Elected leaders and civil rights organizers join Sheriff Clayton to discuss the policing of communities of color at Unity Town Hall


This evening I attended the Unity Town Hall at Eastern Michigan Union, during which Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Black Lives Matter Organizer Myles McGuire, Wahstenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton, Mark Fancher of the Michigan ACLU’s Racial Justice Project, and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie sat before an audience of about 250, responding to questions about civil rights, policing, and what actions are being taken across our community to ensure that no one dies needlessly at the hands of police in Washtenaw County. Following are six highlights.

1. In response to a question from the audience about how officers are trained to de-escalate situations, Clayton talks about how strategies are evolving. In the past, he says, officers were trained to resolve issues as quickly as possible and move on. Now, he says, they’re beginning to give people more space (which he refers to as “tactical repositioning”), and allowing for things to calm down. He also says that, starting in September, officers will be receiving a special two-day training in how to better interact with individuals who are mentally ill, under the influence of narcotics, or suffering from dementia. Fancher says that Clayton has the right idea, but then adds that what’s taught at the police academy, and in classes such as this, is often cast aside on the street, once new recruits are partnered with veterans who tell them that, in communities of color, they need to be rough and “establish control” if they want to survive. Clayton agrees that this can happen, but says that cultures can be changed when department leadership, from top to bottom, is in line, policies are clearly articulated, and unwanted behaviors are addressed.

2. Someone asks how things can change when police officers refuse to violate the “blue code,” call one another out for their behaviors, and demand accountability. Fancher says that’s the big question in all of this, adding that it should be on the police to clean this up, as they started all of this by killing innocent people. Clayton agrees that there needs to be more accountability from top to bottom. He also stresses that more than 90% of cops are essentially good. Asked how to fix the problem, Fancher says that so-called rogue cops need to be disciplined. “Police leadership cannot be intimidated by police unions,” he says. Furthermore, he says that we need to get to know the rank and file officers, and not just the same representatives of the police force that attend public events. Every local organization, he says, should invite beat cops in to talk. And these officers should be encouraged to change the “insular culture” within their departments. If officers hear things said by fellow officers that are inconsistent with the stated objectives of the department, Fancher says, they should be empowered to say something.

3. A student from Africa stood up and said that he’s lived here for two years, and that he’s scared. He didn’t know about racism before he came here, he said. “How should I live with fear?” he asked the members of the panel. “Help me understand what should I do.” After a short silence, and some discussion on the panel about how we all have to come together, Fancher said, “We’ve got no room for fear.” Black people, he told this young man, have conquered fear for generations. “Our ancestors would roll over in their graves if they heard that we were afraid after all that they went through,” he said, after noting the struggles of African Americans under slavery, and the threat of violence met by protestors during the civil rights era. “We stared down the barrels of guns with Dr. King without fear,” he said. Others on the panel echoed his sentiments.

4. Prosecutor Mackie was called out by several people. One man asked him directly, “How do black lives matter to you? And how do your practices reflect this?” Mackie responded by saying, “You’ve asked me many questions over the years” to the man who posed the question, to which the man responded, “And you haven’t answered any of them.” Mackie then responded that black lives matter to him because he cares about people, and that “black people are people.” He went on to say that he knows he isn’t much liked, but that prosecutors never are. While he clearly rubbed people the wrong way, he said several things over the course of the evening that I found noteworthy. First, he said that we’re at a period in American history when we have “an openly racist” candidate running for President, and that we need to look out for one another. Second, he told people that, while it’s true that a disproportionate number of those prosecuted by his office aren’t white, it’s also true that crime victims are disproportionately not white. He also noted that, “We are in the most violent state in the Midwest,” and added that 72% of murder victims during a recent year were African American. Third, he acknowledged that “things are not fair.” Public education, he said, is being systematically destroyed, and people, especially people of color, are finding that they have increasingly less economic opportunity in this country. And that, he says, “is going to lead to more participation in crime.” Furthermore, he said, not enough people were taking advantage of the educational opportunities that we do have. While we have Headstart and quality preschool available to everyone, he said, our attendance rates are abysmal, especially in kindergarten, which isn’t mandatory. Education should be mandatory, he said. “We need to educate everybody. That’s how we get better.” And, fourth, he acknowledged that we can do a better job both hiring prosecutors of color and getting juries that better reflect the demographics of our community. He says that finding prosecutors of color, however, is not an easy task, and that many who are called for jury duty don’t show up. On this same subject, he also said that the lists from which they select potential jurors are insufficient, and they need to find new ways to identify people, instead of just relying on tax records and utility bills. [Speaking of Mackie, he was asked directly about the killing of Aura Rosser by police in Ann Arbor and whether or not he had said that her killing was justified because she was mentally ill. He denied having said anything of the kind. The woman posing the question, however, insisted that he had. Another person in the audience said that his office had wrongfully accused two men of crimes that they did not commit. Others claimed that he had not responded to their inquiries concerning cases.]

