Grand Rapids, Michigan is about 64 percent white and 20 percent black. It’s a city of just under 200,000 people and one where it might soon be a criminal misdemeanor to call 9-1-1 on people of color…[Grand Rapids could make it illegal to call police on people of color for ‘participating in their lives’, MLive.com, April 20, 2019]:
Grand Rapids could soon have an ordinance that would make it a criminal misdemeanor to racially profile people of color for “participating in their lives.”
The “bias crime reporting prohibition” is one of a handful of adjustments that would be made to the city code as part of the proposed human rights ordinance. Other components include expanded protected class definitions, identifying four primary potential areas of discrimination, and an outline of the referral and compliance process.
Grand Rapids leaders could vote on the proposal next month, but not before city stakeholders have a chance to weigh in during a public hearing at the 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 23 commission meeting in the ninth-floor chambers of City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW.
“We in the community have had various conversations over the last few years about disparities that exist in Grand Rapids,” said Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group LINC Up.
“The human rights ordinance provides the infrastructure so that all these issues have a backbone supporting and addressing them. It creates a way to address a broad range of problems and to correct them.”
In recent years, DeRoo said Grand Rapids police have been unnecessarily dispatched to situations due to 911 calls that were perhaps made due to implicit bias or discrimination. He cited a summer 2017 gathering in Mulick Park in which police were called to break up a large gathering of African American community members. Multiple patrol vehicles were sent to the park before it was determined that it was a graduation party.
“Often times, the Grand Rapids Police Department ends up being caught in the middle of what is a bigger community problem,” DeRoo said. “They look bad because they approach individuals who are people of color, and it appears the police department is biased when really they’re responding to phone calls made by the community and it appears that a number of those are motivated by people in a discriminatory way.”
DeRoo also pointed to an Oct. 9 incident in which police received a call from a woman who claimed she witnessed a shooting at her neighbor’s house. Police investigated the call, and in the process handcuffed a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint, before determining that there were no weapons or shooting victims on scene.
Diversity and Inclusion Manager Patti Caudill said the ordinance is a new concept in Michigan. It isn’t meant to discourage 911 calls, she said. Rather, it’s meant to make people “check their biases” before calling the police.
“Call the police, but if you’re calling because your neighbors are having a barbecue and you’re calling because of some implicit bias because they’re people of color, we don’t want to see that,” she said.
Caudill said the police department has given feedback on the proposed ordinance, but not in the form of “official written feedback.”
In July 2018, the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission started discussing amendments to the civil rights/human rights ordinance, which was adopted by the city commission in 1953. The ordinance has gone through various changes over the last half-century, including protections for LGBTQ residents.
The proposed ordinance puts a prohibition on any person denying another individual the enjoyment of civil rights, or for any person to discriminate against an individual in the exercise of civil rights because of actual or perceived color, race, religion or creed, sex, gender, identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genotype, age, marital status, medical condition, disability, height, weight, or source of lawful income.
There is no other to interpret this proposed ordinance than to deduce it would criminalize white people calling the police on blacks in Grand Rapids (or other people of color), in effect protecting black criminals by placing the burden of proof on the white caller for engaging in civil rights infringement if they dare call 9-1-1…
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