By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Accountability for Dearborn has been working to hold the city accountable for eliminating institutional racism by organizing protests and speaking out during meetings.
According to its website, the local group’s mission includes identifying policies, ordinances and procedures that result in racial disparities and replacing those mechanisms with anti-racist ones.
One of its main efforts is calling for the defunding of the police department, which has become a nationwide slogan meaning reallocating or redirecting police funding to other departments funded by local governments.
The group also wants Dearborn to declare racism a public health crisis and for the release of demographic data from arrests made by the Police Department.
At the Sept. 8 virtual city council meeting, President Susan Dabaja reminded speakers of rules prior to the public comment portion. She said there is a three-minute time limit, comments should be limited to matters pertaining to city business and that if they don’t complete their thoughts in the time allotted they can email the council or clerk.
Dearborn resident Priscilla Jenkins said she was speaking on behalf of every engaged member of the community that believes the city should be striving for more transparency in how its policy and general management is run.
She is an organizer for the Accountability for Dearborn group.
“I am also speaking on behalf of all those citizens that believe we should be striving for more accountability from our city officials such as our city council members,” she said.
Jenkins brought up that some city council members do not have their cameras always turned on during virtual meetings which she believed was problematic because if city council members are not making themselves visually available now then she has no way to know if they’re attending the meeting.
“I ask you all again today, if you would individually meet with me and my group, who are other members of our community, because we have some serious concerns about the trajectory that Dearborn is taking when it comes to its budgetary relationship with the police department,” she said.
Amanda Chrysler said the group has received responses from some of the city council members and that one council member has made themselves available to the group.
“Just because maybe a response is not given immediately after someone speaks it doesn’t mean that the council members are not listening,” Dabaja responded. “Many times, active listening really plays an important role in decision making so we do appreciate all the comments coming in.”
Later in the meeting Dabaja also said she recognizes the concerns that are being presented and that she appreciates listening to everyone, but at the same believes the city has a good police department and making modifications to funding is always up for debate.
“I do feel that every individual deserves a right to speak, to be listened to and to live in equality and fairness from myself to you and to everyone whether in this city or any other city across the United States or our world,” Dabaja said. “I do want to say that I also do support our police department. I am not in favor of defunding the police, now in terms of maybe making modifications or talking about mental health or training or some other things — those are the things I’m listening to carefully as you guys speak.”
Dearborn resident Elyse Hogan urged the city council to vote to create a ballot measure to amend the city charter’s minimum staffing provision for city police.
“Before the minimum staffing provision the Dearborn police already took up the largest chunk of the Dearborn budget at 25 percent, but since then this has ballooned to an unacceptable 43 percent of the budget,” she said. “During that time the city increased property taxes and decreased city services such as closing multiple pools, a library and the city health department.”
In regards to meeting with Accountability for Dearborn members, Dabaja said she indicated that she would join a meeting Councilwoman Erin Byrnes had set up and also reached out to Councilwoman Leslie Herrick about the meeting.
“Then I was told that I couldn’t join that meeting, for whatever reasons, but I was told that I couldn’t join — that you would only meet with us individually and would not meet with me if I was to join Councilwoman Byrnes’ meeting,” Dabaja said. “At this point that’s where I left that off.”
During the same meeting, Byrnes said the council meetings sometimes feel limited in terms of conversation because of the number of people who want to speak while the council listens.
Byrnes and Herrick have meet with residents, administration and members of local activist groups on concerns raised and police department representatives to discuss increased community involvement and transparency on sharing data.
The group held a protest Aug. 25 outside the Dearborn Administrative Center, 16901 Michigan Ave., calling for the same changes and acknowledgment of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The city council’s next virtual meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22.
For more information on Accountability for Dearborn, go to www.accountabilityfordearborn.org.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])