By Shea Howell
December 5, 2015
The outcome of the trial against two of the defendants who blocked trucks from shutting off water to Detroiters is unclear. In an unprecedented move, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway intervened and halted the trial of the two of the Homrich 9 on the eve of closing arguments.
The trial had been going on for more than a week, providing a defense of civil disobedience before an all black jury in the 36th District Court Room of Judge Ruth Ann Garret. Garret was the second judge to preside over the efforts to bring this case to a jury. Defendants Bill Wiley-Kellerman and Marian Kramer had fought for a jury trial, trusting that Detroiters would recognize that their actions were justified.
In an opening statement to the jury the Reverend Bill Wiley Kellerman explained, “I and others have waited a long time to bring this case to you. It’s now going on a year and a half, but events are still vivid to us, because they were full of meaning. When we were arraigned last summer, we asked immediately for a jury trial. Back then, you may remember that every elected official in the City of Detroit had been replaced by one man – the Emergency Manager – who had put the city into bankruptcy. The elected school board had been replaced by emergency management. Even the Library commission was under assault. So we were mindful that a jury of Detroiters represented the last remaining form of democracy in the city. We were eager to put this case before you to vote on the matters of justice.
“What I would ask of you in these days at hand: keep your eyes open; keep your ears open, your hearts open, your conscience open. Look for the meaning and spirit of these events. If you do that I will gladly put myself in your hands.” The move to halt the jury trial was called “unbelievable” by defense attorney Julie Hurwitz. She argued that the city’s strategy was “orchestrated from the top decision- makers” and “from day one has been a political one,” Hurwitz said. “[They are] absolutely and totally bound and determined not to allow the truth about what’s going on with these mass water shut-offs in this city to come to light. And that’s what this trial did.
They’re taking advantage of their authority, and their relationship with the court, to abuse both the law and the court to their political ends.” Peter Henning, an expert on criminal procedure at Wayne State University agreed, calling the intervention “quite uncommon,” noting that it is “aggressive” and “playing with fire.”
It should be obvious that the city has no moral ground in this case. Mayor Duggan, and his minions, cannot keep the truth away from the people. Water shut offs are everywhere. On any given day close to 30,000 households are in danger of being shut off. While nearly30, 000 people have entered into payment plans, less than 300 have been able to keep up with them. Nearly 20,000 homes have been permanently shut off. The City is paying Homrich nearly 6 million dollars to shut people off, while assistance programs have run out of money.
All of this pain could have been avoided. The Mayor could use his energy to back a Water Affordability Plan, approved by the City Council a decade ago.
Defendant Marian Kramer noted the irony of the city criminally prosecuting people for nonviolent defense of Detroiters’ right to water. “The true crime is that thousands of people who are struggling to pay their water bills are being deprived of a basic necessity of life. Instead of implementing the Water Affordability Plan, which would tie water rates to income and which Detroit City Council supports, the Mayor chooses to shut off the water of thousands of Detroiters. Who is the real criminal?”
Mayor Duggan is not only violating the basic human right to water. He is violating the inalienable human right to a public trial by people of conscience. So much for the “last vestige of democracy.”