Benjamin Noah Weinstein, a white Detroiter, is accused of ramming his pickup truck into the Eastside Community Network building on Saturday August 19, 2023. The leader of the center, with a predominantly Black membership, said she was told police would investigate the incident as a potential hate crime. (Photo by Renard Wilson)

Renard Wilson was in the middle of a phone call Saturday at an east side community center when a pickup truck charged the entrance, forcing him to jump out of the way. 

Wilson, the business engagement manager for Eastside Community Network, was among the staff and patrons inside the center for weekend activities. He dialed 9-1-1 multiple times to direct police and the ambulance to ECN. 

“It’s one of those surreal moments,” Wilson told BridgeDetroit. “Seeing a car drive towards you at full speed is weird. I was able to get out of the way as he got stuck. After that everybody started coming out (of their rooms) screaming.” 

Authorities say Benjamin Noah Weinstein slammed into the front facade of the building on Conner just before 1 p.m. Aug. 19. In security footage provided by ECN he can be seen circling the parking lot, driving on the grass and front walkway, and repositioning the vehicle to align it with the glass doors of the brick building’s entrance. 

Weinstein, a 42-year-old white Detroiter, was immediately taken to the hospital. He was arraigned Monday morning and charged with six felonies including assault, motor vehicle and weapons offenses. 

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Donna Givens Davidson, the community center’s CEO, said ECN has a predominantly Black membership and that she was told by Detroit Police that they would investigate the incident as a hate crime. A police report released the following day made no mention of a hate crime. 

At least three children were present and several classes, including yoga, graphic design, and women’s self-defense were in session when Weinstein’s truck hit the building. The ECN property has a gated driveway which Givens Davidson noted is left open during operating hours. No one inside was physically hurt.

However, emotional trauma among staff and members lingers, Givens Davidson said.

Wilson said it’s important that the community processes what happened. For him, even the noise of the truck crashing into the building didn’t register until later that evening. 

Benjamin Noah Weinstein (Detroit Police Department)

“I’m thankful for being able to talk to my wife and kids,” he said. “It’s a very high, intense situation for a lot of people and that’s the other piece– there are lots of people in there taking classes and working.”

ECN, which has existed for nearly 40 years, supports youth and community economic development and organizing, climate equity, and sustainable housing throughout the city’s lower east side. Givens Davidson is a member of BridgeDetroit’s Community Advisory Council and co-hosts a podcast that is a BridgeDetroit content partner. Orlando Bailey, BridgeDetroit’s Engagement Director is an ECN Board member. 

“I love our work, I love our relationship with the community and so, to see anybody deface that felt very personal to know that people were at risk inside the building,” Givens Davidson said.

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Although she was not present during the incident, Givens Davidson has watched the building’s security footage and spoke to staff members who were there. According to Givens Davidson, Weinstein is “unfamiliar to everybody in the building” and “we don’t know him.” She also doesn’t know what Weinstein’s motive might have been for driving the vehicle into ECN; however, she said the video footage makes his actions look premeditated. 

A probable cause conference for Weinstein is scheduled for Sept. 1 and a preliminary examination is Sept. 6.

Wilson, who has worked at the community center for six weeks, said the situation doesn’t make sense. The ECN building’s driveway is hidden in plain sight and the front of the building faces the back of the property. Authorities said Weinstein is also accused of damaging fences on two other properties before driving into the ECN building. 

“I don’t believe it was racially motivated,” Wilson said, “but I feel like (it) was wanting to commit harm motivated.”

Givens Davidson said she has received mixed messages from Detroit police about how the situation is being handled and whether hate crime charges will emerge. 

Maria Miller, a spokeswoman for Wayne County Prosecutor Kym L. Worthy, said in a Thursday email to BridgeDetroit that the warrant request Worthy’s office received from Detroit police did not contain evidence regarding a hate crime. 

Detroit police in a statement earlier this week said the department had “reached out to its federal partners for assistance in determining whether federal law has been violated based on the unique circumstances of this case.

“As in all cases, the department will do everything in its power to ensure the perpetrator is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” DPD’s statement reads. 

A representative from the FBI Detroit Field Office said that there are no FBI investigations related to the case at this time and deferred all questions to DPD. 

BridgeDetroit also inquired how the city’s Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity (CRIO), created to advocate for civil rights, inclusion and access, helps residents when issues like this arise. CRIO Director Anthony Zander, also deferred comment on the case to DPD, but noted CRIO has regular community outreach to facilitate discussions “around living in blended communities, and as-needed conversations in response to culture-related incidents.” 

Earlier this year, Worthy and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel pushed state lawmakers to support a bill that would determine the elements of a hate crime in Michigan. House Bill 4474 passed the House in June and was referred to the Senate’s Civil Rights, Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. If it succeeds, hate crimes will be defined as “a malicious or intentional act that can include force, violence, bodily injury, damages property or threatens another person, based on their religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, ethnicity, national origin, or association or affiliation with a group.” The new text also states that a person who commits such an act to another person and is in possession of a firearm may also be charged.

Since last week’s incident, ECN remains open to the public with full-time security in place. The community center has an online donation fund to further its security measures. The CEO said that while ECN remains an accessible and inclusive environment, she would like to monitor who walks into the building. No other incidents such as this have happened on the property.

As the staff and ECN members recuperate, Givens Davidson said that the experience has been emotionally draining, disorienting and demoralizing.

“Because it’s happening on the east side of Detroit I want people to understand that this is not us committing that violence,” she said. “This is not the community of people who use this space. This is somebody who may live in the community but is not that connected to it who did this. And so we need to remember not to overreact when these things happen and believe that we can trust each other. I still have trust and faith in the people of the lower east side of Detroit.”

Olivia Lewis is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. She was formerly a reporter for the Battle Creek Enquirer and the Indianapolis Star. She has also worked in philanthropy for the Kresge Foundation, the Council...

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