Detroit — Amid chants of “No more,” the Rev. Charles Williams II led a crowd of demonstrators Tuesday protesting Kid Rock’s opening act at the new Little Caesars Arena.
“We made sure that we sent a message,” he told the cheering throng.
Having led the crowd back to Grand Circus Park, where it had departed at about 5:30 p.m. for the arena, Williams, who heads the Michigan chapter of National Action Network that organized the protest, shouted: “One thing we ought to know, it’s not over. We are one Detroit and we will not stand for the divisive, hateful language of Kid Rock in our city. We don’t want to listen.”
The crowd, also chanting “No justice, no pizza” in reference to the eponymous pizza empire, grew to about 400 people in a walk from the park to protest Kid Rock’s appearance at the taxpayer-funded arena’s grand opening and his use in the past of the Confederate flag on stage.
Tuesday was the first of six scheduled concerts for the hometown rocker, who took the stage just after 9 p.m. The opening featured pyrotechnics, jugglers, scantily clad women and an introduction as the state’s “next senator.” In a campaign-like speech similar to others he’s given at concerts, Kid Rock blasted the government for offering financial support for people “who can’t take care of themselves” yet have “(expletive) kid after kid.”
The entertainer also denounced racists, saying: “Stay the hell away” and ended the speech with “I love black people!”
Counterprotesters outside the venue earlier were few Tuesday during the hour-long protest.
One man held a Confederate flag; another held an American flag and a sign saying “Kid Rock 4 Senate” in support of the musician’s hints of a run for Congress. On July 12, Kid Rock launched a website to sell merchandise for a potential Senate run and a brewing controversy over his intent: Skeptics argue it’s a marketing ploy to promote his music career, including two songs and music videos released earlier in July.
Another protest observer stood out: Sam Lipari of Warren held up the middle fingers of each hand. “This is some BS, over a flag,” Lipari said, sporting a Kid Rock T-Shirt as he directed his antipathy toward the swelling crowd. “All lives matter. I have tickets to today and tomorrow’s concert! Kid Rock is a good man.”
Others shouted at protesters from atop the Hockeytown Town Cafe along the route. “Go back to your city!” some screamed.
At one point, protesters knelt, fists in the air, and cited the national anthem, apparently in a show of unity for former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who have taken a knee when the anthem is played at NFL football games.
Williams later denounced Detroit’s elected officials who “give our money away,” referring to taypayer money used in building the arena.
“You will respect us,” he said. “We will demand respect. If we have to protest every day, we will protest every day. If we have to march every day, we will march.”
There was a heavy police presence for the protest and concert. Arena security, Detroit police and sheriff reserves guarded the sidewalks along the arena. Detroit police prevented incidents by asking counterprotesters to leave and separating protesters from concert goers.
“The arenas is benefiting two billionaires (Tom Gores and Chris Ilitch) who are not from Detroit. They benefited from taxpayers dollars and manipulated the system. Here, they are taking away from Detroit Public Schools for an arena and a practice facility,” local activist Robert Davis said.
Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib railed against corporate welfare in the arena deal.
“They are giving away our corporate welfare dollars like overflowing cookies in a jar,” said Tlaib, D-Detroit.
Bill Davis, president of the Detroit Political Action Network, also spoke out against taxpayer money used on the arena.
“We are not here about hate,” he said. “We are demanding the corporate welfare dollars that should be going to our schools, libraries, our police should be making more and they are opening it up with a symbol of hate.”
Williams posted last week on the National Action Network Michigan chapter’s Facebook page, “When you hire Kid Rock, who is known to be dog-whistling and cat-calling to white supremacist organizations and the white supremacist community, alt-right, whatever you want to call them, and you take our tax dollars to do that? That’s wrong.”
On Tuesday, he thanked the police “for their help and all of you who came to send a message.”
“We will not stand for hatred of Kid Rock in our city,” he said. “When we give you our dollars and you disrespect us with Kid Rock.”
Tuesday’s performance comes a day after Kid Rock defended himself in a statement against charges of racism from the National Action Network, saying he wouldn’t be facing such attacks if he wasn’t considering a Senate run.
He said people should ignore “the garbage the extreme left is trying to create!” in a statement.
“They are trying to use the old confederate flag BS, etc. to stir the pot,” said Ritchie, who lives in Clarkston.
“My track record in Detroit and Michigan speaks for itself, and I would dare anyone talking trash to put theirs up against mine.”
Kid Rock said he was “very disappointed” that none of the people, businesses or charities he’s supported in Detroit have responded to the “unfounded attacks” from his critics. “So for the unforeseen future I will focus my philanthropy efforts on other organizations besides the ones I have supported in the past,” he wrote.
In Grand Rapids last week, his announcer introduced Kid Rock as Michigan’s “next senator,” and Kid Rock came on stage to the tune of “Hail to the Chief.”
The group Common Cause this month filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission and U.S. Department of Justice, alleging he’s violating election law by acting like a candidate while failing to register his candidacy or comply with regulations for campaign contribution limits and disclosures.
Meanwhile, fans streamed into the arena.
Amy Blake, 48, and Clare Poisson, 35, said they just came for a good show.
“He’s just a hometown good boy,” said Blake of Livonia, wearing a Vote Kid Rock shirt. “I wouldn’t just vote for him because he’s Kid Rock. I need to know his views first.”
Blaket of St. Clair Shores said she hoped for a great concert.
“I just want a good show and this is just a bunch of hatred. I don’t get it. I think people are just looking for something to complain about. What about all the good he’s done?”