Maintain diversity but skip gerrymandering, residents tell redistricting panel in Detroit
Detroit — Keep voting districts diverse but don't gerrymander them to fracture minority communities and weaken their power, representation and resources, residents told a redistricting panel Thursday night.
The Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission heard from more than 60 people, some with impassioned pleas, to keep communities together, avoid gerrymandering of districts and resist temptation to play politics.
Vincent Martin, 59, of Detroit told commission members that cities like Detroit have suffered enough racism and red-lining, and need a fair shake to make sure minority voices are heard.
"The Black voice naturally is being stymied. The Republicans have utilized this to stymie our voice also in recent years," Martin said. "This is a chance for us to get some equity in this actual endeavor because, without equity, it's just us voting."
Martin took Democrats to task, too, saying, they "come to us every year and get us to vote for them, and then they don't give us nothing." More privileged areas get cleaned up from environmental problems than where he lives, he said.
"That's what this redistricting means to us, a chance TO equal and level the playing field," he said.
Thursday's hearing was another public forum that will help guide the process of redrawing Michigan voting districts for congressional, and state House and Senate seats. The last hearing in Metro Detroit will be held June 24 at the MRCC Banquet Center on Mound Road in Warren from 1-3 p.m.
Detroit is home to two congressional districts — the 13th District led by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and the 14th District led by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, a Southfield Democrat who is the only African American in Michigan's congressional delegation.
The panel heard from more than just Detroit residents. John Lacny, 60, of Plymouth Township spoke about the need to preserve unique districts like his.
"First of all, keep the politics out of it," Lacny said after his speech. "Everything is so political now. It's very important that we square off our districts, Senate and state districts ... as much as possible without disturbing the culture and history of each community."
The hearings are considered listening sessions that will guide the 13-member Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission regarding "communities of interest." The commission has a goal of collecting 10,000 public comments submitted at the meetings and through a portal on the commission's website.
Residents of other communities from Bangladesh living in Hamtramck and Warren also spoke about keeping their communities together.
Sumon Kobir, 36, of Warren said the Bangladesh community is "constantly growing everyday" and that should be taken seriously so residents are not broken up the into various districts.
"From Hamtramck to Detroit and all the way to Sterling Heights, we are a huge Bangladesh community. We are trying to ask them to put all of us in one map so our voice, whenever we want something, our voice is stronger," he said.
Pam Weinstein, 74, of the Rosedale Park area of Detroit implored the panel to "avoid what's been done in the past, which is use major thoroughfares as convenient boundaries."
"Even though as a map maker, that may look efficient and an easy way to group people, in case of our neighborhoods, it totally cuts us apart and gives us two different representatives, which is just awkward and inefficient," she said.
Michigan voters approved the creation of the commission through a constitutional amendment ballot initiative in 2018 to replace the former system, which allowed the political party in power every 10 years to redraw the maps. Opponents of the old system argued the party-led system resulted in gerrymandered districts that weighed in favor of the controlling party.
The panel is made of four Republican members, four Democratic members and five nonpartisan members.