Although 10 arrests were made in connection with various anti-Islamic protests during last weekend’s , the Dearborn City Council commended Police Chief Ronald Haddad Monday night for how his department handled the situation.
“You guys did a tremendous job keeping a volatile situation from spilling over,” Councilman David Bazzy said to Haddad during Monday’s council meeting.
Friday afternoon when Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones was mobbed and stopped by demonstrators at Michigan Avenue and Schaefer Road. Five of the arrested protesters were not Dearborn residents, and at least three hailed from the Detroit-based By Any Means Necessary organization, Haddad said.
Several more arrests occurred within the Arab International Festival on both Friday and Sunday, as several anti-Muslim Christian groups vocally attacked Islam in and around the free speech zone guarded by Dearborn police and Wayne County sheriffs. The demonstrations drew the ire of hundreds–if not thousands–of festivalgoers, some of whom threw rocks, bottles and insults at the evangelist groups.
Despite the sometimes violent responses–a Sunday scuffle led to the arrest of one of the self-proclaimed “Bible Believers," as well as the man who attacked him–Dearborn officials were generally pleased with the weekend.
“Dearborn residents did a good job,” Bazzy said. “They stayed away and I think that it was a smart thing to do."
"Everyone has an agenda, and the agenda of small groups is notoriety, because with notoriety comes funding," he added. "Without money, people go away.”
The response to both Jones and other radical Christian groups during the weekend stood in stark contrast to when hundreds of anti-Jones protesters–many of them Dearborn residents–lined the street in front of and eventually stormed police barricades protecting the Florida pastor.
While both local response and security for such situations have improved, there are still adjustments to be made, Haddad said. And some of them may come in the form of legal safeguards.
“Every new protest is a new learning experience because they have different tactics,” he said. “But certainly we want to explore legal means to assure public safety to a higher degree because some of those things were unacceptable occurrences.”
Haddad’s main concern remains the well-being of innocent bystanders at such demonstrations, he said.
“From a public safety point of view, I don’t think we can set ourselves up to allow these kind of eruptions to take place in public places,” Haddad said. “They just pose inherent dangers.”
And not only for people at the scene. The conservative Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Dearborn in February on behalf of the Acts 17 Apologetics, who protested at the Arab International Festival last year. The suit is still in litigation at the Federal District Court in Detroit.
The situations have largely overshadowed the past two Arab International Festivals, which attract thousands of visitors annually with Arabic food and culture. The success this year shouldn’t be overlooked, Bazzy said.
“We look at the positive things for the festival,” he said. “It was well attended, and I really think that, overall, it turned out very well. Very few problems, very little negative feedback."
Jones and others have reportedly stated that they will return to Dearborn for further protests in the future. But Dearborn residents are –both at the Arab International Festival and elsewhere–that ignoring such demonstrations is the best defense against them, Bazzy said.
“For the people who live in this community and understand it, it’s a tolerant community of a great amount of racial ethnicity as well as religious ethnicity,” Bazzy said. “We’ve been a common melting pot for years. This isn’t anything new. And that’s what we want to be–we want to be a community that welcomes people.”