By ANTHONY STONE
HEIGHTS — Tempers flared between a resident and city council members during an Oct. 18 study session addressing unconscious bias and microaggressions in regard to diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Dearborn Heights Community & Cultural Relations Commission agreed to bring the paid training to a study session.
DHCCRC member Leslie Windless of Dearborn Heights voiced her concern with council members.
“The issue that I have with the gentlemen in front of me, is that they are all leaders in their community,” Windless said. “It’s not necessarily them, their personality. They’re joking around, they don’t mean to make these statements. They don’t have these intentions, they don’t see color.
“It’s the fact that they have followers, and their followers are vicious. And when they make these statements without thinking about the impact of their words, it’s the people that come after them that the regular residents have to deal with. There are several people up here that are leaders in this community that are not responsible for their words. It’s very hard for me to give them grace when their only claim to apologizing is ‘that wasn’t my intent.’”
She gave the council an example.
“I just watched a councilman laugh as he told a story about a black man who was an executive level person at their job who was mistaken for a janitor,” Windless said. “It happens every day, and it hurts. If I would have told that story, I probably would have cried. It’s not funny, and that’s the reason we’re in this training today, and I’m still feeling like it’s falling on deaf ears.”
Councilman Ray Muscat immediately responded.
“Excuse me, because that comment is solely directed at me,” he said. “When I said that about the gentleman, who I’m very close friends with — his name is Aaron McKee — when I said it jokingly and laughed about it, because it was such a disaster to these people. I already knew who he was, and when they thought that, I couldn’t believe what they were saying. To me that was funny, to me that’s absolutely funny that they would think that. And that upsets me.”
Muscat then said that this was the second time Windless has called him a “racist.”
“You aren’t,” Windless replied. “I didn’t say you were a racist. I said you were anti-black.”
As the arguing continued, Council Chairman Dave Abdallah tried to calm them down, but the three talked over each other.
“There’s no way we can resolve what’s going on in the room,” said Jacquie Munson of JMG Connects, the founder of the company that conducted the training. “So we’ll put it aside, and then we can continue on with this topic.”
“He was laughing the entire time he said that he thought it was funny that people confused this executive at Ford Motor Company for a delivery person,” Windless said after the meeting. “Because the way he said it, you didn’t know whether he was laughing at the person, or laughing at the people confusing him as a delivery driver.”
She said that her problem lies in Muscat’s inability to provide context with his statements.
Muscat said after the meeting that Windless misunderstood what was happening in the conversation.
“I said it was interesting that we had a gentleman come in, carrying a box, and delivered a part to a group of people,” Muscat said. “And a guy kept saying, ‘Oh, he’s just a delivery boy.’ And I was saying it laughingly. This person, who happened to be black, was a world prototype manager at Ford. And she took me laughing as I’m anti-black. It wasn’t we were laughing at him, we were laughing at the guy who said it.”
Muscat said that even though he’s an elected official, he can still have his own thoughts, ideas and feelings.
The history between Windless and Muscat dates back to August. Windless voiced her displeasure in a city council meeting with a comment on social media that Muscat made regarding the 2013 fatal porch shooting of Renisha McBride. The comment said that McBride’s killer, Theodore Wafer, was wrongfully convicted.
The case happened in 2013 when Wafer shot and killed McBride about 4:30 a.m. when McBride approached Wafer’s house seeking help after crashing her car in Dearborn Heights. McBride had twice the legal limit of alcohol in her blood, and Wafer claimed self-defense. Some claim the incident was racially motivated, as Wafer is white and McBride is black.
Muscat and Windless agreed to meet privately in person to discuss their issues and differences, but had not scheduled a meeting as of publication.