5. With all of the additional duties we’re asking our police officers take on, a woman asks, how are you able to do it all? How can police officers be expected to know mental health, social work, and everything else, all while having their funding cut? (Mackie says that Washtenaw County at one point had over 600 officers, but now has roughly 500.) “The whole system is jacked up,” she says… In response, Clayton talks about increasing coordination with other entities. He notes a program in Seattle that gives officers the flexibility to hand off first-time non-violent drug offenders to case workers who can offer services in lieu of jail, and says he’d like to explore it here. This not only gets them the help they need, he says, but it keeps them out of the criminal justice system. Fancher says this is where the real potential is. While it’s good to get officers out of their cars and playing basketball with neighborhood kids, he says, this is the kind of thing that will lead to real, meaningful progress… getting officers working at the street level with professionals from different fields, creating a support ecosystem that actually works for citizens.

6. And there was talk about what people can do to lessen their chances of being killed by an officer during routine traffic stops. Clayton says at some point this would have been an easy thing for him to answer. Now, though, he says he’s not so sure. Saying, “I’m being honest with you,” he tells us what he’s told his three sons. Listen to the officers, and don’t make any sudden movements, he says. If you do that, he says, “Most times you’ll be ok.” “If I didn’t think that,” he adds, “I wouldn’t be in the profession.” He goes on to say, however, that it’s not 100%. There are bad cops, he says, and it’s difficult to tell them from the good ones. “You can’t guarantee that you’re going to walk away whole,” he says. “I’m just being honest with you,” he adds. A women in the audience says that, if an officer tries to stop her, she intends to drive to a well-lit public space before pulling over. She also says that she’ll likely call 911 and keep them on the line while she’s interacting with the officer. Fancher suggests that people in the audience may also want to download the ACLU’s Mobile Justice app, which you can use to stream video of your police encounter directly to the ACLU.

There was a lot more. There was a guy in the audience who yelled “All Lives Matter,” only to be told by McGuire that he sounded like someone running up to a firefighter trying to put out a house fire and saying, “All houses matter.” There was also the moment when, in a discussion about prison reform, Debbie Dingell said that we might have common cause with some on the right. After saying that she didn’t think she’d ever utter these words, Dingell said, “The Koch brothers can bring about real change.” And there was a short discussion about Citizen Oversight Committees. (Clayton says that his department has a Citizen Advisory Committee now, but that he has concerns about broad citizen oversight. When asked why, he mentions that, in some instances, they’ve led to terrible results that have required federal intervention.) And there were discussions about white guilt, gun control, any number of other things. If you were at the event and would like to add to my notes, please leave a comment. As I said at the outset, I know these notes of mine are insufficient, but I at least wanted to get the ball rolling.

[For those of you who would like to know more about the local conversations that are taking place regarding race and policing, I’d encourage you to also read about last week’s meeting of the Ypsilanti joint task force on police/community relations.]

Posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Michigan, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Mike Pence, who believes smoking doesn’t kill, global warming is a myth, and there’s no such thing as evolution, may become the most powerful Vice President in American history


There are so many things I could write this evening about Donald Trump, the events unfolding in Cleveland, and what it all means for the future of humanity. I could write about last night’s seemingly accidental Nazi salute. [See Laura Ingrham above.] I could write about Congressman Steve King’s suggestion that minorities, which he referred to a “sub groups”, haven’t contributed anything of value to the world. I could write about the intense whiteness of the proceedings (from the elevators to the the interns). I could write about the plagiarised speech given by Melania Trump and the fact that the Trump employee who took the blame likely doesn’t exist. I could write about Cruz’s betrayal, Giuliani’s apoplectic hate screech, and the fact that, as Clint Eastwood wasn’t available to communicate with furniture this year, the RNC arranged to have the young man who exposed panties with his mind in the 1982 film “Zapped” take the stage and repeat the word “America” until everyone in the hall became damp with excitement. I could write about the alarming bigotry of the Republican platform. I could write about the hastily made campaign logo that appeared to fuck itself. I could write about the heavily armed men engaged in soldier role play outside the convention center. But, instead, I want to share this Facebook post that was written by veteran newsman Dan Rather a few days ago on the subject of science, and its conspicuous absence from the the conservative political discourse of today. Here, before we get to it, though, is a video clip of Donald Trump’s recently announced running mate Mike Pence refusing to say that he believes in evolution.

