Civil rights complaint filed after Warren City Council votes to leave front rows empty
WARREN, Mich. (FOX 2) - The Warren City Council is accused of violating civil rights by voting to keep the first two rows empty at meetings.
This vote came Tuesday after President Patrick Green proposed it. He said it is based on complaints about disruptions and harassment during public comment.
"The public has the right to come and address council without fear of being heckled, fear of being jeered from people sitting in the front row," he said.
After a 5-2 vote in favor of the change, people were moved out of the two front rows, a move that upset some.
"I just know I was treated very unfair, and that was a bad feeling that night. That was a really bad feeling because it brought back flashbacks of stories that I read about the Jim Crow days, as well as Rosa Parks," resident Jerry Bell said.
Bell says he believes he was being targeted because he is Black.
"There’s been words between me and the council president and council secretary," he said.
The day after that meeting, Bell received support from Councilman Eddie Kabacinski, who had run against Bell for the seat in the last election.
"This action of the council was, ‘we don’t want to hear from you people until we actually have to hear from you during audience participation,'" Kabacinski said.
Kabacinski filed a civil rights complaint with the Macomb County Sheriff's Office because he believes the council was targeting people of color.
Green said he doesn't think the move was discriminatory.
"No way whatsoever. This was for safety, at the request of the public for safety," he said.
Another council member who voted for the change said it was to make sure people are able to comfortably speak to the council.
"This was an attempt to structurally make sure that folks coming to a podium feel comfortable speaking to their elected officials," Angela Rogensues said.
She also said that she wasn't surprised that there was a complaint made.
"I’m not surprised. There are folks, as you’ve seen, Warren at times has lacked civility in its governance," Rogensues said.
The sheriff's office said the complaint was received and will be looking into it.