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Whose island? Not Penske’s island

Belle Isle

Belle Isle

Reports flashed across Facebook on Mother’s Day, despite the beautiful weather, no one was on Belle Isle. What a contrast to years previous and city folk’s habits.

Could the reason be state police harassment? The acres and acres of concrete covering the western half of the island? Or a combination of both?

For sure, Detroiters were absent on the island while crowds thronged to the Riverwalk. Thousands were enjoying the day and their families on the Riverwalk instead of Belle Isle. Detroiters have a right to both venues, the park and the walk.

For decades, Detroiters have endured reduced quality of life as the city struggled to balance budgets in the face of white flight, disinvestment, anti-urban/pro-suburban federal and state policies.

As investment has returned, Detroiters are getting the message loud and clear: It ain’t for you!

There is racial profiling. Citizens stay at bay as the state police make clear they don’t want “any riff raff” on the island. That keeps away all the fathers with past-due child support and drivers with outstanding tickets or driver responsibility fines or legal messes regardless of their financial ability to deal with responsibilities in a timely manner. It keeps away their families and friends as well.

The racial profiling is not limited to island drivers, but includes cyclists who now must have reflectors, head lights at dusk and other indications of a certain economic status in order to enjoy the ride.

Picnickers enjoying a bottle of wine, the police say, will not be subjected to the trooper’s interpretation of no-alcohol laws, but no such promise for the people who like a 40-ounce with rap on the radio watching the river from their truck.

And maybe Detroiters stayed away this past weekend because they found the miles and miles of concrete, cement and fenced barriers overwhelming and disheartening. Scott fountain and access to picnic spots are behind barriers that have been up for weeks. How can one non-resident billionaire take over the island for nearly two months of the year to run a race that few in the city even appreciate?

What nature-loving park-goer likes the noise, fumes and crowds that come with the cement and the barriers?

Oh yes, we are reminded our city council voted for all of this: The state police who come with the state takeover and the grand prix that amuses the millionaires. Council still gets paid; we’ve lost our park.

Roger Penske is worth over $1 billion. He lives in Nantucket and we don’t care that he donated $1 million to Mike Duggan’s Super PAC Turnaround Detroit for a write-in campaign. We aren’t ungrateful Penske chipped in on the $8 million fund to buy new EMS and public safety vehicles, but don’t expect we are happy he steals half the beautiful island for almost two months and then pollutes it with such noise and contamination. Penske has enough money to buy his own island, his own race track or anything else he wants.

But not Belle Isle! We want our park back! The Freedom Rides are a good start.

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