Tuesday, June 10, 2008

DETROIT POLICE TERRORIZE ART GALLERY, ABUSE PATRONS

BILL MCGRAW, DETROIT FREE PRESS The DJ was spinning old records by James Brown, Aretha Franklin and the Meters during Funk Night last weekend, when the heavily armed cops dressed in commando-style uniforms burst into the west-side Detroit art gallery.

The cops yelled at the patrons to hit the floor. Witnesses said some officers used their feet to force down a couple of people who failed to move fast enough or asked too many questions.

Detroit police conduct raids frequently for all sorts of illegal activity, and the public never hears a thing. But cops almost never raid art galleries filled with young hipsters, students and at least one lawyer. So this May 30 raid, not unexpectedly, is turning out to have an afterlife: The gallery and patrons have decided to fight back, and the American Civil Liberties Union has become involved.

The site of the raid, the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit -- CAID -- on Rosa Parks Boulevard, is a nonprofit that, for 29 years, has promoted art and art education in Detroit. Aaron Timlin, CAID's executive director and a Detroit booster, notes that CAID's current exhibit, architectural designs to improve neighborhoods, is cosponsored by the City of Detroit.

To patrons, Funk Night, which lasts from midnight to 5 a.m., is a popular monthly dance party that is the laid-back essence of a sophisticated city. . .

To the police, CAID was a blind pig, where people were buying beer after hours. They handed out 130 tickets for loitering in a place where alcohol was being sold illegally and impounded 44 cars, which cost $900 to get back.

Cops found no drugs, no weapons, no people with outstanding warrants.

Police spokesman James Tate said officers warned Timlin about violations during a visit several weeks ago. "We don't often do that," Tate said. "He was advised of the issues he needed to clarify."

Timlin confirmed the visit, but said he believed he had made the necessary changes. He said the police told club officials May 30 that they also need a permit to allow dancing.

"Everyone thinks it's ridiculous we have to have a permit for dancing," Timlin said late last week.

Timlin, 37, is an art promoter and provocateur who once stood in boxer shorts at East Warren and I-75 to promote an exhibit, and another time walked from Detroit to New York wearing a cardboard box. . .

A number of patrons and their parents said that they can understand getting a ticket, but they are livid about having cars impounded and having to pay $900 to the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

The payment is based on a state law that allows police to impound cars for drivers accused of involvement in drinking, gambling, drug and prostitution violations. . .

Spokeswoman Rana Elmir said the ACLU is investigating the case and is alarmed by "masked police officers in commando uniforms needlessly storming peaceful gatherings" and seizing cars.

Elmir asked why the police, if they had a problem with CAID's alcohol policy, didn't deal with the gallery itself. So far, the gallery has not been ticketed, Timlin said.

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