[It’s worth noting that Pence also believes “smoking doesn’t kill” and “global warming is a myth“… Oh, and, completely unrelated, Scott Baio had sex with one of the young girls he looked after on Charles in Charge.]

From Dan Rather:

I understand Donald Trump and Mike Pence are scheduled to appear in a joint interview on 60 Minutes tonight – their first. There are so many questions to ask them of course, but one that I want answered, perhaps more than any other, might surprise you – “do you believe in evolution?”

I can hear the cackles from the political establishment – such a niche topic, so trivial, so off topic. Some might consider it a “gotcha” question. Surely this couldn’t be as important as probing what Pence thinks about the multiple published reports that Trump almost dumped him at the last minute, or the very odd rally yesterday that officially announced Pence as the vice presidential choice. Serious-minded journalists will want to ask serious questions concerning the recent terror attacks, or the attempted coup in Turkey, or about Pence’s record on LGBT and women’s rights. And well they should.

But I also firmly believe it is long past time that we inject science into the national debate. Perhaps one of the reasons why we haven’t traditionally was that it never seemed so controversial. Now, sadly, it is. Pence has equivocated in the past on whether he believes in evolution, particularly in response to a tough, fair, and a bit incredulous line of questioning from my good friend Chris Matthews. We need to ask him again.

Science is central to so many of the issues facing this country, and when it comes to understanding life on earth everything begins with acknowledging evolution. We want leaders to come up with plans to fight diseases like Ebola and Zika, to protect us from bioterrorism, to promote agriculture, drug development, our biotech industries and so much more. We want to keep our place as the world leader in biomedical research – with all the economic advantages that has afforded us, not to mention the betterment of human life. The scientists who are going to help us do all this take evolution as a given. Much of their work doesn’t make sense without it.

And after bearing down on evolution, I would ask Trump and Pence about climate change. If the best minds in the Pentagon are thinking about how a changing climate might very well lead to conflict, shouldn’t we have a Commander in Chief who acknowledges reality?

If this was just about the specific scientific topics listed above, that would be sufficient. But asking about evolution also is a shorthand for exploring a person’s worldview. There are opinions and there are facts. On the first, fair minded people can disagree. On the latter, we undermine empiricism at our peril. A fidelity to reason, to impartial data, to the power of learning and observation is what led mankind out of the Dark Ages and onto a path towards enlightenment. It was this path that inspired our Founding Fathers in their vision for our nation. And much of the social progress we have made as a country since that time was due to reason winning out over ignorance.
I am not sure if I will have a chance this election season to sit down with any of the candidates for national office. But if I do, I intend to ask about their science policy. If it were up to me, we would dedicate part of one of the presidential debates to science. But I am not going to hold my breath…

And, given the story the broke yesterday about how Trump, if elected, may be planning to place his Vice President in charge of all policy, both foreign and domestic, while he focuses on “making America great again”, it becomes even more of an issue. We aren’t just being asked to vote for the least qualified Presidential candidate in American history, but we’re being asked to vote for a candidate who, upon being elected, would likely hand control over to a man who, it would seem, has less appreciation for science and facts than even George W Bush. [When Donald Trump Jr. reached out to John Katich on behalf of his father to offer the position of Vice President, Trump reportedly asked, “Do you want to be the most powerful Vice President in history? When asked what he meant, the younger Trump responded that his father had no interest in either domestic of foreign policy and would leave that to his Vice President.]

For what it’s worth, it’s not just Trump’s running mate that’s anti-science. I know it’s not exactly a scientific study, but, yesterday, when the band Third Eye Blind played at the Republican National Convention, they introduced their set by saying, “Raise your hand if you believe in science,” and no one raised their hand. They then proceeded to play none of their hits, pissing off the attending Republicans no end.

Posted in Politics, Science, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Austin’s Dead Music Capital Band performs “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)” in Ypsilanti’s Riverside Park

This past Sunday afternoon, after wrapping things up at the Crash Detroit street band festival, my friend Dan Gillotte’s undead marching band from Austin, Texas, the Dead Music Capital Band, swung by Ypsilanti to perform a set in Riverside Park. Here they are performing their song “Ain’t No Grave (Gonna Hold My Body Down)”. I’m sorry about the sound quality, but the wind was really messing with the mic on my phone.

