Chetly Zarko, December 15, 2005
[Editor’s note. Chetly Zarko, who shot the video and wrote the article below, has asked us to add this disclaimer: “American Renaissance’s re-publication of this story should not be considered an endorsement by the author in any way of other content on this site or published by American Renaissance.”]
Lansing, MI—Yesterday, the Board of Canvassers met in a special meeting to comply with a December 7, 2005 Court ruling. The December 7th ruling followed the Board’s decision earlier in the week to remove the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) from its agenda because Michigan Court Rules (MCR) state that an ordinary effect ruling takes effect after all appeals are exhausted.
Rather than appeal, as they promised following the October 31, 2005 Court of Appeals order that the Board of Canvassers approve the MCRI petition and certify it to appear on the 2006 ballot, MCRI’s opposition, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), filed a Motion for Reconsideration on the last day (November 21) possible. Motions for Reconsideration must present new arguments as to why the court ruling was in error — but this motion did no such thing, it was merely to extend the process of appeals so as to extend the delay and uncertainty surrounding MCRI and interfere with MCRI’s First Amendment rights to conduct a campaign.
Nonetheless, court rules allowed the Board of Canvassers to delay action until after the appeals process expired, so when MCRI learned the Board removed it from their December 7 agenda, MCRI attorneys filed a Motion for Immediate Consideration and denial of BAMN’s Motion for Reconsideration and a Motion for Immediate Effect (meaning that only a stay order from the Michigan Supreme Court could slow the remainder of the process that must be started now). The Board meeting on the 7th proceeded without MCRI, but four hours later the Court of Appeals released its stern order, denying reconsideration, granting immediate effect and ordering the Canvassers to certify “forthwith” MCRI for the 2006 ballot, and, on its own motion, sanctioning 3 opponents for filing papers so lacking in “proprietary” as to warrant sanctions of $500.00 each.
This prompted the special meeting of December 14 (yesterday) to be scheduled, which was to begin in the Lansing Center room 201-203 at 10am. Another room next to 201 was being used by the Gannett company media consolidation team (we’ll come back to that). I was the first to arrive in the building at 9am, followed at about 9:30am by the remainder of an MCRI team including Jennifer Gratz and supporters Diane Carey, of Shiawassee County, MCRI. MCRI attorney Stephen Safranek (Law Professor, Ave Maria, Ann Arbor) arrived shortly before 10am. We all took seats on the left (judged from the seating position) side of the front row as we had arrived first (we’ll come back to that). At almost precisely 10am, with what appeared to be two (chartered) buses BAMN arrived with what I estimate to be 120-150 members, mostly high school students taken from classes in Detroit Public Schools. Media estimates were as high as 250, but photographic evidence and common sense (the buses) suggest the number was slightly smaller. They occuppied the remainder of the room, forcing the second and third room dividers to be opened by staff. BAMN leadership also took positions in the front row on the right side of the room.
Canvassers Katherine DeGrow (R), Chairperson, and Lynn Bankes, (nominated by Democratic Governor Granholm due to an error by Republicans in not nominating an individual last February, but a Republican historically, because the law requires an equal number of each party) arrived first. Both Democratic Canvassers, Doyle O’Connor, and Paul Mitchell (the only African American on the board), arrived quite late. Chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, Mark Brewer, the subject of this ZR photo essay, also arrived and was in attendance throughout, although he was less visibly tied to the Democratic Party Canvassers. There late arrival prompted speculation that they might not simply show up, citing some personal difficulty. There was speculation that O’Connor, who allegedly had not heard about the meeting until Monday evening and was not answering his phone, also, may not show up, but that Mitchell might since he had been contacted late last week and agreed to come. Either Mitchell or O’Connor’s presence would have been sufficient to create a quorum, but both arrived within short order, and the meeting began 10-15 minutes late, perhaps more.
