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‘Freedom Rides’ on Belle Isle

Group protests racial profiling

By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — The Michigan State Police and the Department of Natural Resources have come under scrutiny for their new policing practices on Belle Isle. A rally to demand respect for Detroiters from state law enforcement was held on the island May 9.

“What we’re focusing on is people are tired of being treated with disrespect,” said Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition against Police Brutality and Peace Zones for Life. “This is the safest place in Detroit, so to talk about making it safer is a misnomer.”

In April, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones brought attention to the number of state police stops on Belle Isle. When City Clerk Janice Winfrey was pulled over for speeding, the officer sarcastically claimed he was working to keep “riff raff” off the island. Tensions exist regarding who the officers consider to be undesirable visitors.

Bicyclists made their way to the island on the rainy May evening, which limited the turnout, though over 20 supporters did attend. Scott stated racial profiling by the police has become common on Belle Isle.

“And we intend to stop it,” he said. “We intend to build sensitivity, and we intend to make sure if we have to engage in legal action we’ll deal with it.”

In the coming days, the organizers will present their demands for more fair treatment on Belle Isle, and the public can expect more gatherings of bicyclists, dubbed Freedom Rides, to be planned.

“We’ve got about 12 demands,” Scott said. “We’ll be presenting those to the DNR and the state police, the governor, whomever else. We’re going to come out, and we’re going to watch to see what happens. That’s why we call them Freedom Rides, we’re going to make the island free and accessible to everybody and no more statements about ‘riff raff’ and other biased statements.”

Detroit Public Schools board member Tawanna Simpson attended the rally. “Some of the goals are to be stakeholders here in Belle Isle,” said Simpson, a Detroit School who is a member of Detroit Bike Riders United. “(We want) to help volunteer, have cyclists a part of the organizing with the state of the island, so we can feel comfortable, (and) contribute to change in the culture on the island. More so how it looks rather than who should be on and off the island.”

The safety of Belle Isle has long been a concern of Detroit residents like Simpson, who equally want to assure the park be a haven for cyclists and outdoor enthusiasts without the harassment of police.

“We want to help, we don’t want to just be able to ride around Belle Isle,” said Simpson. “We also want to be able to sustain Belle Isle and make it a friendly island for everybody.

 

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