On July 21st, WEMU partnered with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office and 12th District congressional representative Debbie Dingell for a public conversation on the relationship between law enforcement and the area's minority community. With over 500-people in attendance, not all questions were answered, but the panelists agreed to answer those in writing.
None of the panelists answered all of the submitted questions, but three did answer the questions they felt appropriate to them. Several attempts were made to secure answers from Black Lives Matter organizer Miles McGuire and Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Brian Mackie. To this point, they have chosen not to respond.
Below, you will see all of the questions that were left unanswered at the Town Hall Forum. Where there are answers from our panelists, you'll see them directly below the question.
“I was wondering if anyone would care to address that Black Lives Matter was founded on a completely false narrative. Remember Michael Brown and the story of ‘My hands are up, don’t shoot’? That never happened.”
Joe Miriani-Ann Arbor
ACLU Attorney, Mark Fancher-"Black Lives Matter refers to a very long series of unjustified police killings - not just Michael Brown's. Often, because black lives don't matter to some police officers, they resort to deadly force when they might not have done so during an encounter with a white citizen. The name is not only appropriate but in some ways essential.”
“Is Washtenaw County utilizing ‘Restorative Justice Practices’ with juveniles and adults before they go to trial?”
Mary Ann Hergenrother-Currently living in Ann Arbor, formerly of Ypsilanti
“There is a conditioning developing-a fear of police. How do we counteract this? If we don’t institute a system of accountability there will be ongoing fear of police and ongoing retaliation. Elected officials need to push this.”
ACLU Attorney, Mark Fancher-"This question answers itself. Police accountability is an essential, but largely missing element of the criminal justice process.”
12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell- "There are many different dynamics impacting communities and their relationships with law enforcement. For decades, police have been authority figures that are respected, counted on, and critical to maintaining law and order. However, in some communities citizens fear the police, how they will be treated, and potential profiling.
What was most educational to me was participation in a course about what to do if you are stopped by the police. It sensitized me in ways I had not contemplated before on what it is like to be a young African American male (or female) stopped by a police officer. I quickly recognized there are very different experiences and relationships between different demographics of the population. Sharing that experience with another white male friend, he recounted when he went out at night with his African American friends (two of whom were professional basketball players) they made him drive, because as drivers they would be targeted.
Policemen are my heroes. They keep me safe and keep my community strong, but not all individuals experience the same. The responsibility and role law enforcement plays in our society comes with special responsibilities and the need for continuous vigilance in the delicate balance of the power they have. Unfortunately, the potential for abuse is present, and recent incidents are deeply troubling and disturbing. But they do not represent all law enforcement and that is the fear we must all address.
We are seeing new models implemented at the local level called community policing to address this. In this model, law enforcement seeks to immerse police in the local community. Police are becoming community advocates and problem-solving partners. They are encouraged to understand community needs and problems and intervene to solve them (e.g. helping those that could turn to crime find jobs, helping young people find alternative activities to joining gangs, and lobbying for lights in a city park).
According to M.I.T. Professor Emeritus of Sociology Gary T. Marx, “Community policing is an explicit effort to create a more democratic force. It is based on the assumption that policing will be more effective if it has the support of, and input from the community and if it recognizes the social service and order maintenance aspects of the police role."
Specific examples in our community are law enforcement’s work in Ypsilanti with young people. I have participated in a number of events where law enforcement encourages volunteer work and alternative activities like pick-up basketball games, and just hang with young people at organized evening events (which made me feel old).
We need to take more concrete steps like this to restore trust in our communities. Another example was the town hall meeting we hosted, which facilitated some pretty honest dialogue with many different perspectives.
We also need to look at training and whether there are ways to improve the "use of force" training. Some prototype courses are underway in this region.
There is also proposed legislation in Congress that addresses some of these issues. The Police Training and Independent Review Act would require all enrollees at law enforcement academies to take sensitivity training on ethnic and racial bias, cultural diversity, and police interaction with the disabled, mentally ill and new immigrants. It also requires states to adopt laws requiring an independent investigation and prosecution when an officer uses deadly force in carrying out their duties. I sponsored this legislation because I believe it is an important tool.
Accountability and knowing you’re being treated fairly and honestly will significantly contribute to building trust and eliminating fear. This is a very complicated and difficult issue, and one I believe is critical to our strength as a democracy.
So we must keep talking, understanding, and respecting each other. I am committed to doing that.
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The best way to address fear and build trust is by continuing our commitment to our ongoing relationships and positive interactions with the communities we serve. The most important way to build trust is through respectful and concerned interactions on a daily basis between our staff, and community members. We hire, train, promote, and recognize employees with the expectation that we will provide the highest quality public service possible.
