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Warren Affirms American ‘Core Values’ (July 4, 2010)

Measure intended to improve city’s reputation
Warren officials and local religious leaders want the public to feel that the city is a good place to live and work and that everyone is welcome in Macomb County’s most populated community.
The Warren City Council has adopted a resolution re-affirming the “American core values” of freedom, equality and justice. Copies of the document are expected to be posted soon at city-owned buildings including Warren City Hall.
“Arguably Warren, the third largest city in the state of Michigan, has been the poster child for racial and ethnic segregation that hampers metropolitan Detroit and the division between the city and suburbs,” the Rev. Michail Curro, executive director of the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice, told The Macomb Daily.
“Passing this resolution, therefore, marks a new day in the city of Warren and for the most segregated region in the United States.”
The “living” document was requested in March by Curro, the Rev. Gary Schulte of St. Sylvester Church, Imam Steve Elturk of the Islamic Organization of North America and Pastor Roger Facione of Mt. Calvary Lutheran Church. They first approached Mayor James Fouts, hoping it would guide future development of the city while committed to those values. Fouts forwarded it to the council, which sent it to city attorneys for review.
City Attorney David Richards said he softened some of the wording to prevent misinterpretations, such as striking the term “social” from “justice.”
“In the ’60s, the term ‘law and order’ may be perfectly fine and something everybody wants,” said Richards, adding that some people might construe it to mean “heavy handed enforcement of the law.”
He also said Warren cannot guarantee that any person will not face discrimination in the community because of where they live or worship, but that the city is opposed to such harassment.
Rev. Schulte said he and other religious leaders have spoken with people of various ethic and religious backgrounds who frequently inquired about life in Warren. As a resident of Warren for more than 20 years, he said the city has become a “cosmopolitan” community over the years.
Over the years, city leaders have expressed pride in the number of immigrants from east Europe, including Germans, Poles and Italians. The city has a prominent Ukrainian population, and during the past decade witnessed a growing number of Asians, Indians, Pakistanis and Hmong in addition to people from the Middle East.
Demographers said the city long held a reputation — deserved or not — as biased toward minorities.
Schulte said Iraqis have needed reassurance that local police are not adversaries.
“We hope we did the best we could” as religious leaders, said Schulte. “We haven’t had a piece of paper to say, ‘This is what the vision of what Warren is.”
Council members unanimously adopted the resolution and credited those who requested it. But some said another, centuries-old document serves the same purpose: the U.S. Constitution.
“I’m not against this (resolution) at all, but we have documents that attest to what America is all about,” Councilman Scott Stevens said.
He and Councilwoman Kathy Vogt suggested the city’s document would have carried more weight as a proclamation from the mayor.
“What’s the difference,” said Fouts when reached for comment.
“It says to any newcomer who comes to the city we are an inclusive city, not an exclusive city,” the mayor said.
He pointed out that he appointed Warren’s first African-American fire commissioner, Wilburt McAdams, and three African-Americans to the Planning Commission and a man of Arabic descent to the zoning board.
Last year, Fouts, Police Commissioner William Dwyer and Deputy Commissioner Jere Green held the first of occasional meetings with a group of local Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist and other religious leaders to establish dialogue with city officials.
The mayor said there was apprehension in the community when a mosque opened on Ryan Road.
In part, the resolution states that Warren “believes that all deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential and that all should have equal opportunity for access to education, health care, housing and employment.”
According to the resolution, Warren “is united in speaking out against any expression of prejudice, intimidation, hate or violence that is aimed at hurting or excluding an individual, a family or group of people because of who they are” and that the council “stands together in support of freedom, equality and justice, and to speak out against prejudice, discrimination and violence…”
Several controversies that made headlines during the past four decades led to a reputation that the city was unfriendly to minorities.
In 2007, then-mayor Mark Steenbergh said that a projected influx of more than 15,000 Iraqi refugees to Warren and Sterling Heights would put a “burden” on his city’s resources.”
“This is not the time to add more peopel to a shrinking pool of employment,” Steenbergh said at the time. His remarks angered the president of the Chaldean-American Chamber of Commerce, who called the comments bigotry and “very anti-Catholic.”
In 2002, a 16-year federal court battle involving the city and the U.S. Justice Department over job discrimination wound down. Warren was among 17 cities sued by the federal government in 1986 over alleged discriminatory hiring practices. Justice Department lawyers claimed that the city’s former pre-hire residency requirement was unfair to minorities. Sixteen other cities reached out-of-court settlements, but Warren chose to fight while widening its advertising to reach more minorities. In 1992, a judge ruled the city was not guilty of discrimination or harassment in 1,400 individual hiring decisions during a 5-year period. U.S. District Judge Patrick J. Duggan allowed the Justice Department to seek people who felt victimized by the former residency rule even if they never filled out an application for a city job.
The advertising blitz drew 350 claims. Many were deemed frivolous. One man who insisted he would have applied to be a Warren firefighter was awarded $137,000. Eight other claims went before a mediator. Federal lawyers sought $1.3 million but agreed to settle the case for $120,000. In the end, the city’s fees for outside attorneys who handled the case totaled about $5 million.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged Steenbergh in 1996 to temporarily step down while state police investigated allegations that he assaulted a 16-year-old black male. Steenbergh was charged and later acquitted by a Macomb County Circuit Court jury.
In the late 1960s, Warren fought U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development plans for low-income housing that city official labeled as forced integration of minorities. In a 1970 referendum, residents rejected urban renewal. The federal government sued the city four months later, but later dropped the case.
During the 1970s, the city opposed cross-district busing to achieve racial integration. City officials spearheaded petition drives and rallies opposing a federal judge’s ruling, although the issue involved many suburban communities.
In a July 1990 cover story titled “The Tragedy of Detroit,” the New York Times Magazine carried excerpts from the book, “Devil’s Night: and Other True Tales of Detroit.” Author Ze-ev Chafets said blacks can purchase a house in the suburbs — but not without difficulty.
“Nowhere is this truer than in Warren…” Chafers wrote.
The city’s reputation have may changed a bit when several officials from Warren and Detroit were present in 1997 for the dedication of Greater Miller Memorial Church of God in Christ — the city’s only predominantly black church at the time. Charles Busse, who was the Warren City Council president at the time, sang “Amazing Grace” at the church with an assistant pastor in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.