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Ethnics protest Detroit's plan for African Town

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Ethnics protest Detroit's plan for African Town

Members of other minorities say district shouldn't exclude them

September 29, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

Members of Detroit's Latino, Asian and Arab communities demanded a public apology from the City Council on Tuesday, denouncing the body for embracing an economic development plan that would exclusively benefit black business owners.

During a protest rally, leaders of the various ethnic communities said they want the council to rescind the resolutions it passed supporting the plan, and they want to meet with the council to correct what they say is offensive rhetoric in a report that forms the basis of the council's plan to create a black business district to be known as African Town. The plan also would create a loan fund only for blacks.

The report, titled "A PowerNomics Economic Development Plan for Detroit's Under-Served Majority Population," says immigration has hurt blacks because Mexicans, Asians and Arabs take jobs, resources and other opportunities from blacks.

"The language in the report is divisive," said Angela Reyes, one of the protest organizers and head of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation.

She said the Latino community supports any effort by the council to help improve the economic condition of poor blacks, but added, "To blame immigrants, particularly Hispanics, is ludicrous. We're suffering under the same conditions."

At least 30 people gathered in front of City Hall Tuesday evening, marching with signs.

"We are opposed to any government action that distributes public money based on race," said Marisa Ming, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Chamber of Commerce in Auburn Hills.

The protesters said they do not oppose the city creating a business district called African Town as long as others are not excluded.

They took issue with some of the language in the report, for which the council paid $112,000, and which the protesters said is riddled with fallacies and stereotypes.

The report refers to Dearborn as Arabtown, and says Hispanics, Asians and Arabs are classified as whites so they enjoy benefits denied blacks.

Detroit's Latino activists said they were galled by one reference that read: "Even though legal and illegal Hispanics constitute only 3 percent of Detroit's population and 90 percent have been in the country less than 25 years, Hispanics aggressively demand inclusion in local affirmative action programs and in elected positions ... Rather than either distinguishing the situation of blacks and Hispanics, or pointing out that blacks are the majority population and therefore can elect who they wish, local political forces have instead acceded to these demands."

Detroiters of Hispanic descent say even though Latinos, mainly Mexicans, have been settling in Detroit since the 1800s, they remain an invisible community and have no elected representation in a city where 82 percent of the population is black.

They say they've seen their share of discrimination, going back to the 1930s, when about 90 percent of the city's approximately 45,000 Latinos -- mostly Mexicans -- returned to Mexico as part of a U.S. government-sponsored repatriation program.

Today, census data shows Latinos make up 5 percent of the city's population. That is a 67-percent increase since 1990.

Council President Pro tem Kenneth Cockrel Jr. and other council members have acknowledged problems with the rhetoric in the report, but say its basic premise -- to increase the fortunes of poor blacks -- has merit.

Cockrel said he would welcome a discussion with leaders of the various ethnic communities.

"The Detroit City Council does not embrace racism as an economic development strategy," he said.

Councilwoman Kay Everett, who also opposed the plan, will hold a press conference today with community activists to protest the council's actions.

Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, who also opposed the plan, said the concept of African Town is not the issue.

"It's the fact that racial and ethnic categories would be used, and that's illegal," she said.

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or [email protected]

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Official pushes to rescind plan for African Town

Controversy rages over concept, blacks-only loans

September 30, 2004

BY MARISOL BELLO

FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

The fallout continues over the economic development plan embraced by the Detroit City Council that would exclusively benefit black entrepreneurs.

On Wednesday, Councilwoman Kay Everett held a news conference in the council's chambers with members of the city's Asian, Arab and Hispanic communities to speak against the resolutions passed by seven council members that would create a loan fund for blacks only.

The council also wants the city to create a black business district dubbed African Town.

Everett was one of two council members to vote against the resolution on the grounds that it is illegal for governments to create programs that benefit members of only one race. The other member was Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel.

But as Everett and the community leaders spoke out against the plan, residents who support it filled the chambers in protest.

Some carried signs that read, "You have yours. Why are you against a black business district?" and "Politician For Sale, Call 555-K-Everett." The group included members of a coalition working to recall Everett and Cockrel from their elected positions.

Ignoring the protesters, Everett said: "We would like to see the resolutions rescinded ... We need a clean slate."

Unlike ordinances, council resolutions do not carry the power of law. They signify the council's intent or position on issues. The two resolutions that the council approved in July would need the mayor's approval to proceed.

But Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick vetoed the resolutions and has distanced himself from talks with the council about the plan.

Furor over the council's actions stems in part from a report that provides a blueprint to help the city's black residents gain wealth

But the report, "A PowerNomics Economic Development Plan for Detroit's Under-Served Majority Population," also says immigration has hurt Detroit's black residents as Mexicans, Asians and Arabs take resources and opportunities.

In a statement read at the news conference, the heads of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, said: "The unprecedented attack on immigrants and their presence in the city of Detroit as proposed in this initiative only seeks to divide the city of Detroit and it does not recognize immigrants' tremendous contributions in the city."

Other groups have also come out against the plan. In a letter sent to council members this week, Focus:HOPE, a nonprofit that provides social services and job training to low-income residents, said the PowerNomics plan "is an accelerant tossed into the flames of racial hatred, fear and mistrust."

Eleanor Josaitis, Focus:Hope's cofounder and chief executive officer, said she sent the letter after reading the report because her organization has worked to break down the racial barriers the report threatens to rebuild.

"I have great respect for elected officials," Josaitis said. "But I really think they blew it on this one."

Later this week, Everett is expected to introduce a proposal to rescind the council's previous actions and Councilwoman Sharon McPhail is expected to introduce a resolution for a disparity study that looks at the historic treatment of all minority groups in the city.

Contact MARISOL BELLO at 313-222-6678 or [email protected]

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