Posted in Art and Culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ypsilanti City Council candidates respond to questions about the Water Street millage, race and policing, and what they’d like to see in a new City Manager at tonight’s League of Women Voters debate

In Ypsilanti, because we generally vote Democrat, our City Council races are pretty much decided during the primary. And, in hopes of ensuring that voters are educated before placing their primary votes on August 2, The League of Women Voters hosted a forum this evening, during which the four individuals running for Ypsi City Council were given an opportunity to answer questions on everything from what they’d like to see in a new City Manager to how they intend to deal with the Water Street issue. Following are my admittedly rough and incomplete notes on what Beth Bashert and Jennifer Symanns, who are running against one another for the open Ward 2 seat, and Liz Dahl MacGregor and Pete Murdock, who are running against one another in Ward 3, had to say. If you were present, and have anything to add, please do. And, if you think that I got something wrong, please let me know. I tried to keep up as best that I could, but I know that some important things must have gotten by me.


At the beginning, each of the four candidates was given 2 minutes to address the crowd, which I’d estimate at about 70… Jennifer Symanns introduced herself as a former U-M police officer with a law degree and experience in human relations. According to Symanns, as she currently works in HR, her experience could be beneficial as we look to hire a new City Manager. She also pointed out that she has experience working for the City, as Vice Chair of the Human Relations Commission, and that she’s a trained mediator. Liz Dahl MacGregor, when it’s her turn, tells us of her decision to return to Ypsilanti after completing law school in St. Louis. She stresses her experience on the Friends of the Freighthouse board, the board of the Ypsilanti Food Co-op, and the Ypsilanti Planning Commission. She says that it’s also important to note that she is the mother of two small children, something which gives her insight that no one on Council currently has. “No City Council members have school age children,” she tells us. She says that she’s running, at least in part, to bring “more housing to our city” and be a voice for the sustainable economy movement. [Dahl MacGregor, among other things, helped start the City’s Hour Exchange time bank, and consults with organizations interested in exploring shared ownership models.] Pete Murdock shared his story, starting at the beginning, when he arrived in Ypsilanti in the 1960s, and got to work organizing. He tells us that he helped start the Ypsi Co-op and the Tenants Union. He talks about the years he served both on Council, and as Mayor, in the ‘80s, and what made him run again in 2008, as the recession hit, and our local factories closed. He says that, on Council, he helped to stabilize the budgetary situation resulting from the recession and keep police and fire services at reasonable levels. And, he says, he’d like to see through what he’s started. And, finally, Beth Bashert, tells us of the work she did to pass the local non-discrimination ordinance, ensure public transit funding, and help elect Mayor Edmonds. She says that, now, she’s ready to stop just running campaigns and actually serve the community in a more direct capacity. She says she’s a “relentless, hard fighter” with a “dynamic work ethic”. And, picking up on Dahl MacGregor’s point about how no one else on Council has children, Bashert mentions that she’s motivated to serve because she wants to create a better Ypsilanti for her 3 year old grandson, who lives in her neighborhood. [Bashert, who sells cars for a living, also offered to sell cars to everyone in the audience, which got a laugh.]

Question: What motivated you to run? What do you see as the most important issues facing our City? Murdock tells of growing up in a politically-minded family in Boston, and how it motivated him to start organizing when he first came to town. Dahl MacGregor responds by telling the story of when she first moved here from Dexter in ’97, when she was a student at Washtenaw Community College, and why she decided to come back in 2004 and raise a family here. She’s the first of the candidates to express support for the Water Street debt reduction millage. (All of the other candidates echo her sentiment later in the event.) She says she wants more community policing and more affordable housing. Bashert, when it’s her turn, says that she’s interested in helping to solve the fiscal problems facing the City, and working to ensure that we continue to be a diverse community that “protects all people”. Symanns says that “priority number one” for her is making sure that we don’t go “off the financial cliff”. She also stresses her background in community policing and says that it’s taught her that we need to work together to ensure that this is a safe and thriving community.

Question: On the subject of Water Street, what would you be looking for in potential development, and what would cause you to reject a proposal? Murdock is the only one to say definitively what he wouldn’t support. “A toxic waste incinerator would be a ‘No’,” he says. Otherwise, he says we need to consider all proposals, as we don’t want to have an emergency manager installed in Ypsilanti. Everyone else says that we need to keep all of our options open. Dahl MacGregor says that she’d love to see co-op housing or a bigger Ypsi Food Coop on the site, but the reality is that we might need to “take what comes.” “I hope we don’t,” she says, “but we can’t face bankruptcy.” She goes on to say, “We might have to have another fast food restaurant or dollar store.” Symanns essentially agrees, saying that there are no “deal breakers”. Ideally, Symanns says, we’d develop the riverfront as an entertainment district, but, given the reality of the situation, we might not have a choice. Bashert says it’s a “trick question”, and instead talks about the kinds of things that she’d like to see (more offices and stores with regular hours). But she agrees with the others that we may not have a choice. “I was opposed to a fast food restaurant (on the site) in the past,” she said. She then went on to add that she could be amenable to it now, in the context of other things happening on the site, if it weren’t just a freestanding fast food restaurant by itself.

