By Steve Neavling
Motor City Muckraker
Protesters managed to get inside Mayor Mike Duggan’s invitation-only State of the City address on Detroit’s east side Tuesday, disrupting the speech four times before they were escorted out of the building.
Hecklers unfurled a sign that read, “Opportunity for who?”
The protesters took turns disrupting the speech about every 10 or 15 minutes, calling attention to the negative impact of gentrification, water shutoffs, the disinvestment in education infrastructure, and ties between Duggan’s administration and Gov. Snyder on emergency management.
“Shut up, Duggan!” one protester yelled. “Power to the people.”
Another heckler shouted: “Stop the suburbanization of Detroit!”
Duggan responded in stride and didn’t seem fazed by the outbursts.
“Alright,” he said as a protester was removed at the beginning of the hour-long speech. “I’m a great believer in free speech, but that was a little much.”
Duggan’s chief of staff, Alexis Wiley, said the city offered invitations to numerous groups and didn’t want to accept people solely on their opinion of the mayor.
“We decided to open it up to more people,” Wiley said, noting that only five of the roughly 3,000 people disrupted the speech. “This is what democracy looks like. I don’t think the mayor regretted” the protesters, who also gathered outside of the speech.
Adrienne Ayers, one of the protesters, said she’s “beyond tired” of black people not getting fair opportunities in a city that is more focused on downtown and Midtown and the increasing number of wealthier suburbanites who are moving to Detroit.
“Black futures never mattered to him, and everything is paved in lives,” Ayers told me about Duggan after the address. “The people keep eating this shit. Surprised they aren’t sick from it yet.”
The protests were staged by young people from the Detroit chapter of the Black Youth Project (BYP) 100, Black Lives Matter Detroit, Raiz Up, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management and the Detroit Light Brigade.
“Based on the way (Gov.) Rick Snyder, Mike Duggan and their emergency manager have allocated resources, their vision of Detroit doesn’t include poor and black people,” Antonio Cosme of Raiz Up said after the speech.
Duggan took issue with supporting Snyder’s use of emergency managers, but e-mail records suggest Duggan was not exactly an opponent of state intervention. When Motor City Muckraker formally requested e-mails between Duggan and former Detroit Emergency Manager Kevin Orr, the city demanded more than $12,000.
“Many Detroiters – especially black Detroiters – aren’t experiencing the ‘revitalization’ of greater downtown,” said Dakarai Carter, an organizer from BYP100. “Millions of dollars are being invested there, while our neighborhoods deal with disinvestment resulting in a lack of community services and resources. We are disrupting business as usual because we know that cities thrive on democratic control and shared access to resources.”
Ayers, of Black Lives Matter Detroit, added: “The idea that emergency management ‘worked’ in Detroit is absurd. If Mike Duggan really cared about the future of this city he would stand up for the lives of black Detroiters like Kevin Matthews, who was killed by a Dearborn police officer, and those whose water is shut off and houses are foreclosed on every day. Instead Duggan’s policies destabilize neighborhoods to make room for corporate interests.”
Duggan insisted that “every neighborhood matters,” citing the demolition of more than 8,000 houses, a crackdown on gun violence and his involvement in improving the deteriorating condition of Detroit schools.
“The best way to handle the problem is to grow the city,” Duggan said during the speech.
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.