State House members offer ‘Justice for All’ police reform package

By: - June 9, 2021 12:56 pm

A mural created by Braylyn Resko Stewart, Whitney Holbourn, and Andrew Thompson in Louisville, Ky. It depicts African Americans who have died at the hands of white law enforcement. | Jackson A. Coleman

State Reps. Tenisha Yancey (D-Harper Woods), Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), and Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield) on Tuesday unveiled a plan to fight police misconduct.

“Each and every person who lost their life at the hands of the police was a human being who deserved to be respected and protected,” said Yancey who previously worked as an assistant Wayne County prosecutor. “While it is both clear and unfortunate that we as a society failed to protect them, my colleagues and I will continue to fight to ensure that they receive justice. We stand for all of them, and we say no more.”

The 16-bill “Justice for All” package aims to improve safety and “restore public trust through increased accountability measures” by banning police procedures, such as no-knock warrants and chokeholds.

The lawmakers were joined by Tamika Palmer and Tawanna Gordon, mother and cousin of Breonna Taylor. Palmer and Gordon shared their experiences of losing Breonna at the hands of the Louisville, Ky. police and their fight for justice. Taylor’s March 2020 death helped to spark the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of last summer. Breonna was born in Grand Rapids.

“We ask that Michigan politicians consider all the mothers in this country Black and Brown, who are not able to go back to normal after their loved one has had their life cut short by police brutality and excessive use of force,” said Gordon.

A similar set of measures were offered by Detroit-area Democrats last August but were not taken up by the GOP-led state House. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of state senators introduced a series of bills aimed at law enforcement reforms on May 25 — the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, who was Black, by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. Those measures target training, enforcement, and accountability standards for police departments in Michigan.

The 2021 state House plan would also require law enforcement to report uses of force, misconduct complaints and the results of any investigation of misconduct complaints to the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES). It would also make that data available to the public.

“We’ve all heard and been horrified by the stories of officers who were dismissed or placed on leave because of misconduct just picking up and moving to a new community and police department,” Anthony said. “These wandering officers, as they are sometimes called, are often rehired because there is no way for the new department to know of their past misconduct. By requiring all law enforcement agencies to report to MCOLES, we can plug that information gap, making our communities much safer. The time for action is now.”

Another measure proposed is eliminating qualified immunity when officers use unreasonable force. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that protects government employees or those acting with state authority from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.

“To be clear, we aren’t suggesting that police be held to a different punitive standard, but rather that they be held to the same standard as everyone else,” Brabec said. “Only one percent of officer-involved civilian deaths faced criminal accountability, and even fewer faced civil liability. We must do better.”

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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 Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.