Accountability groups classified as gangs in Detroit

DETROIT — Noting a rise in accountability-group-related violence, Detroit police are keeping a close eye on church-based men’s groups.

“Gang violence has dropped, but Christian accountability group violence is up sharply,” says police chief Roy Gilman. “It’s a sub-set of suburban crime we’re concerned about.”

Detroit is the home of the “radical accountability” movement, where once-tame breakfast meetings have been amped up into gang-style networks. Instead of applying peer pressure to prod one another to wholesome lifestyles, these groups have started “hazing and harassing” non-compliant members, police say.

One Presbyterian man, who quit his accountability group and is now in police protective custody, says his former homeboys pounced on him after he broke a promise to his wife.

“I told her I’d take her to a bed and breakfast on Mackinac Island, but I went fishing instead,” he says. “On Monday morning, the guys in my group were waiting for me in the parking lot at my workplace with brass knuckles and family-edition Bibles. They worked me over pretty good, and said they’d pray for me.”

Sociologists say accountability groups are following a predictable path into increasingly aggressive behavior.

“Like gangs, they have codes of conduct and well-defined behaviors they deem acceptable, and if you run afoul of them, you suffer the group’s wrath,” says Elizabeth Arnold, sociologist from the University of Pennsylvania. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing accountability drive-by shootings in the near future.”

Detroit police are handing out flyers in neighborhoods and churches warning of the danger of men’s-group violence, and urging kids not to be drawn in. •

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