The meeting began with DeGrow calling to it to order, asking that people remember the rules of decorum she cited from the July 19 meeting that people show respect to speakers, and announcing that they would accept testimony on the issue, as long as the testimony was on the limited issue of the Court of Appeals ruling. O’Connor commented in an impassioned plea that speakers ‘speak to the issue at hand’ but he offered his personal objections and then encouraged individuals to address those ‘as they related to the issue at hand.’
Therein followed two and half hours of testimony, all repetitious pleas by BAMN members about the alleged evils of MCRI with the exception of a short legal testimony by Stephen Safranek, MCRI’s attorney, and a short statement by Diane Carey, a supporter of MCRI speaking about her multi-racial family and adopted children and why she would prefer the government not give preferences to some of her children over others because she loved them equally. There was some brief testimony from Secretary of State staff and the Attorney General, and O’Connor made another set of remarks.
Following the voluminous testimony, at around 12:30pm, Canvasser Lynn Bankes read into the record a motion to certify the initiative pursuant to the Court ruling. As she read, BAMN leaders Luke Massie and Shanta Driver began to yell a slogan, started clapping, and the noise level in the room quickly drowned out the Board and any other conversation in the room became impossible.
After snapping a few photos of the situation, I stepped into the hallway where two Lansing City Police officers stood, but refused to enter the room upon my request that they investigate disorderly conduct and breach of peace concerns. They stated that they were concerned about the legal implications and that they would only enter if property was being damaged or things being thrown. The owner or building manager of the Lansing Center was also standing next to the officers — the crowd could be heard through the walls (and easily by the neighboring room’s renters), but I opened the door and held it open, and pointed to the officers who could see into the room and asked them if they could see it (they could) and if they considered the activity sufficient cause to further investigate (not to make arrests necessarily, but view the situation, which I cautioned them was becoming dangerous). The building manager then demanded that I close the door — I asked if he owned the property and that he was requiring that action as a condition of my remaining on the premises. He stated he was (the ultimate “look the other way” policy by both the police and building manager), and I told him I understood trespass law well enough to comply with his request, and , after obtaining officer names and badge numbers, closed the door and reentered the room.
Several minutes passed inside as the chanting continued, and BAMN members began jumping on chairs, moving around, and flailing. The situation was becoming more frenzied.
I stepped back into the hallway when Canvasser Mitchell had exited for a brief moment, and I overheard Mitchell stating that if anyone was removed or detained that he would walk out himself and encourage O’Connor to do the same, thereby making a quorum and further meeting, and compliance with the Court of Appeals order impossible. The conversation overheard suggested that he had already made this clear to Board Chair DeGrow, much earlier in the meeting, which is probably why she was unwilling at any time to exercise much control over the mob. Canvasser Mitchell, an African American, also felt that the mere presence of police in the room would send some kind of racist signal and therefore told the building manager (who thought Mitchell to be somewhat in charge) not to send the police in and that the situation was not at a level Mitchell considered disorderly (though the meeting was impossible). Mitchell re-entered the room, I switched my camera to 30 second video mode (from stills, but still without audio), and followed. Within a minute, the crowd began to move as a surge toward the Board itself, approaching the testimony visitors table. As the crowd surged, the Court Reporter quickly began to gather up an array of microphones. The crowd then began to push forward the visitor’s table forward as the Court Reporter struggled to unwire her microphones, putting her in significant danger. The crowd flipped over the table just as she was able back away, and moved within feet of the Board of Canvassers table. I captured this on video along with several TV cameras (see my third clip, and this WILX TV clip with sound as well), and just after the table was flipped, I rushed out to the hall where I told the officers property was being destroyed and a table had been flipped over (the movement was captured). This AP report captures the moment:
High school students from the Detroit area knocked over an empty table where witnesses give testimony. The table was knocked over as students chanted “They say Jim Crow, we say hell no!” and moved toward the front of the room when the board prepared to vote on the proposal.
