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Why a Detroit grandma’s Halloween display depicts police shootings and terrorist attacks

Larethia Haddon wants the Halloween decorations on her front lawn to bring attention to things that she says are frightening in real life. (Courtesy Larethia Haddon)

A child predator.

An elderly man holding a jar of contaminated water from Flint, Mich.

A shooting victim with arms raised, under a sign stating: “MY HANDS WERE UP.”

Effigies representing all of the above and more dot Larethia Haddon’s front yard this year.

The Detroit grandmother is using her penchant for elaborate Halloween decorations to bring attention to things that, she says, actually frighten her.

“This is what people really need to be doing instead of putting [up] scarecrows,” Haddon told The Washington Post. “People need to be more aware of all these things right now. We’ve got to pull ourselves together, start to band together to try to stop some of these things.”

A black woman called 911 because she was afraid of a police officer. A violent arrest followed.

Haddon has always pulled out all the stops when it comes to her Halloween decorations. Every October, over the past 20 years, she would create a startlingly realistic-looking dummy, then leave it on her lawn all month.

Haddon’s annual prank provided her endless entertainment in the weeks leading up to Halloween, as she observed people’s startled reactions as they walked by. It was always meant to be a joke — though, as the dummy got more realistic, Haddon began alerting local police so they would be prepared for any mistaken calls to report a dead body.

This year, however, her grandchildren proposed doing something a little different.

“[They said] ‘Well Grandma, if you’re going to get that much attention, we need to do things that’s gonna bring attention to the things going on in America right now,'” Haddon, 56, said by telephone Monday. “We already know about witches and this and that, but they’re not real. This is what kids are afraid of.”

Haddon’s oldest grandchild, 14, told her she knew of classmates who had died at the hands of someone else.

“I’m scared to go outside because I don’t know if someone is going to get me,” she said her 5-year-old grandchild told her.

Once they began brainstorming, Haddon, an avid follower of the news, came up with other ideas quickly.

She knew she wanted one dummy to represent those who have died in recent months in police-involved shootings. So far, 783 people in the United States have been shot and killed by police in 2016, according to a database maintained by The Post.

“I’m not saying the police are bad; I’m not saying that at all,” Haddon explained. “I’m not saying it’s a black thing. It’s not. This is a human thing [and] people need to be aware of it.”

A stuffed bookbag became a reference to recent attempted terrorist bombings in the United States.

One dummy lay on its side. Another, splattered with fake blood, appeared to be cradling two fallen children.

Haddon’s grandchildren pitched in this year, helping to stuff the additional dummies to give their grandmother relief from her arthritis. They bought old clothes from a secondhand store.

Hand-lettered signs placed next to the “bodies” made unspoken pleas: “Book bag bomb Why!!!!” “STOP killing our children.” “CARJACKED.” “Flint water: Nobody deserves this.”

‘If I could afford to leave, I would.’ In Flint, a water crisis with no end in sight.

Since the decorations went up in late September, Haddon said a steady stream of people — neighbors, local reporters, teachers and children from two nearby schools — have come to look at her yard.

“I haven’t had any negative anything,” she said. “One of the teachers came up here and looked at the display, and said, ‘All the kids are talking about at the school is how brave you were to actually put a display up like that.'”

Some people come to gawk; others do a quick drive-by. Haddon has frequently found herself engaging in conversations with total strangers, even children.

“Even the elementary kids come by and say we like your Halloween display,” Haddon said. “I make them explain it to me, what it means. And they understand. And it means a lot. It’s hitting people in a lot of different ways.”

One passer-by, a woman Haddon didn’t know, spent 15 minutes staring at the dummies and their signs, then began crying. Haddon went outside and just took her hand.

“Five minutes later, she said, ‘Thank you. People need to know,'” Haddon said.

The lifelong Detroit resident said that she was surprised by the reaction but is glad that people have responded as they have.

She thinks there is something about seeing the dummies on her lawn that stays with people in a way that a photo or a news article doesn’t.

These peeping Tom decorations started as a Halloween joke. One mom isn’t laughing.

“This is basically in your face and it makes you think,” Haddon said. “People have to realize I’m not doing this to harm or insult anyone or bring back bad memories. But this is our reality right now. This is everything every city in the world is dealing with.”

Nevertheless, her dummies will soon be taken down, as Haddon, who loves decking out her northwest Detroit home for all seasons, quickly moves on to Christmas.

Those decorations will not be anywhere near as somber.

“My Christmas stuff is up by Thanksgiving,” Haddon said. “I make Christmas angels and Christmas clouds. It’s all lit up. It’s really beautiful.”

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