Union members protest before Trump’s Detroit speech

Breana Noble and Michael Gerstein
The Detroit News

Detroit — Just as GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump began his speech in Cobo Center, more than 100 protesters outside of the venue were decrying the bombastic businessman, holding signs that called Trump sexist, racist and fascist.

“No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” protesters belted Monday morning, facing a sparse line of police, including five mounted on horses with wooden batons.

No violence broke out Monday morning amid the peaceful protest organized by the United Auto Workers union, aside from a brief “tussle” over a Confederate flag, according to Detroit police. Trump campaign stops have been marred in recent months with violent outbreaks between Trump supporters and opponents.

Police briefly detained the flag bearer but made no arrest, Commander Elvin Barren said around 12:30 p.m. Monday.

“Somebody fell as they tussled,” Barren said. “Once I interviewed the witnesses, they said no one was assaulted and (the man with the flag) was released.”

The briefly detained man left the scene after the incident, Barren said, adding that “He realized that this is probably not the best event for him, so he’s gone.”

Inside the Cobo Center, more than 12 event attendees each individually disrupted Trump’s speech, shouting slogans like “tiny hands” and were escorted from the room by security. Many times, audience members rose to their feet and shouted down the demonstrators.

Michigan People’s Campaign claimed it had several female protesters in the room to challenge the candidate about every two minutes on his proposed policies and his position on sexual harassment.

“You want to close Michigan plants and outsource our jobs?” Jacquie Maxwell, Grosse Pointe Woods auto worker, shouted during Trump’s speech as she stood on her chair. “How are we supposed to raise our families without good jobs? Is that what you call winning?”

Another protester was former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who was not immediately available to comment.

Detroit food server Sarah Messer was the first to disrupt the event and said she protested because of Trump’s previous comments that women should leave their jobs if they are sexually harassed and what she considers his lack of support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

Trump uncharacteristically didn’t react to most of the demonstrators, preferring to continue his speech. But after a string of protesters, he quipped: “I will say the Bernie Sanders people had far more energy and spirit.”

At the end of speech, after Trump had left the stage, Economic Club President and CEO Beth Chappell vowed to investigate how the demonstrators got into the speech and ensure they are banned from future club events.

“That’s not what the Detroit Economic Club is about,” Chappell said.

An Economic Club official said the 3,000-member organization gained about 100 new members since Trump’s speech was announced last Wednesday.

Many protesters in Detroit on Monday expressed a general sense of dread at the idea of Trump as president. They cited his inflammatory comments toward women and immigrants, and say they fear his policies would be anti-worker.

“Trump is mobilizing racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant sentiment among white, middle-class workers,” said David Langstaff, 32. “I live in Detroit and I think we have a responsibility to resist Donald Trump. I think we have a lot of power when we come together. That’s a lot more power than voting every four years.”

While Langstaff said he was outside Cobo on Monday to protest Trump, the man also declared himself anti-Hillary, saying he supports an entirely new system of American government.

“The kinds of things we need for ourselves are not going to happen through the ballot box,” he said. “I think (our country) should be based on principles of radical democracy and egalitarianism, and that’s not something that’s possible under our current political system.”

Langstaff joined other anti-Trump demonstrators lining the street Monday outside Cobo, the front line holding fabric painted to resemble brick walls, representing Trump’s promise to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Wall of Trump,” one sheet read. “No borders; no attacks on women; no capitalism,” read others.

Anti-Trump protesters weren’t alone Monday, with a handful of the businessman’s supporters joining the fray.

One Trump supporter walked along the street with a giant Trump flag before slipping into the chanting crowd.

“I wanted to see how they would react to someone with a different opinion,” said Detroiter Zack Wojtan, 20.

While the majority allowed Wojtan to pass, several followed him through the crowd, gesturing for him to leave.

“I was saying this is a public sidewalk, and they were telling me I couldn’t be there,” Wojtan said, standing on a corner across the street from the protesters. “Some of them were really hostile. One threatened to ‘beat the hell out of me.’ One guy was ready to take a swing at me.”

Wojtan said he supports Trump for his economic policies.

“I like how he wants to bring jobs back to the United States, so people can have long-term careers,” he said.

But protesters far outnumbered Trump’s supporters, with many in the crowd joining Democrat Marie Thornton, a 65-year-old Detroit resident, who said Trump isn’t welcome in the city.

“How dare this man, Trump, come into Detroit after demeaning women, after talking against women ... and expect Detroit to vote for him,” Thornton said. She said she risked her health to come to the protest Monday, disconnected from her dialysis machine.

Another protester who said he drove from Portage, Michigan, to come to the protest said he’s here because he fears what may happen to women in a country helmed by Trump.

“Well, I have a mother, and I hope to have a daughter one day,” said Chuck Bruce, a 27-year-old career and technical education instructor at Western Michigan University.

Bruce said Trump’s demeaning comments toward women make him fear for his future daughter-to-be.

“I think he’s a looney-tune, a freak cake,” said another protester, Bob Moriarty, 63, of Livonia. The retired auto worker says he thinks Trump wouldn’t be good for workers.

“America deserves a whole lot better than that,” he said.

Staff writer Holly Fournier contributed.