As a journalist in Detroit, I’ve come to expect the dangers of the job: A gunman chased me on the east-side last year, only the second time in as many years I’ve had a pistol pointed at my head while exploring a story. While documenting the dangers of abandoned buildings in neighborhoods, undercover police handcuffed me at gunpoint because I was “in the wrong part of the city.”
But I didn’t expect any of that Monday evening at Wayne State University, where Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr was holding his much-anticipated first public meeting to address residents and field questions. Although Orr and his advisers were warned that as many as 1,000 Detroiters may show up, they held the event in a cramped, 250-seat venue at Wayne State University that predictably filled up with students, media, city officials and the lucky residents who arrived early enough to gain entrance.
Police began forcibly removing residents from the public building, pushing them into the rain.
While capturing the moment on video, I turned my camera on an officer forcibly removing Deadline Detroit reporter Jeff Wattrick from the building. Seconds later, a cop pushed me from behind, shoving me out the door and onto the cement. My glasses and camera crashed onto the sidewalk, corrupting some of the video files. (We are trying to salvage them)
Inside the auditorium, Orr dismissed criticism that the meeting room was too small.
“I’ve had many meetings, particularly ones with the faith community,” Orr said. “There’s no subterfuge. I have no problem discussing where we are and what we have to do.”
That still doesn’t explain why Orr chose to hold the forum in a room four times smaller than the ones Mayor Dave Bing held during his public meetings. Wayne State University, where city services are least impacted by budget cuts, has four larger venues that are commonly used for these kinds of meetings. And there are dozens of community centers, churches and auditoriums with much larger capacities scattered throughout Detroit, including city hall.
Orr has unilateral control of Detroit’s $1 billion budget, the city’s unions and its numerous assets, such as Belle Isle and artwork at the Detroit Institute of Arts. He was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder to erase the city’s deficit and strike a deal with creditors to avoid filing for bankruptcy protection.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.