By SUE SUCHYTA
DEARBORN – Accountability for Dearborn, a local grassroots organization calling for change in the way it believes Dearborn police officers disproportionately target black people, spoke during the May 25 City Council meeting.
The group also demonstrated outside the Dearborn Administration Center doors prior to the council meeting.
During public comment time, Dearborn resident Elyse Hogan recognized the May 25 meeting date as being the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.
“I am speaking because this council has not done enough in the past year to address anti-black racism and police violence in our city,” she said. “Not only has this council not done enough, you actively tried to silence, dismiss and discredit citizens with legitimate concerns.”
Hogan cited statistics which contend that people with untreated mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officials than other civilians, and that black Americans are three to six times more likely to be killed by law enforcement personnel than white people, which is why AFD advocates for non-police mental health responders.
“While many here want to believe that Dearborn is an exception to these statistics, that’s simply not true,” she said. “Kevin Matthews and Janet Wilson were both black people experiencing mental illness who were murdered by Dearborn police, and we cannot accept the loss of one more life.”
Hogan also said that attention must be paid to racial profiling and harassment.
“In Dearborn, a black man is 13 times more likely to receive a citation for a moving violation from the Dearborn police department than a white woman like myself,” she said.
Hogan said people of color are 110 times more likely to receive a citation for a plate violation than white drivers.
“There is no logical explanation for these statistics that does not include racial bias,” she said. “The consistent attempts to explain the racial disparities away are not based in fact, and neither is the funding of our police department.
“We are told we need the current level of policing to keep us safe, but the majority of citations given by the Dearborn police department are for violations like license and registration issues, which are not a safety threat to our community.
“The only way to truly improve safety for everyone in our community is to decrease the size, scope and responsibility of the police department and replace it with services that help keep people happy, healthy and safe, like affordable housing, mental and physical health care, youth engagement activities and educational opportunities.”
City Council President Susan Dabaja, who is an attorney, objected to the characterization of murder with respect to Wilson and Matthews, and said murder is a “slanderous” term.
“There were two individuals that did die in the course of interaction with the police; however, it was not murder,” she said. “That was investigated by the Michigan State Police, and our Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy, was very clear in clearing these officers of any wrong-doing. So, I ask, if you are going to make a statement, please do not make any slanderous, defamatory or false statement like that.”
Beth Bailey, a Dearborn resident and a member of AFD, said she is concerned that the Dearborn police have been allowed to violently kill unarmed black people experiencing mental illness.
“I am concerned that they experience no legal or professional consequences, and I am concerned that this council continues to fail to take action to bring accountability to our police department,” she said. “This council refuses to reduce the power that the police have in our lives.”
Bailey said that more than 60 percent of the citations issued by the Dearborn police are directly related to poverty.
“The biggest reason that people are arrested in Dearborn is directly related to poverty,” she said. “We have a system of policing that is based on the idea that the barriers to behaving within the boundaries of the law are internal, and we fail to recognize that there are external barriers.”
Bailey said that, in metropolitan Detroit, race and poverty are intertwined, because black wealth has been “systematically destroyed in our region.”
Alexandria Hughes, who works in Dearborn, said that at the May 25 meeting, she heard the council make statements about Palestine, and praise the Palestinian protesters, and said the same council members will not support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I find that interesting, especially when the police there are trained with the same tactics as the police here,” she said. “You can’t fight one struggle and not the other, and you can’t be pro-Palestine and not pro-Black Lives Matter.”
Hughes urged the city council members to support the Black Lives Matter movement despite the political ramification they might face as a result.
“This is not a political game,” she said. “This is about life and death.”