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Protesters highlight Detroit area's racial divide on Eight Mile Road

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Activists took to the streets of Eight Mile Road again Wednesday evening to draw attention to the Detroit area’s racial divisions. Eight Mile has long served as a dividing line between predominantly-Black Detroit, and its predominantly-white suburbs.

Organizers say that Black people often fear crossing Eight Mile because it can lead to negative encounters with police. And they say suburban residents often fear crossing Eight Mile because they associate Detroit with violence.

Activists want to “crush that narrative,” said Nicholas Buckingham, campaign director for the group Michigan Liberation.

Buckingham said he lives this reality with police north of Eight Mile frequently, when he visits his mother in suburban Oak Park.

“They love to get behind me and like to run all of my information, and then once they find out I’ve been to prison, then the conversation gets real interesting,” Buckingham said. “And it’s like, I have to kind of defend who I am, because I’m across Eight Mile.”

That type of suspicion cuts both ways, said Rod Adams, campaign director for the group Detroit Action.

“Once you cross Eight Mile, you’re a lot more likely to be pulled over by police. You’re a lot more likely to have instances and interactions with the police that aren’t so pleasant,” Adams said.

On the other hand, “Folks will come to downtown Detroit to enjoy a festival, and soak in the culture of Black people, but will not — and I repeat, will not — invest in it in any other way.”

In terms of negative interactions with police, Adams said even if they don’t end in violence, there can still be dire consequences.

“If you don’t have the money to pay the ticket, you can’t drive. If you can’t drive, that means you can’t go to work. If you can’t go to work, you can’t pay your rent,” Adams said. “And it creates this cycle of poverty.”

Adams said protesters have two basic goals: one, that communities “defund from the police system the way it is, and invest it into alternatives that actually makes communities safer;” and two, bring the issue of systemic racism home to a very micro, local level. “If we’re going to talk about ending racism in the rest of this country, we need to start talking about ending racism right here at home,” he said.

Protesters said they also want to educate people in the communities surrounding Eight Mile about their goals. They marched down Eight Mile and other nearby streets, blocking traffic and conducting a teach-in.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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