Friday, March 17, 2006

Detroit City Council Holds Hearing on Police Refusal to Honor MLK Day March Permit

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Originally uploaded by D. Scott.
Detroit City Council Holds Hearing on Police Refusal to Honor March Permit on Martin Luther King Day

MECAWI, police brass square off over delays caused in annual peace and justice demonstration

By the PANW Monitoring Service

DETROIT, March 15, 2006 (PANW)--A public hearing was held on Thursday by the Detroit City Council to examine the refusal of the Detroit police to honor a legal permit to march in the street for the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day demonstration that is held downtown. This year's march held on January 16, was the third annual demonstration organized by the Detroit MLK Committee.

The hearing featured two representatives
of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the Detorit MLK Committee, David Sole and Abayomi Azikiwe--who is also the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. Sole, who petitioned the city of Detroit for a legal permit to march, was granted this request ten days prior to the actual march date.

According to the South End Newspaper at Wayne State University, over one thousand people attended the MLK Day rally at the Central United Methodist Church and participated in the demonstration. The rally was attended and addressed by a host of community leaders, elected officials and progressive clergy: including City Councilwomen JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones, Governor Jenifer Granholm, Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Rev. Ed Rowe, Pastor of Central United Methodist Church, Atty. Jerry Goldberg representing the Delphi Workers, Rev. Edward Pinkney of Benton Harbor, Jozette Dowdell of the Childcare Workers Union, Arnie Steiber of the Veterans for Peace, Abayomi Azikiwe, who chaired the rally, among other speakers.

When the rally participants lined up outside the Church on Woodward for the march through downtown no police officers were present. The march proceeded south on Washington Blvd. and did not receive any attention until it was one block north of Cobo Conference Center where the annual International Auto Show was being held. The march was then stopped by police vehicles whose officers claimed that the demonstration was not authorized to be in the streets.

After standing in the streets for over ten minutes, the younger people in the march began to move around the police vehicle from the rear to continue on the sidewalk past Cobo Conference Center where the Auto Show was being held. When the marchers reached Woodward avenue they continued to march on the sidewalk and were threatened with arrest if they entered the street.

At the City Council hearing David Sole testified that he was personally threatened with arrest on more than one occasion. He then read the language of the permit approved by the Detroit City Council which called for the area to be blocked by police so that the march could be carried out in the streets.

The document by City Council member Sheila Cockrel stated that "the petition of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (#4424) for the 3rd Annual Martin Luther King Day March on January 16, 2005 with temporary street closures in area of Grand Circus Park, Woodward, Adams, Washington Blvd., and Jefferson Avenue be and the same is hereby granted." This document was presented to the Detroit City Clerk and issued on January 6, some ten days prior to the actual demonstration.

However, the police presented another document which said that the route had to be changed as a result of construction on Washington Blvd. This document, which was a facsimile copy of a Detroit Police headquarters memorandum dated December 27, 2005, stated that: "Due to the Auto Show and construction on Washington Boulevard, the parade has been rerouted to Woodward Avenue, using the sidewalk as stated above. Officer Gilbert Munoz contacted Mr. David Sole (Parade Coordinator) on the parade route changes. The Central District will provide special attention. It is the recommendation of the Detroit Police Department that Petition number P-4424 be approved."

Nonetheless, Sole stated at the City Council hearing that this information was never communicated to him by Munoz and that this document contradicts what was approved by the City Clerk and mailed to him in the form of a legal permit to march in the streets.

Several members of the City Council questioned both Assistant Chief Walter J. Martin and Lt. Kenneth Williams on the events that day. Martin said that there was a breakdown in communications between the City Council, the City Clerk's Office and the police involving the permit. Martin also stated several times that due to severe budget cuts that the Department was facing "many challenges" as it relates to personnel available on that day.

Lt. Williams denied being belligerant to Sole and the MLK demonstrators as well as refusing to admit that he had threatened marchers with arrest if they did not stay on the sidewalk on Woodward avenue. Sole stated that "we attempted to avoid an incident due to the fact that there were members of the Ann Arbor Trail Middle School Drumline that led the demonstration. However, he did say that near a construction area after Campus Martius they did enter the streets again despite the threats made by the police.

City Councilwoman Barbara Rose Collins said that "it was a question of attitude towards the marchers. The attitude was authoritative and not one of service." Collins went on to say that years ago "the reason we wanted black police was that they could tell the bad guys from the good guys. Your attitude should be one of service."

Councilman Kwame Kenyatta addressed the issue by saying that "a thousand people could cause just as many problems on the sidewalk as in the street. It seems if the concern was safety, it would have been better for the march to take place in the street." He also asked who changed the permit?

Another Councilwoman, Martha Reeves, said that after hearing both sides she was not as outraged as before. Nonethless, "the MLK Day march should be given the same priority and respect as other parades." She also went on to say that the Detroit speech of Martin Luther King in 1963 was issued by Motown Records soon afterwards.

The strongest words came from City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson who said that "it was outrageous that in Detroit this should happen." She went on to discuss the historic role of labor and civil rights in Detroit. "Detroit is where King gave his first 'I Have a Dream' speech prior to the one in Washington D.C. in 1963. We should never have to discuss this again."

Abayomi Azikiwe concured with the statements made by David Sole. He later stated that: "We were very clear in our approach to the Martin Luther King Day demonstration. The purpose every year is to emphasize the peace and social justice legacy of Dr. King which is often overlooked in the mass media. We are very clear in our demands and objectives. Our main slogan is 'Money for Our City, Not for War'. We did not come downtown to disrupt the Auto Show or other activities. We are here to ensure that in the future we will not have problems with law-enforcement."

Another march in commemoration of the third anniversary of the Iraq war will be held on Saturday March 18 on Woodward Avenue. Although the initial request for a permit was denied by the Detroit Police Department, the City Council overruled the denial and granted a permit on Wednesday March 14.

A top aide of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has arranged for a meeting with members of MECAWI to discuss ways to avoid similar problems in the future. At the conclusion of the hearing Assistant Chief Martin apologized for the problems. This was prompted by a request for an apology by City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson. The police were reluctant to comply initially, however, David Sole of MECAWI apologized for any problems or misunderstanding that he may have caused. Later Lt. Williams apologized for anything he may have said that was misunderstood.

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