Protestors and counter-protestors outside of TCF Center in downtown Detroit.
(Ben Falik)

The scene at TCF Center as Michigan’s final votes were tallied.

In 1950, Albert Cobo became mayor of Detroit with a promise to stop the “Negro invasion” of the city’s white neighborhoods.

On Nov. 4, some 70 years later, a scene unfolded outside TCF Center that the building’s former namesake would’ve been proud of: an aggrieved mass of people trying to halt the counting of ballots in a now majority-Black city.

I had been spending Wednesday as I imagine most people were — trying to focus on whatever tasks could keep my mind off the election and my thumb off my phone. Taking clothes and shoes to Council re|sale in Berkley (now accepting drive-up donations daily), getting my son ready for his first ice hockey practice (Go Falcons!), baking.

In a matter of minutes Wednesday afternoon, I received a dozen messages with variations of:

“We need lawyers in Michigan to go to TCF Hall in Detroit to be Democratic challengers. There are swarms of GOP challengers challenging absentee ballots aggressively, as of noon Wednesday. Who do you know that’s a lawyer registered to vote in Michigan that can go help protect our votes?”

Challenge accepted! I grabbed my break-in-case-of-emergency navy blazer and drove downtown for the first time in some time.

I arrived at 4:30 to find a substantial crowd in the plaza at Washington Boulevard and Jefferson familiar to Turkey Trot runners and people who don’t want to pay for food at the Auto Show.

Almost without exception, you could identify the partisan divide based on whether people were wearing masks. Some, like the gentlemen who appeared to be chaperoning a group from Hillsdale College, had theirs dangling indefinitely from one ear or tucked into chinstrap mode.

The press may have outnumbered the Trump supporters or at least the ones who were willing to talk to them. A handful clearly relished the media attention, taking short breaks to hydrate before summoning more righteous indignation. One man made the case to a reporter that Joe Biden was a war criminal.

There were hand-drawn arrows taped to the inside of the glass walls that pointed nowhere in particular. A group of lawyers gathered together and followed the organizers’ instructions to like the punchline of a bad joke do nothing. They were at capacity inside, both for ballot-challenging and COVID-19 purposes, we were told, and we should stand by in case they could get us in.

A woman inside held a cardboard box up to the glass that read, “Prez Trump wants U to chant STOP THE COUNT.”

The opposing chants that ensued stop the count vs. count the votes blended together to the point they were difficult to tell apart.

Around the time Fox News called Michigan for Biden, the chanting mostly dissipated.

But the crowd lingered, peering through the glass and plying volunteers with questions as they left, the image of “COBO” still faintly visible on the building’s facade. 

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