April 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Community tries to heal at Detroit vigil after brutal beating

Detroit— The opposite of hate was on display Thursday as community members and clergy met to support the family of a Clinton Township man prosecutors say was the victim of a hate crime.

The April 2 mob beating of Clinton Township motorist Steve Utash on the city’s east side has made national headlines, shining a spotlight on the city’s crime problem and racial divide.

Hundreds gathered at Historic Little Rock Baptist Church on Thursday to take a stand against racism and violence.

The Rev. Jim Holley and other clergy set up the ceremony to help heal the rift that was exposed by the Utash beating, although organizers said the purpose of event is to pray for all victims of violent crimes, in Detroit and surrounding communities.

“We're so grateful for the heroes and the she-roes who continue to rise up in dark times," said Pastor Lawrence Glass of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity in an opening prayer.

A crowd of black and white, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, cheered and clapped as speakers spoke of coming together as a community.

Pastor Chuck Gaidica of Oak Pointe Church of Novi told the Utash family: “We are here to honor you tonight, and your father.”

Also honored was Deborah Hughes, who stopped the mob from further injuring Utash, 54, on April 2; Lance Swain, who helped rescue victims of a rollover crash March 25 near the Lodge and Howard Street; and Camille Meeks, the mother of Courtney Meeks, the 24-year-old CVS guard who was killed Feb. 26 while helping a woman who had been carjacked.

When Hughes took the podium, she downplayed what she did: “I don’t really think it was much.”

“I pray that your father gets up tomorrow,” she told the Utash family. The crowd gave her and the family a standing ovation.

When Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan came to the podium, he spoke of the importance of Hughes’ role.

“She didn’t say that’s a white man, that’s a black man,” he said. “She said that’s wrong.”

He also praised Utash as an honest, hardworking man.

“He did the right thing. He stopped,” Duggan said of Utash running back to the scene to check on the child he struck.

“The Utash family has every reason to be angry, but instead they stepped up and called for compassion,” Duggan said. “They called for the community to come together.”

Bishop Charles Ellis III urged the community not to dwell on the bad, but to embrace good in the city, including good Samaritans.

When members of the Utash family rose to speak, someone in the crowd shouted: “We love you.”

Ken Utash, the beating victim’s brother, told the crowd “I don’t know why God had this plan” and urged them to make a difference.

“When the police come, help them out,” he said. “How are they going to catch these guys if we don’t help them? And for those people who just sit there, they might be coming after someone you love next.”

Felicia Utash added: “I don’t usually talk in public,” before choking up and sobbing.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony of Fellowship Chapel in Detroit invoked President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society program and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying King “didn’t have a dream to turn it into a nightmare.”

“There is no black pain, no white pain; no blue pain or yellow pain,” he said to thunderous applause. “There’s just pain. .... When we bleed, we all bleed red.

“These are very critical times in which we live and we have to make the changes ourselves. The cavalry isn’t coming to rescue Detroit. I’m looking at the cavalry right here.”

Five people have been charged in Utash’s beating after police said the motorist accidentally struck a 10-year-old boy who darted into traffic.

One of the suspects, a 16-year-old boy, was charged with ethnic intimidation, after a police source familiar with the investigation told The Detroit News he confessed during an interrogation that he beat Utash because he was white.

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Detroit News Staff Writer Candice Williams and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Members of the Utash family sit with Deborah Hughes, a retired nurse who gave beaten driver Steven Utash aid. / Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News
Utash family members and friends greet each other at Historic Little Rock ... (Photos by Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, center, joined others who attended the Night of ... (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)