Question: It’s City Council’s job to hire and assess the Ypsilanti City Manager. What would you be looking for in a new City Manager? Dahl MacGregor stressed communications and coordination. She says we need someone who can translate the vision put forward by City Council to City staff. She says that, under Ralph Lange, the vision wasn’t consistent across departments. Bashert, saying that she didn’t think it was appropriate to talk about Lange’s performance, declared, “the next person better be able to sell.” We need to be able to sell Water Street, she said. (She did say that Lange did a good job of refinancing the Water Street debt and putting things in motion for the millage.) Symanns, who says that she’s hired and fired people for the last decade as an HR professional, suggests that the City Manager’s position may need to be restructured. She says, before we do the search, City Council should decide whether or not certain parts of the job can be given to others on City staff. (She suggests that someone could serve as CFO for the City, for instance, taking on the fiscal responsibility.) Murdock explains the Council’s role as enumerated in the City’s charter, and suggests that we not look for a new City Manager that’s just strong where we perceive our last City Manager to be weak. “Let’s not overact because of the last one,” He says. “We’ve done that before.”

Question: What should the City’s role be relative to events and parks, and how might we change the way things are currently handled? Everyone says they like events. Symanns points to a Michigan Municipal League study that says arts and events are critical for growth. Sometimes events are an inconvenience, she says, but, in the long term, they’re good for the community. Murdock says we don’t do much in the way of programming any more. The Rutherford Pool, the Senior Center, and everything else, he says, were handed off to non-profits when we started cutting the City’s budget. He says that all local events are organized privately, and that the City just facilitates. “We just need to get out of the way,” he says. He does, however, say that we should invest in our parks, which he says are a huge asset. He says the infrastructure in our parks hasn’t been upgraded in 20 years. Bashert, speaking from the perspective of someone who often hosts events, says that all the City should do is make sure that rented public spaces are “clean, safe and priced fairly.” That’s where our involvement should end, she says. She then goes on to say that she loves Beerfest, and that Elvisfest is “ridiculous.” (She later clarified, saying that she meant “ridiculous” as a term of endearment.) Dahl MacGregor says we should invest in playgrounds. She says they should be equally distributed and similarly maintained. (Right now, she says, they aren’t.) She also says that we should make sure that, in the future, our local police officers don’t treat unattended young black kids any differently from their white counterparts in public spaces.

Questions: What is your transportation vision, and how would you prioritize investments? Everyone loves mass transit, bike lanes, and all the rest of it. Bashert says hers is a one car household, and that she likes the fact that AAATA is increasing service, and that we’re investing in bike lanes and traffic calming initiatives. Murdock says it’s been a long process, but we’re moving in the right direction. Ypsilanti was built for cars, he reminds us, but that’s changing. (Someone notes that there’s going to be a Planning Department meeting this week to discuss bike lanes on Forest.) Symanns says that she has two step kids, ages 7 and 9, and she wants them to be safe and secure as they bike around town. Right now, Dahl MacGregor says, that’s not really possible. “People don’t know the rules of the road,” she says. “It’s tragic,” she adds. She says that she has “a vision of being able to exist without a car,” though, and would like to help us work in that direction. She says we have to “prioritize bike lanes over more (car) lanes” if we want to be a “green, sustainable” city. She also says that we need to prioritize walking over parking. Murdock tells the audience that he helped keep public transit funded by pushing for a public transit millage and using “Obama funds” to fill the gap when funding was tight a few years ago.

Question: Given the deaths of African Americans by police, and the killings of police officers, what policies and programs would you suggest? Murdock says members of City Council have been working on this for some time. He says that they set out to get body cameras on our officers, and increase diversity so that our officers better reflected our community, before these most recent events. He says that, 20 years ago, people tried unsuccessfully to create a Community Review Board that would oversee the police force. Now, he says, we’re trying again. Bashert says that, back in ’98, when she was working to pass the non-discrimination ordinance, the anti-gay side tried to win by driving a wedge between the black and gay communities. Because of that, she said, she spent more time in black neighborhoods, having “real dialogue” with people. And, she said, it worked. Now, she says, we need to do the same thing. We need to talk across the barriers that divide us. Dahl MacGregor says that, before we do anything else, we need to acknowledge that we live in a system where we’ve “benefited from the stolen labor of others”. We need to recognize that, she says. She then goes on to say that she doesn’t know how, as a member of City Council, this would manifest itself in policy, but she says that it’s something that she’ll “keep in (her) heart.” Symanns talks about her experience as an officer doing community policing, and says, “We’re safer when we work together.” She also references the work she’s done on the Human Rights Commission to set the ground work for a Community Review Board.

