Finley: From adversaries to Angels for festivities
On the issue of a Detroit curfew, Police Chief James Craig and the Rev. Wendell Anthony could not be farther apart.
Craig made a case to City Council that tight limits on the ability of youth to roam unsupervised downtown during the River Days festival and Ford Fireworks is a critical piece of the strategy for the jam-packed four days that begin Friday.
Anthony argued the curfew targeted black children and would create a police state climate in a city that this weekend will also host 40,000 attendees of a church convention, a quarter of them youths.
That was the public belly-bumping. Anthony won when the council voted 4-3 against Craig’s enhanced curfew request.
But throughout the face-off, Anthony and Craig worked together privately to accomplish the dual goals of keeping the festival safe while also making sure Detroit kids aren’t shut out of the fun.
In two meetings with business leaders, media executives, foundations, ministers and others, Craig and Anthony managed to set aside their core conflict and hatch a plan to engage the community in keeping downtown secure and open.
It was sometimes tense — the sharp disagreement over the need for the curfew was hard for them to set aside. But to their credit, the pair didn’t allow personal issues to prevail. While they’ll likely never agree on the curfew, they do agree it could be rendered irrelevant if the volunteer effort works.
So starting Friday and extending through the fireworks Monday, a corp of Volunteer Angels will be along the riverfront and throughout downtown providing assistance to visitors and helping police keep an eye on the crowd.
The hope is that the presence of the Angels will project the image that the events are under a watchful eye, and stop trouble before it starts. The unspoken pledge is that if there are enough eyes and ears, and if unsupervised teens don’t become unruly, there will be no need to detain and ticket them.
The ultimate goal is to avoid a repeat of last year’s arrest of 150 minors. The volunteers were recruited from the police Chaplain Corps, reserves and Citizen Radio patrol, as well as community organizations.
The hurry-up effort is backed by the business community. The Downtown Detroit Partnership is providing neon vests for the volunteers, Strategic Staffing solutions is paying for equipment, DTE Energy is covering transportation costs and Little Caesars is feeding the Angels.
A number of churches and community groups are rallying a different set of volunteers to bring to the fireworks kids whose parents can’t or won’t get them there.
“It’s very encouraging to see the support for the police and the city,” says Eric Larson, chief executive of the DDP. “It will help ensure the events are safe, but also that this opportunity in our city is inclusive.”
With more time to plan, Larson says, next year’s efforts will be more robust.
And instead of battling over a curfew, Detroit will be proving it doesn’t need to lock down the city to have a good time.
Follow Nolan Finley at detroitnews.com/finley, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.