By Shea Howell
While much of the country is proclaiming “Black Lives Matter,” the Mayor of the city of Detroit is acting as though Black Lives Threaten. He is certainly threatening the lives and liberties of many of youth of our city. This week his administration proposed an unprecedented lock down of youth for four days during the River Days Festival from June 19 to June 22.
For several years the City has imposed a curfew on youth during the annual Freedom Festival fireworks. This curfew has been highly controversial. Last year 150 children were taken by busloads to a Southwest Precinct. Many spent the night in jail and some parents were forced to come up with $500 in fines.
The centerpiece of River Days is the annual fireworks display. Detroit and Windsor jointly celebrate the freedom of our countries from colonial domination with what is billed as one of the largest fireworks displays in the world. Increasingly this celebration of freedom and liberty has become a rationale to imprison black youth.
The proposed ordinance essentially locks down the entire city. Anyone under age 18 and away from home would need to be with an adult. A 16 year old who decides to walk her dog after dinner, in her neighborhood miles from the river, would be subject to arrest.
Some members of the City Council are clearly uncomfortable with the racial overtones of this new proposal. While white suburbanites are being invited to come view the fireworks, Detroit youth are being told to keep off the streets and stay behind closed doors. They can come out on their own porch, but not that of their neighbor.
Councilman Andre Spivey said Spivey said the expanded curfew seems to have “racial overtones.” He said, “I wouldn’t want something like this to ensue that we’re kicking folks off of the Detroit riverfront and pushing them backwards.”
Other members of the City Council also have voiced concerns. President Brenda Jones raised similar concerns about racial bias. Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voiced her concern about “a tendency to criminalize young people.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sent a letter to city officials challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance; saying is “too broad” and “unfairly and unconstitutionally criminalizes innocent activity of minors and their parents.”
“It is ironic and unsettling that on the day set aside to celebrate the freedoms of our country, the City of Detroit effectively makes thousands of young people prisoners in their own homes,” said Michael J. Steinberg, of the ACLU of Michigan. “While the city has a legitimate interest in addressing potential problems at the fireworks celebration on the river, it cannot do so by relying on hurtful stereotypes or by criminalizing the innocent activities of young people throughout the entire city.”
A public hearing on the plan is set for June 10. Concerned citizens should attend or call the Mayor and City Council. The Council is expected to vote on the ordinance this week.
At a time when our children should be surrounded by love and care, the Mayor of Detroit is once again pushing policies that are dangerous and divisive. It seems he has no capability of understanding basic human rights and dignity. From protecting the right to water to the right to walk down a street, Mayor Duggan’s decisions are on the wrong side of human dignity.