Letters 08-31-2015

Inalienable Rights This is a response to the “No More State Theatre” in your August 24th edition. I think I will not be the only response to this pathetic and narrow-minded letter that seems rather out of place in the northern Michigan that I know. To think we will not be getting your 25 cents for the movie you refused to see, but more importantly we will be without your “two cents” on your thoughts of a marriage at the State Theatre...

Enthusiastically Democratic Since I was one of the approximately 160 people present at when Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on August 14 in Charlevoix, I was surprised to read in a letter to Northern Express that there was a “rather muted” response to Debbie’s announcement that she has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president...

Not Hurting I surely think the State Theatre will survive not having the homophobic presence of Colleen Smith and her family attend any matinees. I think “Ms.” Smith might also want to make sure that any medical personnel, bank staff, grocery store staff, waiters and/or waitress, etc. are not homosexual before accepting any service or product from them...

Stay Home I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read the letter of the extremely homophobic, “disgusted” writer. She now refuses to patronize the State Theatre because she evidently feels that its confines have been poisoned by the gay wedding ceremony held there...

Keep Away In response to Colleen Smith of Cadillac who refused to bring her family to the State Theatre because there was a gay wedding there: Keep your 25 cents and your family out of Traverse City...

Celebrating Moore And A Theatre I was 10 years old when I had the privilege to see my first film at the State Theatre. I will never forget that experience. The screen was almost the size of my bedroom I shared with my older sister. The bursting sounds made me believe I was part of the film...

Outdated Thinking This letter is in response to Colleen Smith. She made public her choice to no longer go to the State Theater due to the fact that “some homosexuals” got married there. I’m not outraged by her choice; we don’t need any more hateful, self-righteous bigots in our town. She can keep her 25 cents...

Mackinac Pipeline Must Be Shut Down Crude oil flowing through Enbridge’s 60-yearold pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits and the largest collection of fresh water on the planet should be a serious concern for every resident of the USA and Canada. Enbridge has a very “accident” prone track record...

Your Rights To Colleen, who wrote about the State Theatre: Let me thank you for sharing your views; I think most of us are well in support of the first amendment, because as you know- it gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinions. I also wanted to thank Northern Express for not shutting down these types of letters right at the source but rather giving the community a platform for education...

No Role Model [Fascinating Person from last week’s issue] Jada quoted: “I want to be a role model for girls who are interested in being in the outdoors.” I enjoy being in the outdoors, but I don’t want to kill animals for trophy...

Home · Articles · News · Features · The State Of Tolerance
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The State Of Tolerance

Patrick Sullivan - March 12th, 2012  

Panel to discus diversity and intolerance around Northern Michigan. It’s pretty good in TC, less so in some rural areas.

When attorney Blake Ringsmuth was growing up in TC in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a much different, much less tolerant place.

He left to go to college and law school and begin a career and when he decided to move back to his hometown in the mid- 1990s, he was worried about what he was getting himself into. Would this be the same backward place he remembered from his youth? Or was Northern Michigan somehow getting more progressive?

Soon after he moved back there was a news story about a cross burning in Grawn and Ringsmuth thought his worst fears about coming home were coming true.

He wrote a letter to the editor about how appalled he was. And a few days later, after he saw that a dozen or so others had also written, he felt a little better. He began to see TC as a place he could again call home. He joined the city’s human rights commission and looked for ways to focus his practice on social justice.


Things have gotten a lot better in the past 20 years. There haven’t been any cross burnings. When anti-gay activists attempted to stop a city commission-passed equal rights ordinance that protected minorities including homosexuals, they were soundly defeated at the polls in November.

Ringsmuth, now a board member with the ACLU of Michigan Northwestern, points to that as proof of a change in the fabric of the city.

“I think Traverse City has got a different perspective than perhaps the rest of Northern Michigan,” he said. “Having grown up here and having lived here for the last 17 years, I think it has made some very significant progress.”

TC may be more welcoming and tolerant, but that’s not to say there aren’t pockets of racism, he said. And that doesn’t mean the attitude radiates out of TC and throughout Northern Michigan.

