Ah Detroit. I loved going places where I have a history.
Detroit Tigers baseball was a first for me as a little kid from deep in the piney woods of East Texas in the ‘50s.
And here we were in Motor City to do “battle” with Jack Gilstrap and the American Public Transit Association, which for our ADAPT folks was the “evil empire”!
But, Detroit was also a city with a history of struggle – unions and civil rights! And, it was the city of Coleman Young, Mayor and civil rights icon. And of that most beloved lady of the first bus fight in Montgomery, Alabama, Mrs. Rosa Parks.
I was psyched to know that Mayor Young and Mrs. Parks were in Detroit and that Mrs. Parks had indicated she would march with us for accessible public transit.
Wow, was I wrong!
Not only did Mayor Young treat us like a second-class stepchild with his authoritarian approach to protecting APTA conventioneers, he tried to shut down the transit system where it couldn’t be shown for what it was – a public financed piece of crap! There were more “jack-booted” type of cops for a hundred-plus ADAPT freedom fighters than I could have imagined, armed and ready for the “crips”.
One situation I remember particularly well was in front of APTA’s towering convention building, replete with the typical steel-barrier walls separating the abused from the abusers, with a line of Detroit’s finest – big, powerfully-built with silvered-sun glasses – between us and them. One, in particular, must have been 6’4” and 200-plus pounds of physical perfection. I tried to talk, but he was stone silent; then, about 10 minutes later I finally said, “Well, man I guess you think we’re not human.”, and he almost fell down. I’m sure as a black man he had heard that before. He said, “That ain’t it; they told us to keep quiet and keep our distance.”
As we always found out in our battles with APTA, the cops were usually on our side as all too often they had friends and/or family with disabilities.
My biggest disappointment was when CBS’s Ed Bradley “drank the Kool-Aid” and lined up with the oppressors, and probably had a direct hand, along with Mayor Young, in keeping Mrs. Parks from marching with us. It stunned me to see first hand Bradley speaking at the APTA convention and putting us down; I wondered how he put that shoe on his other foot? And Mayor Young trying the Southern tactics on ADAPT, without the dogs and water cannons, with “his” police force. Made me wonder if the “white” Youngs and Bradleys in the racist community awoke with a smile.
And, I clearly remember preparing to bring Marcos, one of my close friends from El Paso, to Detroit by spending over an hour with his mother talking about “la lucha para los derechos” – the fight for rights in my “best” border Spanish.
And, the ‘not-to-be-forgotten’ incident when the cops wouldn’t allow me to use the restroom and I was forced to go to a hideaway, using Frank and Frazier as ‘lookouts’. However, the rookie female cop didn’t see it that way and provided me with a “day at the gym” with about 15 other cops, with whom I had a good laugh and cheap seats for watching the World Series. Mike later said that the issue was just too embarrassing for the Chief of Police to charge me.
All things considered, it was another devastating realization of just how stacked the system is against the abused and how the powerful have bought their way into the system to keep the “costs” down. As per normal, ADAPT never, never gives up! And not only “We Will Ride”, but “We Do Ride!” despite the best paid efforts of government and APTA!