Stephen Henderson vs. Everybody Angry: 'This Is Not Detroit Behavior'

December 10, 2015, 5:53 PM by  Alan Stamm

Michigan's governor, a federal judge, a DIA executive vice president, Detroit journalists and residents came to a Midtown auditorium to discuss the city's bankruptcy recovery.     

Hecklers came to disrupt.

That group was small, but loud enough to block part of the public forum at Wayne State.

"This is not Detroit behavior," moderator Stephen Henderson, opinion page editor of the Free Press, said after Gov. Rick Snyder was booed and interrupted.

Several attendees' tweets say he shouted that admonition, but Henderson tells Deadline in a message: "I definitely did not shout at protestors. I had a mic and was on stage. I addressed the crowd in my normal speaking voice." 

Detroit Public Television co-hosts Stephen Henderson and Christy McDonald on stage at the forum's start. (Twitter photo by Katy Locker)

In coverage of the event, Matthew Dolan writes in the Freep that "overflowing passions at an event Wednesday night to discuss the state of the city showed some residents remain angered and disappointed by the outcome" of a bankruptcy process than ended a year ago today.

Protesters shouted from nearly the beginning of a community event . . . featuring the architects of Detroit's bankruptcy plan. Organizers stopped the event after about an hour. A featured speaker, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, never reached the stage. . . .

Angry members of the crowd of more than 200 . . . questioned whether the bankruptcy had been legitimate and successful. . . . The truncated public discussion concluded after some in the crowd shouted so loudly that Judge [Steven] Rhodes could not be heard.

The protests became inflamed in large measure after Snyder took the stage and defended the city's entrance and exit from bankruptcy as a last resort but a necessary one.

The free event, scheduled to last 90 minutes,  was organized by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. (A 63-minute Livestream video is here.) 

It was cut short, journalism co-op member WDET tweeted, "because a couple dozen unruly protesters refused to allow panels and guests to speak."

'Very disappointed'

"Detroit was deprived of hearing answers to tough questions," Ali Harb of Dearborn tweeted. In another tweet, Detroit newcomer Laura Khalil, a freelance writer who cam recently from San Francisco, says she was "very disappointed we couldn't hear the end."

"They did a massive disservice to the residents of the city," says a post in a Reddit comment thread, which continues (in part):

People were there to learn and get an update on the state of their city after a bankruptcy that was historic in the nation as far as size and scope, and they were there to hear from key policy and decision makers that actually had seen it through. . . . 

There were a lot of actual residents that had questions that were denied answers because of those protesters. And it's particularly unfortunate for city residents that they didn't get to hear from or question Duggan, who is the main policy maker that is going to affect their daily lives for the next few years in the wake of this historic bankruptcy.

Nathan Bomey, who covered the bankruptcy for the Free Press, was listening from the Washington, D.C. area, where he joined USA Today as a business reporter last June. "Constructive dialogue about Detroit's bankruptcy is crucial to democracy," he tweeted, saying the early end "disappointed" him.

Misplaced rage?

Bomey's view, expressed in other Wednesday night tweets, is that "bankruptcy was the moment Detroit finally put its people before its creditors" and that U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rhodes "put interests of Detroit, pensioners before Wall Street."

After the abrupt finale -- which came when catcalls kept Rhodes from speaking -- Henderson and two critics took it online for 45 minutes. One is WSU history doctoral candidate Nathan Kuehnl, 28, of Holland, Ohio. The other is Elena Torres Ruiz, a doctoral student studying environment and society. She watched via Livestream, Torres Ruiz tells Deadline via email, after being told that no more free seats were available. She's in Detroit on a Fulbright fellowship for her dissertation examining "Urban Farming Approaches to Detroit’s Post-Industrial Problems."    

Here are the forceful, blunt volleys, posted in full to preserve a record of this instructive Detroit confrontation:

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