Question: What arts events have you enjoyed in the past year? Murdock, after saying, “I’m a spectator, not an artist”, mentions that he enjoys the Ypsi Symphony and local youth theater. He also mentions First Fridays, as does everyone else running for Council. Bashert says she loves the new African American history murals. Symanns mentions DIYpsi and the Shadow Art Fair as things that she’s enjoyed in the past. All but Murdock say that they haven’t had an opportunity to do much this past year, though, given the demands of the campaign.

Question: If the Water Street debt reduction millage fails, what’s next? Murdock says we’ll either need to cut another $700,000 from our annual budget, or find new revenue source. “We tried a special assessment for street lighting to cover some of it,” he said, implying that it might be something to revisit. Regardless, though, he says there would have to be cuts. “There isn’t $700,000 in the general fund budget,” he says, adding that, “it would come from personnel, and most of that is police and fire.” Bashert says she doesn’t want people to lose their jobs. “I don’t want people to lose their jobs because we don’t want to pay a bill that we owe,” she says. Dahl MacGregor says that, at this point, we’ve “squeezed all the blood from the stone.” If this millage doesn’t pass, she says, we can forget community policing and clean parks. If the millage doesn’t pass, she says, I don’t know why any of us are volunteering for this job, because it’s going to be a “huge headache”.

After this, a few questions were asked by members of the audience. As I can barely keep my eyes open, though, you’re going to have to watch the video for that… And, here, thanks to Jesse Miller, is that video.

Posted in Politics, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview: Casey and Ryan Dawson

They’re gone now, but, before they left, I had an opportunity to talk with Casey and Ryan Dawson about their decision to pack up, leave Ypsilanti, and recreate themselves on the west coast. What follows is their official exit interview.


MARK: How soon after I had you both on the Saturday Six Pack as guests did you decide that you needed to get out of Ypsi? Was it pretty immediate, or did it take a few days?

RYAN: If my memory serves, it was immediate.

CASEY: We literally ran to the car.

RYAN: I blame the strength of the AM radio waves emitted from the AM 1700 studio.

MARK: Seriously, when did you know that it was time to go? Had you been thinking about it for a while?

RYAN: Last year I was thinking about a change, but I wasn’t sure what kind. The kids are grown and doing well, and it seemed like there was an opportunity to try something new. I let it go, but then Casey had this opportunity for a promotion that would take us out of Michigan. It felt like good timing, and it was a place we were really interested in.

MARK: And that place is Portland, correct?

RYAN: Yes, Portland, OREGON.

MARK: Why the CAPS? When you tell people that you’re moving to Portland, do they respond by asking, “Which Portland?” Do they think you mean Portland, Ohio, which is just below Long Bottom, and above Racine?

RYAN: I thought your readers might get confused because of the popular IFC show, Mainelandia.

CASEY: He’s a comedian.

MARK: Yes, I’ll miss his humor… So, Casey, what’s the job?

CASEY: Assistant Director of Administration for an organization that does cancer research through Oregon Health and Science University in beautiful downtown Portland.


[This and the following photo are courtesy Kate de Fuccio and Ypsilanti’s AM 1700 radio.]

MARK: If, when you get to Portland, someone asks you to describe Ypsi, what will you tell them?

CASEY: Ypsi has so many great things going on. I’d tell them that Ypsi has a great, low-key vibe that surrounds it. It’s comfytown! It’s got a good amount of grit, with a lot of beauty and a ton of potential. We’ve seen lots of positive changes over the years and I’m so excited for what’s to come for this community.

MARK: Why is it, do you think, that so many Michiganders seem to wind up in Portland? The last time I was there, I was just sitting at a bar by myself, in the middle of the day, and some people sat down next to me and struck up a conversation with the bartender, asking for advice as to where they should live. They said that they were moving out from Michigan. And, as coincidence would have it, the guy behind the bar was from Michigan too. I know it’s a super small sample size, but, based on that exchange, and the fact that I was in Portland visiting an old friend from Michigan, I’ve convinced myself that everyone in Portland is a Michigan expatriot.

CASEY: First things first, maybe Michiganders need to explore why they’re all sitting in bars in the middle of the day… But, yeah, it’s beautiful there. Oregon kind of looks like northern Michigan, but with mountains… Now, can you tell me where the bartender said we should live?

MARK: I think, half joking, he told them to stay in Michigan, but I can’t remember. I believe there may have been some talk or rents going up, as a result of people moving there, or something.

