DETROIT (WWJ) – One person was arrested as a rambunctious group of protesters shouting, “Release them all!” disrupted a Wayne County Commission meeting on billionaire developer Dan Gilbert’s jail proposal.

Holding banners that read “No New Jail, No Old Jail,” “Abolition Now!” the loud crowd of about a dozen people shouted “All the jails have got to go!” demanding that plans to build a new Wayne County jail be abandoned; and, it seemed, that every inmate be set free.

“They were angry and they were climbing on the furniture and they were obnoxious, and, yeah…I don’t think that we should’ve been victimized by that,” said Commissioner Diane Webb.

A spokesperson for protesters said the demonstration was part of a “contemporary movement against mass incarceration,” and that the hope is officials — rather than build another jail — will redirected resources to address other urgent community needs.

Before police cleared the room, some commission members expressed safety concerns involving the demonstrators who chanted: “Palestine to Mexico, all the jails have got to go!”  lashed out at Gilbert, and yelled profanity.

“I have never seen or been more disrespected in my life…and I felt threatened,” said Commissioner Ray Basham. “I felt threatened, I felt frustrated, and I feel that we should set up rules to where this never happens again in this body.”

Despite the protest effort, which delayed the meeting for about 20 minutes, the commission approved contracts to help the county vet Gilbert’s offer to build a jail complex in exchange for the failed jailed site.

Commission Chairman Gary Woronchak explained the decision.

“We’re not doing this out of courtesy, we’re doing this because we think it might have viability,” he told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas. “And since we’ve started on another track, we have to kind of do a duel track right now and continue to work forward to complete the project on the Gratiot site without examining quickly whether or not the Rock Ventures proposal really can work.”

Rock Ventures last week submitted an offer to Wayne County for a “new, state-of-the-art, consolidated criminal justice center” that includes the construction of new adult and juvenile detention facilities and a new criminal courthouse that would replace the current Frank Murphy Hall of Justice.

The proposal also calls for the transfer of the jail site to Rock Ventures for a planned $1 billion commercial development, which would potentially include a Major League Soccer stadium.

The unfinished 2,000-bed jail is an eyesore in the downtown area, on Gratiot near I-375, across from the county courthouse. Construction stopped in 2013 because the project was wildly over budget, with cost overruns totaling more than $90 million.


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