Hopefully this newsletter is finding you at the end of a productive week. It’s been a good one on our end. One of our key goals in creating Streetlight was to expand Detroiters’ thinking about safety to include things beyond crime and policing.
This issue has safety news across the rainbow — from green issues like air quality and water safety to exploring the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s strained relationship with police. Then, when we — suddenly — had serious air quality issues in Detroit, we wanted to know how the city keeps residents informed and whether we need to be more aware of the air we breathe.
Once again, Detroit Documenter Alex Klaus is giving us a history lesson — this time, it’s a look at the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people in Michigan and what enforcement of these discriminatory laws looked like in Detroit. It’s a stark comparison to last weekend’s Motor City Pride parade being attended by state leaders and the announcement by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of a new LGBTQ+ commission in the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity tasked with looking after the community’s well-being.
Get ready, there’s more to learn here.
Until next time,
P.S. Missing the second half of the newsletter in your inbox? Read the full version here, and while you’re at it, send it to a friend who wants to make Detroit a safe and healthy place to be.
add up these numbers
At least 102 air pollution violation notices have been issued to Michigan companies so far this year by the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy according to this database of air polluter reports compiled by data journalist Shelby Jouppi.
»rewind: anti-LGBTQ+ policing in the city
take a trip through time
…In 1971, LGBTQ+ organizers formed the Detroit Gay Alliance to fight criminalization and job discrimination. One of the organization’s main focuses was to challenge accosting and soliciting ordinance (A&S) charges, which fined or imprisoned gay men cruising or accused of cruising in public spaces…
go beyond the headlines
Detroit’s air quality last week was close to the worst in the world, a scarily sudden threat due to wildfire smoke drifting down from Canada. And though the air has cleared now, we’re thinking ahead: Could this happen again? And is Detroit prepared?
As climate change progresses, wildfires like those in Canada are likely to spark more frequently, and get worse as fire seasons last longer.
We spoke with Jena Brooker, the environmental reporter at BridgeDetroit, about how the air quality concerns were handled by city officials, what experts are saying about the future of clean air in Detroit and the impact on Detroiters.
What did city officials do when air quality conditions got dangerous?
JB: When I talked to the city’s health department, they said that they shared information from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy online. It was more than 24 hours after the state first issued the air quality alert that the City of Detroit sent a text message to everyone about it. And I would say that, in general, the city defers to the state on all issues of air pollution because it is the state that regulates (air pollution).
What is the importance of alerting Detroiters to air quality issues quickly?
JB: By the time the Detroit Health Department alerted residents about the air quality issue, more than a day had passed where residents could have been outside breathing, exercising in this bad air quality that can cause asthma attacks, increased heartbeat, exacerbate heart disease — and Detroit’s asthma rates are already 46% higher than the state’s average. There are a lot of people that needed that information as soon as possible to protect their health.
What are the experts telling you about the future of the impact of wildfires in Detroit?
JB: Experts are not surprised that this happened in Detroit, and they say that it’s entirely consistent with what they expect to see from climate change. The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has also said that Michigan has seen about double the fires we normally do. Our dry season is longer, and our fire season, the period where we typically see fires, is about two weeks longer and happening earlier in the year.
Is air quality a matter Detroiters should keep in mind in regards to their safety?
JB: Because air pollution is transient and the side effects of heavy wildfire smoke can be severe, Detroiters need to know about the side effects so that they can protect themselves.
A significant number of Detroiters don’t have air conditioners, and many schools aren’t properly outfitted with air filtration systems to protect students from wildfire smoke. Detroiters aren’t unaware of the effects of air pollution because we have so much industry pollution here, but I think we just need to raise even more awareness.
People need to know that this is an issue so that they can demand better from the city. Allowing more than 24 hours to pass before the city alerted residents about this potential health crisis is alarming. Hopefully demand can, in the future, reduce that gap. The decision makers had all the knowledge. They just didn’t send out the alert.
The city’s health department did not respond to an inquiry from Brooker earlier this week regarding whether the department is committed to sending alerts in a timely manner for the next air quality concern. To receive emergency alerts from the city, sign up for Detroit Alerts 365 here.
»in these streets
speed through key safety news
No posting while driving: A set of laws banning nearly all phone usage while driving in Michigan is set to go into effect June 30. Fines start at $100 and increase for repeat offenses or if phone use resulted in a crash. The legislation makes exceptions for emergency calls, reporting a crime in progress and hands-free calls. (Detroit Free Press)
Clearing the air: The city brought down Detroit’s giant trash incinerator near the Poletown East neighborhood near Hamtramck last weekend, but questions remain about whether the demolition spread harmful dust. (BridgeDetroit, WXYZ)
Air quality across the city is a growing concern with climate change. Check out Planet Detroit’s guide to ozone action days to do your part.
Election safety: As a candidate for Michigan Secretary of State, Kristina Karamo made a lot of allegations that Detroit conducts its elections and counts its votes without integrity. She filed a lawsuit against the city and used those allegations to further her political career, becoming chair of the Michigan Republican party. A judge just threw out her lawsuit and fined her and others for bringing it and wasting people’s time. (Detroit Free Press, Detroit News)
Hotline: Yesterday was World Elder Abuse Day. You can report suspected elder abuse, or the suspected abuse of any vulnerable person 24 hours a day by calling 855-444-3911.
