeral earlier this year.
“Something said to me ‘I am not going to live in fear,’” Winans said. “I am not going to be afraid of us.” Winans paid $40 for his gas and was summarily followed to his car by 4 of the men. As the men surrounded him, the gas pump began to run over.
“This is really going to go down,” Winans recalled thinking to himself before being punched by one of the assailants. He said he was pulled from the car and thrown to the ground. In the attack, he suffered scrapes, bruises, and a broken finger.
Winans has been criticized for being too “flashy” and not realizing that he was going into a dangerous area. Winans said that he went to the station because it had lower prices and felt that he was a random target.
“In our success we seem to have lost our center,” Winans said during a press conference before his sermon. “We have failed our sons and have allowed them to have heroes that are no more than thieves and thugs.”
The assailants took the SUV, his Louis Vuitton wallet with $200 inside, and his $15,000 diamond-encrusted, gold Rolex watch. The robbery, which occurred in broad daylight, stunned a city already hampered by a spike in violent crime and the subsequent handling of the incident has sparked controversy in how quickly it was resolved.
In a city where carjackings, armed robberies, and violent crimes can go months or years without being solved, arrests were made in the Winans assault within 24 hours. The SUV was found the following day, and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee said that he was making it a priority to catch the attackers.
On Sunday afternoon, three men — Montoya Givens and Christopher Moorehead, both 20, Brian K. Young, 18 — were arraigned in Detroit’s 36th District Court on charges of carjacking, conspiracy to carjack, unarmed robbery and conspiracy to rob not armed. The swift capture and arraignment has left city residents wondering if the victim were not so high profile, would there have been such a quick response.
“I think they gave (Winans) extra special treatment for sure,” said Marquetta Keels of Detroit. “I don’t think that’s a good look for the people that stay in the city. All that’s saying is they don’t care what happens to the residents of Detroit. If you don’t have money and you’re not famous, then who cares what happens?”
The city has seen another tough year in terms of homicides and violent crime. The police insist they are doing what they can for all citizens, and Godbee feels that progress has been made in Detroit.
“The reality is that we do work like this more often than not,” Godbee said in an interview on WXYT-FM on Friday, asserting that the media often does not report when the police make quick arrests. “We routinely close cases and do great police work on a day-to-day basis. You can’t argue the fact that this has drawn local media attention at a heightened awareness, national media attention, and even international.
“The fact that I’m the chief of police, I have to respond. If the interest was generated for a citizen that was not Marvin Winans, I would respond.”
The Detroit police have been one of the biggest victims of the city’s long-standing financial crisis, with public safety often being the first cuts made by city government. After the Winans incident, city council members Gary Brown — a former Detroit police officer — and Kwame Kenyatta each came up with plans for how to combat the rise of crimes at city gas stations.
Kenyatta wants gas stations and other 24-hour establishments, such as convenience stores, to be required to hire security guards and install 24-hour surveillance cameras, while Brown has advocated that all gas stations close from 2-6 a.m. to crack down on crime.
Godbee insists that crime in Detroit is decreasing but that has been heavily disputed by prosecutors and citizens. With the lower number of officers, fewer police reports are being written. In Detroit, a crime is not officially considered to have occurred until a report is written, therefore explaining the decreased number.
“I am buoyed by the fact that this case was well investigated by the police and that we were able to charge this case quickly,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a statement. “However, with the proper resources, this could be done in all cases. I respect (Godbee) greatly, but crime is not down or even the same as it was at this time last year. It is only the reporting of crime that is down.”
The Winans incident came on the heels of the murder of 84-year-old Joseph Lewis, a church security guard who was gunned down in the parking lot of Victory Way Assembly Church in Detroit during Bible study. Lewis was a Korean War veteran and a Bronze Star recipient, a retired automotive assembly line inspector, and had guarded churches for more than 55 years.
“If you look at the homicide of (Lewis), we’ve made three arrests there and nobody is talking about that,” Godbee said. “He was not famous by any means, but he was a victim of a crime and I take it very personally when our citizens are victims of crime.”
Winans noted that what bothered him the most was he fact that people stood idly by and watched the attack occur in broad daylight. Only one woman stopped to help him after the attack. She happened to recognize him and took him back to his church.
“I looked at her and I said, ‘I’m just sad to think we have reared young men to prey on people that they think are weaker,’” Winans said. Godbee also noted that many of the problems with the lack of traction made on crimes comes from the unwillingness of citizens to step in and help or report crimes, either out of fear or an adherence to the “Stop Snitching” code.
“I don’t get the same level of cooperation on every crime,” Godbee said. “We had a 9-month-old boy that was shot in a drive-by and killed. You would think that there would be a level of outrage and that somebody that knows something would speak up. To this date, we still haven’t gotten the information we need to close that case.
“Because people know who Pastor Winans is, we’ve gotten some tremendous information. If we got this level of cooperation on every crime victim, Detroit would be a much better place.”
During Winans’ sermon on Sunday, in front of a packed church, he called on the men, fathers, and business owners of Detroit to take personal responsibility of the city. Winans also said that he’s not bitter about the attack and sees himself as a catalyst for change in the city following the robbery.
“The city is fixable, and it starts with the men of the city, in particular the black men,” Winans said. “I want to urge all of you men who hear me to go and get your sons. I’m not bitter. I’m not upset. I’m saddened by what has taken place. But I’m also inspired. We have to make a change in this city.”
Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith