Belle Isle Lease Debate Gets Wild, Raucous
By Christy Strawser
CBS Detroit Managing Editor
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) – A meeting on the proposal to let the state lease Belle Isle from Detroit went wild — with words like “rape” and “lynch” getting angrily tossed around by dozens of residents who urged council to reject the plan.
Some shouted “go home” at a white woman who spoke in favor of the lease.
“Massah Snyder isn’t in charge … We’re keeping this raggedy right now, but it’s all by design … They’re gonna throw our city workers out, I know you guys know what’s going on,” one resident said to council about the 30-year lease plan that would include improvements and a clean-up, police patrols and an $11 charge for a Michigan Department of Natural Resources season pass for the island.
Detroit would still own the island, but many residents and city leaders have protested, saying it’s a state takeover of one of Detroit’s best features.
This was a continuation of the meeting that began Thursday with the Neighborhood and Community Services Committee, which includes council members Kwame Kenyatta and JoAnn Watson, both vocal opponents of state involvement in Belle Isle. No vote was taken at that time on the proposal, with a final vote of the full council expected, possibly Tuesday.
At this meeting, residents were raring to go. Gavels came out and order was called for over and over as people yelled from the audience and tried to shout down anyone speaking at the council table.
Speakers were split between support and rejection of the proposal. “I don’t trust the state, please, I implore you … remember us who voted for you,” one resident said.
Another resident, who identified herself as 77 years old, said, “We’re here because we love Detroit,” adding, “You’ve given away everything from the city of Detroit … We won’t have any place left to go.”
“I know your mother would be mad at you,” she shouted as she was escorted out of her chair.
Others spoke in support of the lease, saying the region deserves a clean and safe recreation area. ‘I used to ice skate out there, it would be nice to see that returned,” said one resident, who identified herself as a senior citizen. “If you want people to be healthy, this is it.”
“I would rather the state not lease Belle Isle, but I honestly don’t feel like we have any other options at this point, I feel like we need to do this and move on,” said a city employee and resident. “A lot more people could be using Belle Isle.”
Flame throwing Rev. Malik Shabazz — who threatened to burn the city down if an emergency financial manager was approved during an earlier council meeting — said it was wrong to have security escorting out people when they appeared to get out of control.
“With all due respect to City Council, I wonder how many of you knew your history … If Mayor Young was here … (he) would be shocked at what’s going on. When did y’all become so afraid?” Shabazz said.
He added: “It’s overkill … Y’all got policemen in the audience here, people are upset and they have the right to be upset, no one’s going to hurt ya’ll physically, it’s disrespectful and it hurts.”
The reverend urged council members to pray before they “give Belle Isle away.”
Vance Patrick, co-chair of the Belle Isle Aquarium Committee, said they’ve had 600 to 900 visitors every weekend since it was re-opened as a volunteer enterprise following a closure due to budget. ‘The city and the state need the aquarium,” Patrick said, adding “Partnering with the state will allow the aquarium and Belle Isle to continue.”
One resident called the council members “Judas,” for considering the lease, adding, “It has one jewel in it and you’re going to take it. Are we ignorant? Detroit is a gold mine and I have said this before, Belle Isle is a jewel, why do we have to keep giving things away?”
Scott Allen, president of Formidable Group, a local housing authority, and commodore of the Detroit Yacht Club, said “This is one way that I see … to help bring back this island.”
“You’re saying we’re too ignorant and incompetent to run our own land,” one lifetime resident, adding, “We should pay our citizens to clean up … It belongs to us and I don’t believe we’re too ignorant… I don’t know who you’re working for, but you’re not working for the citizens of Detroit.”
Valerie Glen, who said she represented a lot of people in the city of Detroit, including the Motown Friends of Belle Isle, said, “Do not sign the lease, I’m sure my goal of making you unelectable will be achieved.”