DETROIT (WWJ) - Alleged unfair treatment on Belle Isle in wake of the state takeover prompted protesters to take a stand with a unique plan to demonstrate on the island.
Detroiter Ken Betheaw, who had a recent encounter with island cops, was among about a dozen bicyclists gathered at the park Friday evening to express their concerns.
"Two weeks ago we were riding our bikes — I was riding in the bike lane — when state police stopped us," Betheaw told WWJ Newsradio 950's Kathryn Larson. "He gave us the rundown on the Michigan vehicle code about using turn signals, stopping at stop signs."
Betheaw said that while he didn't get a ticket, the encounter left him with a bad taste.
"It made me feel very uncomfortable because I've been coming on Belle Isle all my life, and that's the first time I had ever been stopped on a bicycle," he said.
Now Betheaw plans to ride his mountain bike in the days ahead with the "Freedom Riders," a new group of bikers who feel they're being unfairly targeted, and that police on Belle Isle could use some sensitivity training.
"That's what we're here for: We're going to make them sensitive with our presence," Betheaw said.
There's been much ado about alleged "excessive policing" in the 985-acre park, since state troopers and Department of Natural Resources officers took over daily patrols.
In a media release, Ron Scott, a spokesman for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, said he's concerned about "disrespectful" and "aggressive" treatment of citizens.
"The ticketing and warning stops that have occurred on the Island appear to be meant to discourage certain people from enjoying this historic park. We will not tolerate that," Scott said in a news release.
"We intend to be the eyes and ears of the public to make sure citizens are treated with respect, dignity and (accorded) their full Constitutional rights," Scott added.
Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said troopers are simply following the letter of the law, and no Belle Isle policing problems have been brought to his attention.
"You know, we listen to all the citizens that have a complaint," Shaw said Friday. "Fortunately, since we've been on the island since the beginning of February, we've received zero complaints — not complaints at the post whatsoever."
Among those stopped, so far, for alleged speeding include the Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey as well as the mayor himself. Winfrey was offended when a DNR officer told her he was looking to clear the park of "riff raff," while Mayor Mike Duggan said his encounter was cordial.
Detroit City Council member Brenda Jones, too, has been highly critical of the patrols, calling them a "disgrace." She told reporters last week that she's been in talks with state officials about this issue, and an investigation is underway.
Owned by the city since 1879, Belle Isle had suffered in recent years as a cash-strapped Detroit coudn't afford needed repairs. Under the terms of a 30-year lease, the state took control of the island on Feb. 10.
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