By BETH BAILEY
On Feb. 4, 2021, the Dearborn City Council participated in a Committee of the Whole meeting. In this typically procedural forum Council President Susan Dabaja, Council President Pro Tem Michael Sareini, and Councilman David Bazzy expressed their disdain for local anti-racism activists and instructed the city’s attorney to identify mechanisms to limit community input to the least amount legally required.
Dozens of activists like myself routinely attend council meetings and speak out against the city’s policies that uphold and embolden a culture of anti-black racism in Dearborn. We have been speaking since June 2020. We have been dismissed since June 2020. Our statements are backed by research, galvanized with data, and honed to fit within the three-minute time limit. Our council members should do this research. At a bare minimum, council members should listen to the information we have compiled for them.
Members of the council have received us ranging from indifference to outright contempt. City Council refuses to actively adopt agenda items to address racist policies in the city, but this does not diminish their relevance. We choose to make our voices, data analysis, and lived experiences heard through the public comments section of City Council meetings.
Dearborn City Council’s silence on systemic racism screams volumes. By inquiring or threatening to limit public comments, and excluding issues of black liberation from the agenda, the Dearborn City Council proves they are uninterested in engaging with issues of anti-black racism in Dearborn. These issues of life and death are not taken seriously. Council does not care about black lives, black joy, black talent, or black death.
Councilmen Sareini and Bazzy further indicate their contempt for black lives by advocating that only Dearborn residents should be permitted to speak at the council meetings. This erases a long history of Dearborn refusing black residents access to homeownership. It erases the number of black students, black teachers, black employees, and black visitors who can only visit Dearborn in the daytime. In a community that is less than 4 percent black, Sareini and Bazzy use race-neutral language to racially segregate council meetings.
Public comments frequently reference experience with the Dearborn Police Department. The DPD targets black Detroiters and residents of Inkster who work, shop, and recreate in Dearborn for violence and criminalization. These visitors bring their concerns about Dearborn police to the Dearborn City Council because this is the Police Department that is harming them. Excluding Dearborn’s visitors from the council meetings removes one of the few avenues for Dearborn police accountability.
We have spent hours of unpaid time to analyze 10 years of Dearborn police data. We have explained the process and meaning in continuous virtual town halls. We talk about this data accurately in our statements to City Council.
Black people are less than 4 percent of Dearborn’s population, but received 47.7 percent of citations and comprised 58.6 percent of arrests in 2019. Sareini accurately identified that these numbers “seemed high,” but incorrectly assumed that their “bloat” was due to misrepresentation. These numbers appear bloated because they accurately reflect the racist policing practices of the Dearborn Police Department.
The fact that we have repeatedly addressed these and similar statistics was a topic of concern for Dabaja, Sareini, and Bazzy. We do not owe the council novelty when it comes to the revelation of human rights abuses perpetrated by the city they govern.
Dabaja and Sareini expressed concerns about the duration of the council meetings, citing early morning obligations as the reason they wished to truncate the public comments section. It’s insulting. Do the speakers also not have jobs, families, or early morning commitments? Their implication reflects a distinct lack of imagination.
Livonia provides a 30-minute window for public comment at the beginning of their city council meetings. Dearborn Heights provides a process through which residents can directly place an item on the council meeting’s agenda. There are solutions that do not limit free speech, the council simply needs to look one or two communities over.
Closing their eyes, and sticking fingers in their ears doesn’t make anti-black racism disappear. The harm anti-black racism causes doesn’t disappear. If our comments have made you uncomfortable, Council members Dabaja, Sareini, and Bazzy, then they have served their purpose. Sitting comfortably atop a throne carved from black suffering and oppression can not be permitted. Not in our Dearborn.
(Beth Bailey is an administrator for Accountability for Dearborn, an organization whose mission is to hold the city of Dearborn accountable for eliminating institutional racism by identifying policies, ordinances, and procedures that result in racial disparities; and replacing those mechanisms with anti-racist ones.)