The officers called for back up (which was quick to arrive, within a minute or so) and both entered the room as the rest of MCRI supporters exited, One United Michigan staff (an MCRI opposition group claiming to not be associated with BAMN), and the entire group of Canvassers. Most BAMN members remained in the room as the police apparently attempted to restore order, but no arrests or physical contact was made in the room by police to my knowledge. There was at least one arrest outside of a BAMN member who was disorderly and shouting obscenties. Press reports indicate that the police interviewed the individual at the station and they appeared to have little understanding of the issue they were there to protest (following along the lines of an October 27th protest at the University of Michigan where the NAACP complained that BAMN members had brought in high schoolers who were vulgar and unprepared to offer substantive comments on the issue and, according to NAACP members, “represented” blacks in a way that increased racist stereotypes).
Canvassers, print and TV media, and others milled about in the hallway for a few minutes, a flood of police arrived, and the building manager escorted the Canvassers into a second room that I will label as a retreat room. The now ballooned police force cordoned off the hallway as a group of chanting BAMNers followed the action, and prevented those chanting from leaving the area that they had occupied. Almost everyone else had made it into a second part of the hallway, and the media followed the Canvassers, along with OUM representatives and MCRI representatives, into the retreat room. Individuals Canvassers were discussing security and how to conduct the remainder of the meeting, whether to adjourn to another day, etc. O’Connor complained — to the TV cameras — that their very act of talking in this second room (which was open) was improper somehow (of course, talking in the other room was impossible, and no real business was conducted in the second room since DeGrow went back to the first room and announced that the meeting would reconvene at 2pm in a room on the first floor [since the floor was literally vibrating on the second floor due to BAMN “stomping”, and since their was no occupied neighboring room, according to the building manager]) under the Michigan Open Meetings Act. Of course, in that same room, below, you’ll see a photo of O’Connor and Mitchell in the corner caucusing privately, and asking his boss (speculating as to whom, likely Mark Brewer) if he “wouldn’t have a problem with us just leaving or walking out”. During the multiple separate discussions in this room, Canvasser Bankes noted that she wouldn’t be able to meet for several weeks due to the Holiday, and O’Connor made similar scheduling points. Bankes made the brilliant and true observation that any rescheduling of the meeting would be counter-productive since it would encourage, not prevent, the same behavior at that meeting.
Regardless, MCRI supporters were among the few to remain in the building while the remainder of Canvassers, BAMN, and most media went to lunch. When building staff made the first floor rooms available at about 1:30pm, we were the first to enter them and secure, as we did before, the five seats on the left side of the room in the first row. There were no other rows of seats in the room because the rooms were just opened for this purpose, and the Canvassers tables and microphones were just being set up as a priority. Media members were second to arrive in the room, and occupied the only other five seats. BAMN filed in, as the remaining room dividers were opened, and they took up standing positions behind MCRI and the media as the Canvassers and Secretary of State staff filed in. BAMN members began to complain both before starting and interrupting during the second meeting about how MCRI staff (and supporters) were given preferences in being allowed the only seats in the room, particularly after Doyle O’Connor made his first statement alleging that only MCRI staff was allowed into what he called an illegal meeting in the retreat room (O’Connor’s statement was clearly designed to set-up an excuse and create political cover). A few minutes later, speaking to the Board without authorization, I interrupted the Board (pursuant to a request by someone with MCRI) to correct the factual record Doyle had inaccurately set up. Over the Board’s highly ironic objections that I was out of order, in about 10 seconds I simply stated that opposition groups, TV and other media, and others were in the retreat room and it wasn’t a closed meeting. Luke Massie and other BAMN members interrupted both myself and the Board and stated that they could not reach the room because chanting BAMN members were obstructed by a line of police. The meeting then continued, with occasional other interruptions by BAMN, including (even more ironic) statements prefaced by the claim that because the Board “allowed” me to interrupt at this point in the second meeting that they had a right to continue interrupting in perpetuity.