RYAN: We noticed that there were a lot of people from Michigan as well… and the midwest in general. We’ve talked to some Portland natives, and they’ve confirmed as much. They said there’s been a huge migration over the past ten years. Portlanders seem quite welcoming, though. Unless you’re from Los Angeles. Then they hate your guts.


MARK: Do you have friends out there?

CASEY: The few folks we know out there are great.

RYAN: We knows some folks out there, but not super well. A few acquaintances and such. One of my best friends, someone that I’ve played music with most of my life, lives in Seattle, which, as it turns out, is closer to Portland than Ypsilanti, so I’m pretty stoked about that.

MARK: Are you pretty confident that you can make new friends there?

CASEY: I have amazing friends here in Michigan, so my standards are pretty high, but I’ve had great experiences with the people I’ve met when I’ve visited. And we’ve got a lot of hobbies that will connect us with people, so I’m hopeful.

10344194_10202335827336651_8719681925776096283_oRYAN: I’d say that Casey and I don’t usually have a hard time meeting people and establishing relationships. I’ve heard weird stuff about people who grew up out there being space cadets and clique-y, but I really hate going into this with an idea like that in my mind. So I’m just going to be open and see what happens. I think the abundance of midwesterners won’t hurt the process though.

MARK: What do you look for when you’re assessing someone as a potential friend? What traits, in other words, make someone friend-worthy, in your eyes?

CASEY: I’m drawn to people who are laid back and easy to be around. Adventurers. People who inspire me and challenge me to be a better human. People who crack me up.

RYAN: I like warmness and openness. I like a sense of adventure. I like people who get out of their comfort zone, and inspire me to get out of mine. I’m definitely not drawn to overt pretension, and “fitting in” with the cool kids, and that kind of stuff.

MARK: OK, let’s talk about Michigan. How long have you each lived here?

CASEY: I was born in Alabama and did a short stint in Chicago as a toddler, but I’ve been in Michigan most of my life. I’ve got lots of love for Michigan.

MARK: What kinds of memories do you have of Alabama?

CASEY: I left Alabama at a very young age so I don’t have too many memories of living there. I’ve visited a couple of times a year for most of my life, though, and I do have a connection. The south has a lot of horrible baggage and I’ve definitely felt that. I’ve always been in tune with a sort of heaviness that fills some spaces there, even as a young kid. It’s flawed, but it’s also a beautiful state. My family there are some of the most kind hearted and genuine people I’ve ever known. They’re good people and I have a ton of respect for them. Wish the rest of Alabama, and ‘Merica, could get their act together!

MARK: And how about you, Ryan, where are you from?

RYAN: Born and raised in Livonia in the mid 70’s. I moved to Georgia for a couple of years in the ‘90s. I lived in both Atlanta and Athens before moving back. I hated Atlanta. Athens was a great town, but I couldn’t find a job. I actually lived with Jim Cherwick’s older brother and some bohemian types for a couple of months. I think this would have been before Jim was even born, but I’m not 100% sure about that.

MARK: I would give anything to travel back in time to attend Jim’s birth.

RYAN: It seems like a weird choice, given all of the things you could go back in time and experience, but whatever floats your boat.

MARK: I’d just like for Jim to be looking through family photos one day, and to see me standing there, beside his mother’s hospital bed. But, yeah, if I could only make one trip to the past, I should probably try to do something like stop World War II by killing baby Hitler, right?

RYAN: [Just stares silently.]


MARK: So, where do you both live now?

RYAN: We live really close to the Key Bank on Washtenaw and Hewitt. It’s a cool location because you can walk to Walgreen’s when you need hormone filled milk and band aids.

CASEY: You can also get your flu shot at Walgreens.

MARK: Have you sold your house yet?

RYAN: Sale Pending. So far, it’s been a super smooth process.


MARK: What will you miss about Ypsilanti?

RYAN: Not in any particular order: Our friends, Krampus, Wurst Bar’s Mr. Peanut, Haab’s happy hour, the Border To Border trail and the abundance of dirt roads to ride my bike on, the beer selection at Sidetrack and Cultivate, Powell’s karaoke, the Who guy, Totally Awesome Fest, Huron River canoeing, Murray Lake hangs. I love the intimacy of Ypsi… It’s a small community that’s pretty tight. Grittiness.

CASEY: Aw, Ryan’s answers make me smile… I will miss those things. I’ll also miss Depot Town Tattoo and Ypsi Studio. But I’ll miss my people the most.

MARK: What won’t you miss about Ypsilanti?

CASEY: The skunks. The smell when you cross over the Huron River Bridge by Washtenaw Community College.

RYAN: I really don’t have any complaints honestly. Places are what you make ‘um. It would be cool to have a good music venue, though.

