In the area of Wayburn Street and Mack Avenue, rally participants sign cards of support for the Dinges family.

In the area of Wayburn Street and Mack Avenue, rally participants sign cards of support for the Dinges family.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

Grosse Pointe Park residents, officials speak out after KKK flag placed in home window

By: K. Michelle Moran | Metro | Published February 23, 2021

GROSSE POINTE PARK — A Ku Klux Klan flag displayed in the window of a Grosse Pointe Park home has sparked outrage in the community.

On Feb. 16, the Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department responded to a home in the 1100 block of Wayburn Street after learning that someone had placed a KKK flag in the side window of a home facing a neighboring home where a Black family. In a statement, police said officers went to the home of the suspect to investigate, spoke with the suspect — a 31-year-old Grosse Pointe Park man — and asked him to remove the flag “due to its offensive nature.” The flag was taken down from the window, but the suspect could be facing harassment/ethnic intimidation charges, police said.

“The city has responded seriously to this,” Mayor Robert Denner said. “It was an incident we take very seriously. There’s no room for that kind of behavior in our city.”

But the victim, business owner JeDonna Dinges, feels the city needs to do more. Dinges, who has lived in the Park for 11 years and owns a dress shop in Ferndale, said she didn’t call police when she saw the KKK flag facing her living room window in mid-February because she said the Public Safety Department failed to take adequate action when, in January, she found a full can of gasoline someone had left in her recycling bin.

While it’s not known if the KKK flag suspect placed the gas can, as well, Dinges strongly suspects he was the culprit, given that she had seen a gas can like that in his backyard before she found the one in her recycling container. In addition, Dinges said the suspect has a long history of harassing not only her, but also other neighbors.

“He’s been terrorizing people on this street his whole life,” Dinges said. “Everyone on the street has a story about him.”

Dinges is among those calling for change in the Public Safety Department.

“The police department needs reform,” Dinges said. “They need some sensitivity training. I think people need to hold their feet to the fire and demand change.”

It’s not the first time the Park Public Safety Department — and the city itself — have faced allegations of racism. City leaders say they’ve tried to respond to concerns with sensitivity training and other changes. Former Park Public Safety Director Stephen Poloni took part in Black Lives Matter protests in the Pointes last year and spoke out against racism.

But some feel the department needs to take additional steps. The Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP issued a statement about the incident that calls for diversity in the city’s all-white Public Safety Department, among other things. City officials say they’re trying to find officers of color, and they’re engaging in a broad search for a new public safety director that includes working with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

“The fact that a KKK flag was displayed at all is deeply disturbing,” the Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP statement reads, in part. “Grosse Pointe Park is arguably the most diverse city in the five Grosse Pointes, and yet someone felt comfortable enough to wave their racism in their neighbor’s face with the oldest symbol of white, domestic terrorism perpetuated on Black Americans for over a hundred years. This signals a deeper challenge we must all overcome in our community.”

On its Facebook page, the city issued a statement Feb. 17 about the incident and emphasized the city’s commitment to making sure that “residents feel safe and that all people are welcome and respected in our community.” The statement, in part, reads: “The Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Department serves all residents of our community no matter their race, color, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or religion. We are committed to ensuring the safety and security of all residents of this community and we take every matter brought before our department seriously. Intolerance, hate, and ignorance have no home in the Park. Threats, either real or perceived, will not be tolerated. The Department is reviewing the facts and its records to ensure its officers have consistently acted appropriately and in accordance with policy.”

Denner said that he and other city officials — including City Manager Nick Sizeland — met with Dinges to express their support.

“I think public safety, with the council and our attorney, are doing all of the right things,” Denner said. “This was a horrible incident, and we responded to it. I think it’s important that we all show our support for (the Dinges family).”

City Councilwoman Darci McConnell is the first Black individual to serve on the Park’s council. She’s also on the council’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which is chaired by City Councilman Vikas Relan. Like other officials, McConnell said the Public Safety Department “is taking this matter seriously and looking into it.”

“This is a horrific incident,” McConnell said. “It at least on the surface appears to be a clear case of ethnic intimidation. I want to make sure that the resident who saw this out her window is protected, that people feel confident and comfortable in the Park, and that we continue to evolve when it comes to matters of race.”

While Dinges is angry about the incident, she said she’s also moved by “the love and support” she’s received from the community, including during the Hate Has No Home in Grosse Pointe rally Feb. 21, which attracted hundreds of participants.

“Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.), when he spoke at Grosse Pointe South (High School), talked about the two Americas, and it’s as true today as it was then,” Dinges said after the rally. “There are two Grosse Pointe Parks (too). And the one today is the real one. This is the one I choose to live in.”

Dinges said she plans to continue to fight for change in her city.

“It’s not close to being over,” she said.

At press time, it wasn’t known whether the suspect who posted the flag might be facing charges. Denner said the Public Safety Department sent the case to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

“It’s up to the Prosecutor’s Office to determine if laws were broken and if charges are warranted,” Denner said.