Racial tensions flare at meeting over Belle Isle lease: “White whores can’t save us.”

A public hearing over leasing Belle Isle to the state turned ugly today when opponents heckled supporters and suggested the deal was a racist takeover.

“White whores can’t save us,” one resident said during a boisterous, two-hour period of public comments.

At issue is whether the city should lease the island park to the state for 30 years.

Supporters say the island has been neglected because the city can’t afford to maintain it. Opponents counter the state can’t be trusted with the unique gem, which has a rich history of racial integration.

Rowdy council meetings have been routine since the state announced last year that it would begin intervening in the city’s budget decisions. But not before today have supporters of some state intervention – in this case, Belle Isle – spoke out at council meetings.

And many in the crowd were not pleased.

“Get out of here,” one Detroiter yelled at supporters, most of whom were white and lived in the suburbs.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, telling us what to do,” another cried out.

Another exclaimed: “We have too many people outside of the city in our city’s business.”

Police officers stepped in when speakers got out of control or refused to sit down.

“We’re having a good conversation,” Councilman James Tate tried to remind the audience, but to no avail.

Here’s a sampling of today’s comments to the council:

“Get rid of the invaders!”

“You’re selling us out.”

“You’re saying we’re too incompetent and ignorant to run our own land.”

“Power to the people.”

“I am ashamed to be white because … it’s a racist takeover.”

“This would never have happened before the city became black.”

To be fair, many in the audience were respectful.

Council members may vote on the issue as early as Tuesday.

The deal would save the cash-strapped city $6 million a year. If it’s rejected, the state likely would appoint an emergency manager, sources told me today.

“I don’t deal with guns to my head,” Councilman Kwame Kenyatta said .

The council is split on the issue but they may have five of the required nine votes.

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Steve Neavling is an investigative journalist and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Living on the city’s east side, Neavling explores corruption, civil liberties and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.    

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Steve Neavling

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.