Last week began the trial for Bill Wylie-Kellermann and Marian Kramer for blocking the water shut off trucks in Detroit a year and a half ago. The trial continues to be underway. Here is Bill Wylie-Kellermann’s opening statement to the jury.
Thank you for serving on this jury. I myself am called to serve on a jury the week after Thanksgiving so, depending on how long this trial goes, I could be very soon sitting in your seat. Part of me frets about how I’ll do it after a week of trial (who will cover pastoral calls and soup kitchen), but I do understand the importance of it, especially given the seat I’m in today. I’m a native-born Detroiter and honored to be counted among the people of Detroit, eligible for a jury, part of a body that brings conscience and care to serving justice in the City.
I’m also honored to be on trial with Marian Kramer. She is one of my friends and mentors in the ministries of social justice. We will put her on the stand so you will get to hear about her life and work and so see for yourselves what I’m saying.
I’m representing myself in this case. That’s somewhat unusual, but you heard Judge Garrett explain that it is my right, one I’m exercising. In a certain sense, the action that you will see recounted speaks for itself in many ways. We trust it was clear as it stands. The opportunity to speak for myself directly to you about it only enhances its truth. I’m a pastor, not a lawyer. I’m not studied in the law, though I do believe that both the gospel and the law should serve justice. [Prosecutor: Objection, your honor, this trial is not about the gospel.]
There are going to be objections in is this trial as we go forward, from both sides. There are a number of things that I think are crucial to this trial that the prosecutor believes are irrelevant and should not be mentioned. In any event I’ll be doing my best to navigate the rules of court.
You will hear described, by officers, by ourselves and our friends, even see video of the events from July 18,2014 – when we went to the driveway of Homrich Inc., a private demolition company contracted by the city for $5.2 million to do water shut-offs, tens of thousands of them. You will see us gather, pray and sing, and then stand in the driveway for 7 1/12 hours. You’ll see the cops across the street the whole time, before we were finally arrested. And you will hear from one of our friends who was arrested with us, but never charged.
We expect to put ourselves on the stand. So that we can talk about our intent, what we were thinking when we did this action. We’ll explain what we knew from our own experience about people who had their water shut off. And about other things we had attempted in order to prevent the harm. You will hear read a statement by National Nurses United, issued just the day before, about the public health crisis in the city. You will see us deliver to Homrich a press statement from the United Nations saying that to turn off the water of people who can’t afford to pay is a violation of human rights. [Objection, hour honor]
I have to say I and others have waited a long time to bring this case to you. It’s now going on a year and a half, but events are still vivid to us, because they were full of meaning. When we were arraigned last summer, we asked immediately for a jury trial. Back then, you may remember that every elected official in the City of Detroit had been replaced by one man – the Emergency Manager – who had put the city into bankruptcy. The elected school board had been replaced by emergency management. Even the Library commission was under assault. So we were mindful that a jury of Detroiters represented the last remaining form of democracy in the city. We were eager to put this case before you to vote on the matters of justice.
What I would ask of you in these days at hand: keep your eyes open; keep your ears open, your hearts open, your conscience open. Look for the meaning and spirit of these events. If you do that I will gladly put myself in your hands. Thank you again for serving in this way.