Safe storage: Rep. Rashida Tlaib will be at the Michigan Children’s Hospital in Detroit today to introduce a bill to regulate the storage of firearms. Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States. Last weekend a toddler died after shooting himself with an unsecured gun in his home. His father is a corporal with the Dearborn Police Department. (Office of Rashida Tlaib, Pew Research Center, WXYZ)
Housing help: Detroit launched the Housing Services Office this week to provide case management for residents without a stable home. Associate Director David Bowser said the office would also streamline the process of getting assistance from the city and pay for some moving costs. Call 866-313-2420 during the week for help. (Michigan Radio)
keep an eye on Detroit’s police oversight body
The Board of Police Commissioners elected commissioners QuanTez Pressley and Jim Holley as the new board chair and vice chair, respectively, starting July 1.
Mayor Mike Duggan appointed Pressley to the board in March 2022 following the sudden death of Martin Jones, who was vice chairman at the time. Pressley was optimistic for creating change at the BOPC then, but now he tells Outlier Media that he’s become more realistic about how much police oversight the board can actually provide.
“I don’t come into this role expecting to move mountains,” he said. “I do hope that we can find greater efficiencies and to make the Board of Police Commissioners less newsworthy, so that we’re not in the news all the time, particularly for the dysfunction that we have been seeing.”
Pressley, 36, grew up in Detroit and graduated from Renaissance High School before heading out of state for college. Prior to joining the board, Pressley worked as the chief of staff for then-Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh until 2012, prior to Pugh’s resignation and criminal conviction. Pressley is still the lead pastor of Third New Hope Baptist Church.
As chair of BOPC, Pressley will be responsible for facilitating board meetings, which often go off the rails. He hopes to make them more efficient by limiting distractions and irrelevant conversations. He said he hears the public’s complaints during the comment period and wants to increase their trust in the board’s capability.
That starts with investigating as many citizen complaints as possible, which currently stands at about 600, he said.
“With the oversight that we do have, we can do a far better job, honestly,” he said. “And I think that is what the community has been echoing nearly at every commissioners’ meeting. I don’t expect this to happen in my one-year tenure, but at least for us to get us on the path towards that to be able to have greater oversight.”
»healing & helping
give and receive care with these upcoming opportunities
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit is hosting a hybrid Healing Justice Lineages Listening & Cultural Memory Tour on Saturday. The free event aims to raise awareness and share stories about systemic and generational violence, oppression and trauma. It will be a community and survivor-led discussion in a healing space where attendees and organizers can share ancestral healing practices, strategies and traditions. Register here, the event is free.
»explained: is the water safe?
dig into the facts
Once a week during the summer, water from the beach at Belle Isle is tested for E. coli. Results usually come back within a couple of days (though they didn’t two weeks ago after a miscommunication between park managers and the testing lab). If the bacteria levels are too high, the Department of Natural Resources closes the beach so swimmers don’t get sick — think ear infections, yeast infections or a stomach bug.
Over 11 years of tests, Belle Isle has averaged bacteria levels lower than many beaches in metro Detroit, and well in the safe range. Still, there are occasional beach closures, especially if a heavy rain washes bacteria-filled bird poop on the shore into the water.
Beach closures apply to the water, not the sand, and they are not strictly enforced on Belle Isle. When high bacteria levels were detected most recently, DNR officials placed signs along the waterfront saying the beach was closed, as required by law, but the signs were small and made no mention of potential illness, and dozens of Detroiters swam anyway.
We hope none of the swimmers got sick, and there’s a good chance they won’t. The tests were conducted days before the results came back — giving the current plenty of time to work — and bacteria levels were only elevated on one part of the beach.
There’s always some risk attached to swimming in freshwater. Sign up to get alerts about beach closures, by texting “GEM” to 80888, and check for test results yourself here.
get to know the people and places that make us safer
Dwight Harris, 55, has traveled the school-to-prison pipeline. Now, he’s trying to move youth off the path of violence. Harris was incarcerated at 18 years old for assault with intent to murder for nearly half his life after enduring abuse, neglect and instability.
Today, he is the CEO of Icon10, a nonprofit community violence intervention group that organizes youth mentorship and education programs.
Harris sought funding through ShotStoppers, a new $10 million city grant program meant to support community organizations working in Detroit’s high-crime neighborhoods, but his application was denied. Harris said he hasn’t been told why but was told Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison plans to meet with him and explore other partnerships.
Despite not being chosen for the grant, he plans to continue his work keeping youth from entering the system. Nearly every month, Harris brings a group of mentees to Wayne County Board of Commissioners meetings to introduce them to judges and state lawmakers, hoping to broaden their inspiration for future careers. He wants them to see what’s possible for them professionally.
“It’s about integrity,” Harris said. “I’m looking for people who can bridge the gap between people in authority. We need people to have conversations with our youth.”
Harris also works with formerly incarcerated adults to navigate the disorienting experience of reintegration into the community. He said it takes honest conversations and genuine relationships to make change.
Streetlight Detroit is brought to you by BridgeDetroit, Chalkbeat Detroit, Detroit Free Press, Detroit Metro Times, Michigan Radio, Planet Detroit, WDET 101.9 FM, WXYZ-TV and Outlier Media/Detroit Documenters.
This edition was written by the WDET’s Nargis Rahman, BridgeDetroit’s Malachi Barrett, Outlier Media’s Koby Levin, Sarah Alvarez, Malak Silmi and Aaron Mondry, and Alex Klaus of the Detroit Documenters.