[Marxism] How ‘Gardening While Black’ Almost Landed This Detroit Man in Jail

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 28 12:31:30 MDT 2018

NY Times, Oct. 28, 2018
How ‘Gardening While Black’ Almost Landed This Detroit Man in Jail
A black man started an urban farm in his old neighborhood. Three white 
women called the police repeatedly, accusing him of threatening them. 
The case went to court.
By Audra D. S. Burch

DETROIT — For nearly two years, a man tilled an overgrown park in a 
half-abandoned Detroit neighborhood into a tiny urban farm, filling the 
earth with the seeds of kale and spinach and radishes. He was black.

For half of that time, the man, Marc Peeples, 32, was the subject of 
dozens of calls to the police — the allegations growing more serious 
with each call — by three women who lived on a street facing the park. 
They were white.

Mr. Peeples said he returned to the neighborhood where he grew up to 
create a garden that could help feed residents, chip away at food 
deserts and teach children about urban horticulture — a personal 
redemptive mission after three years in prison on drug charges.

What happened next was something else: gardening while black, as his 
lawyer described it, another example of white people calling the police 
on a black person for everyday activities.

In many of these cases, the caller is mocked with whimsical, 
alliterative nicknames like BBQ Becky, Cornerstore Caroline and Permit 
Patty. A cellphone video of the caller goes viral. Sometimes they lose 
their jobs.

[For more coverage of race, sign up here to have our Race/Related 
newsletter delivered weekly to your inbox.]

This time was different. Mr. Peeples was arrested and went to trial. But 
a judge intervened and last week dismissed the case against him.

The women who complained said Mr. Peeples had terrorized the 
neighborhood, about 20 minutes north of downtown, by repeatedly 
threatening to burn down their houses and ordering them to leave because 
they were white.

They accused him of illegally painting trees and vandalizing houses. And 
in the most serious allegation, one neighbor falsely accused him of 
sexual misconduct.

The multiple police calls and reports made by the three women — Deborah 
Nash, Martha Callahan and her granddaughter, Jennifer Morris — 
eventually led to three stalking charges against Mr. Peeples and a 
trial. In a case first reported by The Detroit Metro Times, State 
District Judge E. Lynise Bryant threw the charges out at the trial, 
calling them fabricated and rooted in racism.

[‘End mass incarceration’ has become a rallying cry for D.A. candidates 
this year. Read more about how the campaigns are changing here.]

“At the heart of this case is a kind of inseparable mix of race and 
power,” Mr. Peeples’s lawyer, Robert Burton-Harris, said adding that the 
women had their own plans for the park, which fed their hostility. “They 
knew they could use the police as their own personal henchman to get him 
removed from this area just based on their allegations.”

In some ways, the story hints at the unsteady, culture-clashing path of 
gentrification, the ubiquitous lens of race and the social role of law 
enforcement. Absent race, the women insisted, this is a dispute between 
residents about rebuilding a neighborhood that had largely been written off.

“You see people giving these nicknames. That is letting them off the 
hook,” Mr. Peeples said. “These are serious allegations. They tried to 
have me go down for a hate crime.”

Days after the verdict, Ms. Nash sat outside in her car, giving her 
first interview about the case.

“I am not a racist. I was all for the garden and even helped with 
supplies at first, but he threatened me several times, in person to my 
face, that I needed to leave my neighborhood or I would be put out one 
way or another,” said Ms. Nash, 49, a part-time art teacher who moved to 
the neighborhood in 2014. “I called the police because he was destroying 
property in the neighborhood and painting graffiti. No one had the right 
to paint park trees.”

In spring of 2017, Mr. Peeples, the great-great grandson of a South 
Carolina farmer and third-generation community member, began planting 
seeds in Hunt Playground, a city-owned park near the old State 
Fairgrounds. He described the neighborhood where deer still roam, as 
desolate and desperate but in its own way, full of promise.

“I like to say farming is in my DNA. I remember reading articles about 
how Detroit was a food desert and thinking, I don’t have the money to 
buy a supermarket, so what can I do to combat it?” he said.

The trouble started in the summer of 2017 with the colors red, black and 
green. Mr. Peeples painted the color bands on a tree and on the porch of 
a gutted home facing the park. He said they were the colors of 
liberation, of Pan Africanism. The women said they were the colors of a 

It wasn’t long before the three women were calling the police.

“We were like, ‘You can’t paint them trees.’ That’s when the threats 
started. He yelled it out from the field. He said he would kill us, burn 
down our homes and kill our dogs too, so we went and filed the police 
reports,” Ms. Morris, 37, said in an interview. “We went down to the 
prosecuting attorney’s office and told our story and it went to court. 
We didn’t want it to go that far. We just wanted the threats to stop.”

Until that point, the two sides mostly stayed away from each other. But 
in March, just as the weather broke and Mr. Peeples returned to the 
garden for another season, the police received a report that he had a 
gun. Six officers in three cars responded. It turned out that Mr. 
Peeples had a rake, for gathering leaves. The police soon left.

“Now I know these women are calling the police on me all the time, but I 
didn’t know how deep it was, that they were accusing me of threatening 
to burn the house down, threatening to kill the dogs,” Mr. Peeples said.

Two months later, Mr. Peeples hosted a group of home-school children at 
the garden. As they planted cabbage, carrots and wildflowers, the police 
showed up once again. During cross-examination at the trial, Ms. 
Callahan admitted that she called 911 and told the police that Mr. 
Peeples had been convicted of sexual misconduct, according to Mr. 
Burton-Harris and Judge Bryant.

Ms. Callahan, 74, testified that she had called the principals of nearby 
schools to warn them about Mr. Peeples, but offered no evidence to 
corroborate her testimony.

Shortly after, Mr. Peeples was arrested on three counts of stalking 
charges based on the earlier claims that he had threatened the women. 
Each count carried a sentence of up to a year in jail.

In court last week, Judge Bryant described the women’s testimony as 
inconsistent, without credibility and part of a strategic campaign 
against Mr. Peeples. In one example that came out in court, Ms. Nash 
admitted she hired Mr. Peeples to paint a house after she accused him of 
threatening her.

“This is disgusting and a waste of the court’s time and resources,” 
Judge Bryant said, who added that she found the case upsetting.

“These ladies testified they made the initial contact with him, not the 
other way around,” she said in an interview. “They testified that they 
called the police and the parks and recreation department and they 
followed him to the bus stop and said he was in a gang and had a gun. 
That is the definition of harassment.”

“From the bottom of my heart, I believe race was a motivating factor and 
an injustice has been done to this man,” Judge Bryant said.

The three women say they were not allowed to present evidence and they 
have since been threatened on social media. Clutching a walker outside 
her home, Ms. Callahan said she planned to move from her home of 15 years.

Because of the charges, Mr. Peeples said he stopped getting temporary 
jobs with a janitorial service, lost business opportunities and had to 
hire a lawyer. He spent about $4,500. A fund-raising campaign on his 
behalf has generated about $27,000.

“These women are racist, plain and simple. They don’t want me here. They 
wanted to do this garden without me,” Mr. Peeples said. “I am boarding 
up houses, cutting grass, planting a garden, trying to keep riffraff out 
of here and they are a filing false reports against me. They did a lot 
of damage to me.”

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