11220906_10205239038315111_8074353814632585038_nMARK: Speaking of music, you both played in bands while you were here in Michigan. Can you name them in chronological order?

CASEY: You’ve done your homework! We’ve had countless jam sessions in the Fairfield basement with some of this area’s greatest talents. I played bass with Ryan in The Riots, United Space League and Yellow Rail Family. And I’ve had the pleasure of playing with my other besties in Modern Lady Fitness and, most recently, Van Houten.

RYAN: Suma, The Ashurst Project, Torpedo!, The Riots, Paw Paw, Ypsi Sisters, Electric Shark, United Space League, Yellow Rail Family. I have recordings of all of these projects, but most of them only played out a handful of times. The Riots was probably our most ambitious project between 2002-2006. I found a great review of our record the other day, if you’re interested. Electric Shark is definitely my favorite, though. It’s also the most sexy.

MARK: Does Yellow Rail Family, your husband-wife two-piece, have any gigs lined up in Oregon?

RYAN: Not yet. We’ve been too busy to think about it. I assume we’ill be spending some time on creative endeavors when we get settled, though… We’ll eventually get the itch.

MARK: Where did the two of you meet?

RYAN: Smoking cigs outside our place of work.

CASEY: We haven’t smoked for a long time, but I’m glad that happened. Ryan is my person! He’s the best husband, father, and best friend.

MARK: If he’s the best husband and father, what does that make me?

RYAN: Somebody once said that people almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof, but on the basis of what they find attractive, and I find that sentiment attractive.

MARK: So, what will you be doing in Portland, Ryan?

RYAN: Growing a mustache and riding a bike with weird handlebars.

MARK: My friend in Portland volunteers as a medic for the annual nude bike ride there. I’ll tell him to keep an eye out for a guy with weird handlebars.

CASEY: My new boss does the nude bike ride! He recently showed me photos.

MARK: I’m sure he did… As for the mustache, Ryan, have you given any thought to what kind you’ll be growing. It’s an important decision. And the bar is high in Portland when it comes to facial hair.

20160704_154448RYAN: [Again he stares silently.]

MARK: Going to a new town gives you an opportunity to recreate yourself to some extent. Ryan’s going to be growing facial hair and getting a bicycle with weird handlebars. What, if anything, will you be doing to change things up, Casey?

CASEY: Funny you ask! I’ve been discussing this at length with some friends. What is “new” Casey into? Well, for starters, I’ll learn to knit. I promised Ryan that, if he hauled my collection of knitting supplies, that I take out about once a year, all the way across the country, I’d use them. Plus, I’ve heard it rains a lot, so knitting sounds like a nice indoor activity. Other than that, I am just really excited about the opportunity to create new habits. I feel like I’ve got a lot of good stuff going on, so I’d like to prioritize all of that. More yoga, more adventure, more time spent with my sweet old beagles. More seizing the day and being active while we can. I may also adopt some sort of exotic accent.

MARK: What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time in Michigan?

CASEY: I have met so many wonderful people who have broadened my perspective and impacted my life. We’ve built a beautiful and rich community of friends here who are (and will always be) our family. I’m super proud of that. I’ve had the opportunity to teach yoga and fitness classes over the last handful of years. I’m proud of that accomplishment and thankful for those opportunities. I’ve got no shortage of items on my gratitude list. That’s something that I’m proud of. I have a really nice life.

RYAN: Living life fully where I’m at. This is really the first time I ever consciously hunkered down and tried to make the best of things where I was, and not go looking for happiness elsewhere. I always wanted to move away when I was younger, and saw myself doing awesome stuff somewhere else, like Portland, Seattle, etc. I don’t believe that there’s something magical about a place out there that will make you happy, though. Since I accepted that, my life with Casey has been nothing short of amazing. We made great friends, embraced Michigan’s winter wholeheartedly, played music, traveled, and adventured the shit out of Ypsilanti. That’s an accomplishment I can carry with me to this new place, which will probably not be too hard. I mean, it’s not like we are moving to Gary, Indiana. There is no amount of perspective I could embrace to cope with that.

MARK: If we were to erect a Dawson memorial statue somewhere, where would it be, and what would both of you be depicted doing?

CASEY: I would love to say that it would be somewhere like Riverside Park and we’d be depicted playing music, laughing and carrying on. It’s far more likely, though, that it would be out in front of Sidetrack and we’d be cheers-ing giant beers. We’ve been known to frequent that place.

[Curious as to why people are leaving this place we call home? Check out the Ypsi/Arbor Exit Interview archive.]

Posted in Special Projects, The Saturday Six Pack, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


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