Black House Dems unveil ‘Equal Justice for All’ policing package

By: - July 8, 2020 1:51 pm

Owosso Police Department officers prepare to block off a portion of M-21. Michigan State Police and officers from neighboring jurisdictions Corunna and Laingsburg were also dispatched to the protest, June 6, 2020 | C.J. Moore

For Tyrone Carter, a retired Wayne County sheriff deputy who toiled for 25 years on the force, the recent deaths of African Americans at hands of police has been difficult to endure. 

“We have an opportunity to restore the trust that doesn’t exist right now,” said Carter, an African American state House member from Detroit. 

State Rep. Tyrone Carter, April 22, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The Democrat, along with state Reps. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) and Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), on Wednesday unveiled a plan for to improve policing in Michigan.

“Cries for justice, transparency, accountability and transformational change are about a lot more than addressing the actions of a few bad apples. It is about taking an axe to the root of this poisoned tree,” said Yancey. “As a former prosecutor, I have worked side by side with Detroit police officers and Wayne County sheriffs who have had the utmost integrity. 

“However, as a mother of a young Black man, I am aware of law enforcement officers who target and view young black men and women with immediate suspicion. There must be changes to the system rather than targeting individuals because systemic racism has been killing Black Americans for 465 years, and we cannot afford to waste another year nor lose another life.”

Called “Equal Justice for All,” the package follows a four-pillar approach to transforming policing and public safety in Michigan to address systemic racial inequities and injustices.

It would establish measures to increase accountability for law enforcement agencies and officers by creating an independent entity to investigate and prosecute excessive force cases, eliminating qualified immunity when officers use unreasonable force and prohibiting the use of facial recognition technology.

Carter said he is “disgusted” by the actions of some law enforcement officers. 

“No one should have to live with the fear that their loved ones will be murdered at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve – but Black families do every day,” Carter said. “These are common-sense reforms so that our institutions will finally live up to the lofty value that everyone deserves equal treatment under the law.”

The plan would establish standardized use of force guidelines and consequences for violations, as well as expanding the definition of excessive force to include verbal, psychological and physical force and threats. The plan would also prohibit chokeholds or any restraint, putting pressure on an individual’s neck and no-knock warrants, which Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also wants eliminated.

Another component of the plan addresses the need for increased transparency and oversight for law enforcement officers and agencies. Democrats propose creating a statewide framework for citizen review boards and establishing them in each community. The plan would also require all disciplinary records remain in an officer’s personnel files and make the records publicly available.

“The last few months have been tough for all of us, adjusting to the new normal brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling to come to terms with recent incidents of police brutality and take action against systemic racism,” said Anthony. “Law enforcement officers are an extension of government, which makes it all the more important for our community members to be fully aware of who is charged with enforcing our laws and how they go about doing so. The time for action is now.”

Another element of the plan seeks to reinvent public safety by establishing crisis intervention teams of social workers and mental health specialists to answer certain distress calls, as well as incentivizing police officers to live in the communities they serve. The plan would also expand the definition of hate crimes to include people who make false 911 calls based on race, color, nationality and sexual orientation and make it possible for survivors of these incidents to seek civil action. Whitmer also has endorsed the idea.

“We must put an end to African Americans having their race weaponized against them,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “The Declaration of Independence affords us the same protections, dignity and freedom that others so freely enjoy. Accordingly, the people protesting these injustices today are exercising their rights as citizens to abolish any impediment to our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the same cries and desires for justice that have been reverberating through the consciousness of our nation for over 400 years. To put an end to these injustices and inequity for once and for all requires transformational systemic change – now.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.