The fast-talking, no-nonsense U.S. attorney leading the prosecution team in the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trial may seem severe in the courtroom, but R. Michael Bullotta has a softer side.
The 45-year-old federal agent is no stranger to corruption cases, with 15 years as a federal prosecutor under his belt and many additional years of law enforcement experience before that. In the courtroom he is aggressive, quick to object when the defense brings up something he feels is inappropriate.
But behind his rectangular wire-framed glasses, his dark suits and a direct tone, Bullotta is actually a creative writer with a knack for charities and a streak of empathy for young criminals.
In fact, he wrote the book Hard Core, fast-paced crime thriller gangs in L.A that was published last fall.
The novel is heavily based on Bullotta’s experiences as a gang prosecutor in the Hard Core Gang Division of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
Online reader reviews have been mostly positive so far on sites like Amazon.com where his works been compared to that of John Grisham, Joseph Wambaugh and Mary Higgins Clark.
On Bullotta’s Facebook fan page (yes, he has one) Bullotta he says he pledged a generous donation of the proceeds from book sales to The Forgotten Harvest, a non-profit with a mission torelieve hunger in metro Detroit by rescuing surplus, prepared and perishable food and donating it to emergency food providers.
In the Amazon.com book preview, the tone of the novel seems like a campy, crime trhriller novel version of the HBO series The Wire. An excerpt from the book’s opening chapter shows Bulotta seeking to empathize with a young Latino gangbanger in L.A.
“He wished that his mother had hit him, or at least battered his soul. Maybe then he wouldn’t feel like this. He’d be just another young Latino fallen victim to L.A.’s violent culture. He too could claim that he had resorted to gang banging in order to survive in a jungle of lovelessness and death.”
Bullotta also writes in a postive way about witness cooperation, a hot topic recently as witnesses with immunity deals take the stand in the Kilpatrick trial this week.
“It was clear to him as he looked straight through the grassy canyon that is was time to make it up to her. He was going to “flip and cooperate” as his friend and detective put it. His homies would call him “buster,” or coward and it would be a matter of neighborhood pride to smoke him for disrespecting his set. But he truly believed that going legit was the only thing that would make her proud.”
In court, it’s nearly impossible to picture Bullotta using the word, “homie” or “busta” but this is one instance where we can’t judge a book by its cover.
Aside from community policing and preventative programs, law enforcement officials have offered up a tougher solution to get better a grip on crime in the city.
At a Forum at Wayne State University last week, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee suggested Michigan adopt sentence enhancements for gang members who commit crimes. The idea is that it will discourage gang-related violence, which is responsible for the high homicide rates in Detroit according to Godbee.
But before we go running to lawmakers to push for these “enhanced” punishments for organized crime, we should look at how Detroit’s criminal landscape differs from California in the late 90’s when Bratton was police chief.
Bratton talked about L.A.’s crime scene in a 2007 NPS interview:
“It's the birthplace of the black gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. It is the historical birthplace of the Latino gangs [and the] Mexican mafia …”
In the late 90’s when Bratton took on the Californian Crips and the Bloods, it was easier to ID gang members. For starters, they wore distinctive colors. The gangs were larger, some spanning an entire city with key signs and symbols that were easier to spot and define.
But Detroit gangs are different. The problem isn’t Crips or Bloods but rather small, wild groups of friends and neighbors who dub themselves according to whatever street they live on. Names like “Fenkell Boys” or “Lafayette Goons” are just neighborhood cliques getting into beef with the gangs or cliques just one street over. These micro gangs are harder to identify.
Detroit City Council Member James Tate, who formerly served as deputy police chief in Detroit, said it is hard to ID gangs in this city:
“Our gangs are really just people who get together and get themselves a name. We have to redefine what we call a gang. They’re not all the same colors or anything like that.”
While crime fighting is tricky, we have to be careful not to be so reactionary and take a closer look at preventative measures. It would take intensive community policing to keep up on all of the city's little crime cliques since they are often remote, smaller than big organized crime circles, and change constantly.
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