Judge remains upbeat on the road to recovery


Judge Terrence Berg

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

In terms of buoying his spirits, last week’s “Walk for Hope” may have sped the healing process for U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg as he continues to recover from a gunshot wound suffered during an aborted robbery attempt outside his Detroit home March 5.

“It was very heartening to see such a show of solidarity,” Judge Berg said this week after the April 3 peace rally that drew hundreds of friends and supporters to Gesu Catholic Church in the city’s University District on Good Friday evening. “I am deeply grateful to the organizers for doing such a great job and for all those who turned out to march against violence. The signs that the marchers held were wonderful, so perfectly written, that they truly drove home a message for all to see.”

Berg, in turn, delivered a speech at the rally that all in the greater Detroit community needed to hear. It centered on the need for understanding the root causes of gun violence and for mapping a battle plan to combat it (see portions of the text of his speech in the box at right).

“The people need work to rise out of poverty and find a hopeful future,” Berg said in his Good Friday remarks. “As long as there is no work, Detroit will continue to suffer from a high crime rate.”
Berg, who earned his bachelor and law degrees from Georgetown University, is a native of Detroit, and has made his home in the University District for nearly three decades.

“I believe in this city and its people, and my family and I are convinced that there is great hope for its future if we pull together to help solve problems,” Berg said. “It starts in each neighborhood and we are incredibly fortunate to live among friends and neighbors who have the city’s best interests at heart.”

In particular, Berg said that the Gesu Catholic Parish has been a “godsend” and a “major reason” that he holds such hope for Detroit.

“Gesu has been a focal point of our life for years; our three children attended school there,” Berg said. “We believe in its mission and in its outreach programs for the poor and disadvantaged. It is a shining example of what this city and this community can be.”

Since he was shot last month by, as yet, two unidentified gunmen, Berg has undergone two major surgeries to help reconstruct his right leg. The FBI has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the two men involved in the shooting, which took place outside Berg’s home on the evening of March 5.

“The bullet pierced my leg a few inches above my right knee, shattering the bottom part of the femur,” Berg said. “In the next few weeks, I will have the metal bars that run vertically down my leg removed and screws will be inserted in their place to help stabilize the leg. Then, I hope to begin rehab treatments where I will be able to bend my leg again and to start putting weight on it. The doctors have said that sometime down the road, in the next couple of years, I will probably need knee replacement surgery.”

In the meantime, Berg continues to work from home, “reviewing and writing decisions” and issuing judicial “orders” as he eyes a return to full courtroom duties in the months ahead.

“I am indebted to my staff and colleagues on the bench for pitching in for me while I have been recovering,” Berg said. “Their support and their willingness to help out have been amazing, to say the least.”

Editor’s Note: The following is a portion of text of the remarks delivered by Judge Berg just before the Walk for Hope began.

Thank you all so much for coming today. It is inspiring to see so many people who care about Detroit, ... who are full of hope about Detroit and committed to saying no to gun violence.

I want to thank the Gesu community, the University District community, and all those from the U.S. District Court, and so many other friends and family members for all the wonderful support you have given my family, the meals, the cards and letters, and the prayers.

I am so grateful to my wife Anita and my son Teddy, who acted quickly after the shooting and called 911.

On this Good Friday, which also marks the start of Passover, [w]e remember our Lord’s example of self-giving love that leads to salvation. Let me ask you all something: is it not about time for City of Detroit to experience salvation? 

At the start of Passover, when the Jewish people celebrate the liberation and freedom from bondage in Egypt, is it not time for our city to experience liberation from the scourge of gun violence?
Incidents like what happened to me make people say Detroit is a violent city... but we all know that is not the whole story of Detroit. 

The Detroit we have known over the past quarter century in this neighborhood has truly been a welcoming place, a place where neighbors care for one another, ... where people of goodwill work together.

For us, Detroit has been a blessed community. Detroit has been a beloved community, a community of neighbors who care. There are thousands and thousands of wonderful neighbors in this area and all across this entire city, who support and look out for one another.

And we are all here because we love Detroit but we want to do something positive to show we are against violence. We are here to show the world our beloved community and to express solidarity with each other in hard times. I am sorry to have become a victim of gun violence. But I know I am so much more fortunate than so many Detroiters who are injured and killed by gun violence every year. 

Detroit Police crime statistics show that for 2014, there were 300 homicides and 1,054 non-fatal shootings. In 2013 Detroit had 388 homicides and 1,161 non-fatal shootings.   And in 2012... 461 murders and 1,263 non-fatal shootings.   The encouraging thing is... the numbers are coming down a little each year; the disturbing thing is... over the past 3 years, 3,478 people have been shot in Detroit while 1,149 people lost their lives, most from gun violence.

These numbers are impossible to really grasp, because each individual human life is infinitely valuable. I know today we have with us the mother of Paige Stalker, a young woman who lost her life to homicide... Are there others here who have been touched in some way by gun violence? We honor your loss.

I appeal to all Detroiters and all people in Michigan to do something in three areas that will help our city turn away from gun violence: First, the people of Detroit need jobs. People need work to lift themselves out of poverty and to have hope. Poverty and hopelessness lead to crime of all kinds, including gun violence. The people of Detroit know these statistics because they live their reality every day.   According the census bureau, over 37% of our residents are living in poverty, compared to only about 12% nationwide.   Detroit’s unemployment rate is over 14%t (bureau of labor statistics), while nationally the unemployment rate is 5.5%.

Anyone who has lived in the city knows that there has been chronic unemployment for decades. People need work.

So, I appeal to our greater community to hire more Detroiters.  To the wonderful investors and who have transformed [downtown Detroit] and stirred hope and excitement for the future, and all you energetic and far-seeing business leaders who love Detroit and are doing so much, I ask you and all business people in our Metro area to do whatever you can to make more jobs available for the people in Detroit. As long as there is no work, Detroit will continue to suffer from a high crime rate.

Second, we must ensure that every child in Detroit is given a quality education. I know this is a complicated question, and that our state and city leaders are struggling mightily to find solutions.  I support them... A good education is the birthright of every American child. Let us all commit ourselves to get involved with educating the young people of Detroit, whether as a mentor, a tutor, an advocate, or a concerned and involved parent. Education is the key to developing responsible and law-abiding citizens. It provides kids with the tools they need to make good decisions.  It affords them an opportunity to reach their full potential as an individual. If we do not succeed in improving our education system, we will not be able to reduce the problem of gun violence.

Finally, Detroit needs more police officers. I applaud the efforts our Mayor and city leaders have taken to help DPD, but we need to spare no expense to provide the Detroit Police Department with all the man and woman power, and all the technological resources that it needs. Whether it takes more taxes, or user fees, or any other way of raising revenue, the people have the right to expect the government to provide for the safety and security of its citizens.