“You’ll never wipe out the homophobia and the bigotry entirely, and there are still pockets of that,” Ringsmuth said. “The good news is that those who still hold on to those beliefs are less likely to publicly express them.”


The Traverse Area District Library and the TC Human Rights Commission are co-sponsoring a panel discussion about the state of tolerance in Northern Michigan next Tuesday. The event will take place at the TC branch of the library March 20 at 6:30 p.m.

The discussion will also focus on a Michigan notable book, the 2004 National Book Award nonfiction winner, “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age” by Kevin Boyle.

The book is about African-American physician Ossian Sweet and his travails after he purchased a home in a white neighborhood of Detroit in 1925. He chose to defend his home and family against an angry white mob and wound up on trial for murder.

The panel will be moderated by Marshall Persky, former human rights commission chairman.

While minorities in Michigan do not generate angry mobs when they move into a new neighborhood, there remains stealth racism that minorities are forced to deal with.


Perhaps nowhere are the struggles of minorities in Northern Michigan more evident than in the Hispanic community, which on top of racism also faces anti-immigration sentiment.

Father Wayne Dziekan has been devoted to working for justice for immigrants since May of 2007, when he took over as director of the Secretariat for Justice and Peace for the Diocese of Gaylord.

“On the plus side I think Traverse City is ahead of many places in Northern Michigan in the sense that it does have some very vocal people and groups,” he said.

On the other hand, there is a “very dark undercurrent” of intolerance that also exists in the area, he said.

“I’m very grateful that there is a human rights commission,” Dziekan said.

Even in the Catholic Church, there is hostility to immigration, despite the church’s position on the issue.

“There are many Catholics who are horribly angry about the church’s position and they refuse to see that these are teachings of the church,” he said.

Dziekan’s associate, Silvia Cortes-Lopez, the director of the Hispanic Apostolate for the Diocese of Gaylord, will be a panel member at the diversity event at the library.


For an example of intolerance, take an incident that happened in a rural county in November.

It happened at the home of a Hispanic family the night before Thanksgiving.

“A stranger showed up at a family’s door. The man was drunk. The family was Hispanic and the stranger was white,” Dziekan said.

The drunk man was unruly and yelling things at the family, like, ‘I know who you are and you’re illegal,’ though he could not have known the family, he said.

“He was trying to force his way into the house,” Dziekan said.

It was undoubtedly a frightening and troubling experience, but the man eventually went away.

The next morning, however, the family noticed property missing from their yard. They figured the drunk man must be responsible.

They waited for a neighbor to help them and called police Thanksgiving evening.

When police arrived, however, according to Dziekan, they didn’t investigate the theft or what the white stranger had done. Instead, they demanded to see everybody’s immigration papers.

Two Hispanic men wound up arrested and turned over to federal officials.


Dziekan said it was wrong for police to ignore a crime committed against a Hispanic family and instead investigate immigration status. It runs counter to what police officers are trained to do in such instances, he said.

“That practice is considered unacceptable because it destroys the relationship between law enforcement and the immigrant community,” he said.

It’s dangerous for police to follow that course because it makes it less likely Hispanics will call police.

Dziekan said he and others advocated on behalf of the men with federal officials and after a week they were freed and the proceedings against them were dropped. Dziekan said he does not know the men’s immigration status.

Dziekan said he was able to make headway with Immigration and Customs Enforcement because their stated policy is to make crime a priority over targeting people for immigration status, though he said in practice ICE’s priorities seem to be more about targeting illegals.

Dziekan said it is important for citizens to be active about immigration issues and make their views known, because it has an effect on how local immigration agents approach their jobs.

“It needs community attention so that federal agents realize, ‘Oh, the community is watching,’” he said.

He said most police treat Hispanics with fairness and respect.

“Overwhelmingly, what I find is that law enforcement officers are trying to be very careful about the way they do their jobs,” Dziekan said. “In any group, there’s always bad eggs.”

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