I then retook my seat, and when MCRI Executive Director Jennifer Gratz left the room for an early TV interview with an organization that was preparing to leave the building, a priceless moment occurred during a short-lull in the meeting. The lull was created by Doyle O’Connor leaving the room for a recess (not authorized by the chair). It was his second recess during the thirty minute session — in the first he left with his cell phone in hand claiming that his daughters school had called for an emergency. The second time he left with phone in hand as well.
The priceless moment came when a young female BAMN member, noticing that Jennifer Gratz’s seat was empty, asked me politely and sincerely if I could move over so she could sit down in the aisle seat I was occupying. I got up and told her no problem, and offered both our seats to her, planning to stand for the remainder of time. After she took her seat, several other BAMN members loudly complained about the seating arrangement preferences, to which I immediately sensed an irony given that BAMN had invoked Rosa Parks’ actions a number of times during the meeting previously. I pointed out that I had graciously given up my seat, and that I would have done the same 50 years ago. Diane Carey, another MCRI supporter, had already gotten up sensing the same irony, and offered her seat to others, and I encouraged the final MCRI supporter I knew to get up as well, leaving the entire front (and only) row open with three BAMN members sitting there. One BAMN member then shouted that “we don’t want to sit in seats they’ve been in,” and the three sitting BAMN members were urged to get up, leaving the entire front row open. Gongwer News Service reports the sequence of event accurately, although a link isn’t possible because its a paid service (I’ll dig up some fair use copies of Gongwer and MIRS reports at some point), but the seats had dual symbolism representing both admissions seats to universities and the Rosa Parks analogy, and BAMN’s contemptuous demand for seating and claim of seating preference, and then refusal to accept them once offered was perhaps the funniest moment in an otherwise strange and tense setting.
When returning from his second cell phone escape, Doyle O’Connor continued with a final question of the Attorney General staff about whether a rewritten and narrow version of Lynn Bankes motion to certify would meet the legal requirements of the Board. When the AG’s office agreed that Doyle’s version would be acceptable with a caveat that it mentioned the 2006 election date, Bankes withdrew her motion and DeGrow her second, and they began to read a new motion, using the words crafted by O’Connor. The BAMN members then began to chant in unison again as the motion was being read, to the point where nothing could be heard. The four Canvassers and Court Reporter then moved their chairs in closer, and could be seen in physical proximity (touching on occasion) as each could be seen to mouth various statements while BAMN chanted. Canvasser Mitchell’s no vote was seen and interpreted by lip reading by several reporters as a no, and O’Connor seen to wave off is hand near his ear, suggesting he didn’t hear it. Some reports suggest O’Connor voted no, while others suggested he was non-responsive, abstained, or said he couldn’t hear the motion. Upon failure to obtain the necessary majority, Chairman DeGrow adjourned the meeting. BAMN continued its chants not realizing the outcome, and media, MCRI, and Canvassers exited the room, where TV interviews were being conducted. About two minutes later BAMN members started chanting, “We won. We won,” and reportedly were crying with joy. The remainder of activity in interviews is covered by several of the links I am including.
Republican lawmakers want the Democratic governor to remove two Democratic members of the state elections board who defied a court order to put an anti-affirmative action proposal on the ballot.
Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema and Rep. Leon Drolet wrote letters to the Democratic governor Thursday, urging that she use her power to remove the public officials for “gross neglect of duty” or “corrupt conduct.” Another GOP lawmaker was preparing legislation aimed at taking away much of the Board of State Canvassers’ authority.
Granholm spokeswoman Liz Boyd said Republicans were overreacting and should be outraged by allegations that some of the signatures were gathered through fraud.
Critics of the ballot proposal say backers misled voters — including many minorities — into thinking they were signing petitions to strengthen civil rights, not ban race and gender preferences in government hiring and university admissions.