The WCSO continues to make every effort on multiple fronts to engage with all of our community members. A few examples of the many programs the WCSO has which connect with and assist our community include “Shop with a Cop” and the Ballin’ Basketball series. We have partnered to help create the Summer 16 Youth Employment Program, and the Summer Playground Day Camps. Our Outreach Worker program’s purpose is to connect the WCSO and our communities. Additionally, we have organized numerous forums and engagement events and are planning more.
The WCSO has established community engagement, delivering quality service, providing equal treatment and responsiveness as priorities and areas of focus. We support those priority areas by providing staff; clear direction, relevant training, consistent assessment, support and accountability for all actions and decisions. We have many ways in which members of the public can express concerns about interactions with our staff. All communications that we receive are logged as service complaints and are thoroughly and impartially investigated. Residents can also contact an independent Civilian Advisory Board to file a complaint or simply as a question regarding agency policy, practice, training, etc."
“There was mention made (at the town hall) that it is difficult to find persons of color for assistant prosecutor positions. What is being done to remedy that difficulty? And, is it possible to create programs/partnerships with local high schools and/or universities to, in a sense, grow your own mentality? “
Hal Heard- Ypsilanti Township
“The Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission recommended a Police Oversight Board. This seems to have stalled. Why? I see the Police Oversight Board as an opportunity to build an ongoing relationship between police and citizens.”
Kathy Griswold-Ann Arbor
“Do you believe the national media increase racial tensions? If so, why? Do you believe our local media failure to moderate some racially charged comments on their platform expands the racial divide in Washtenaw County? If so, what should be done to change this?”
ACLU Attorney, Mark Fancher-" Racial tensions can't be eased by media moderating or not reporting racially charged comments. All such comments need to be reported within a much deeper, more educational, historical context so that the public understands better how and why the speakers say what they say. Racial division thrives in a sea of ignorance. The more people know, the less traction divisive rhetoric will have.”
“I have had personal, degrading experiences with the local law enforcement agencies. I followed the procedures laid out (at the town hall forum), but was still let down by the police, prosecutor, even my lawyer. How do I keep from feeling angry and ignored by this system?”
Mark Fancher-“Don’t continue to stand alone in your concern. Join with others, develop strategies and plans. Pursue them and be persistent. Injustice is frustrating, but resisting it with others is very satisfying.”
“Use of deadly force: What is the guidance? What’s very disturbing is some of these young adults are shot 4, 5, 10. 15 times. Police emptying magazines into these victims.”
Anonymous from Ypsilanti
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton- "Each law enforcement agency has policies and procedures which govern the use of force. Deadly force is always the last resort on the continuum. Whether deadly force is justified would be judged on the particular circumstances of that incident. There is accountability if excessive force were to be used. That being said, there are incidents and video shown on national media which are clearly disturbing. The WCSO is currently engaged in a process of evaluation and modifying our Subject Control (Use of Force) policy and training. Our plan is to share aspects of our policy and training with the public and seek feedback, via an open forum once that process is near completion."
“Are there initiatives to diversify the various law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County?”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The WCSO is, as are other law enforcement agencies in Washtenaw County and many agencies across the country, engaged in ongoing efforts to diversify their staffing. We realize the value of hiring people who reflect the communities that we serve.
However, hiring law enforcement staff in today’s environment is challenging. Nobody gets rich in law enforcement and it can be a dangerous profession. The negative publicity in the media does not encourage talented young people to become law enforcement officers. The distrust that many people of color, particularly those who have grown up in poor communities, feel for law enforcement makes it even more difficulty to bring the diversity that could help close that gap.
That stated, we continually brainstorm creative ways to attract the most diverse talent pool. We attend numerous Job Fairs, reach out to community leaders to help us identify potential candidates. Another challenge is the cost associated with attending the police academy and then pursuing a job with a public safety organization.
Understanding this challenge, we have initiated a pilot project involving the “sponsoring” of candidate’s attendance in our local police academy. With the expectation that they will join the WCSO as a Deputy Sheriff upon successful graduation from the program."
To Black Lives Matter organizer Miles McGuire: “Mr. McGuire, would you please speak to some of the work that the Black Lives Matter movement has been doing beyond protests and marches so that people are better informed about the organizations efforts?”
Yemi Okunscinde-New Jersey
“As an older white man, I’m increasingly learning about how I’ve been taught to live as a racist. As I’m getting a perspective on this, I see how powerful it can be for me to face and learn about how terribly people of color have ben, and are, being treated as a cultural norm. I will use my privilege to work to change the imbalance of how our individual rights are respected. What do you think can happen to encourage all of us, including ‘agents of power,’ to look inwardly and reach for balance and consider how to treat ourselves and each other as equals?”
“You guys say that educating people on what’s going on is important. How do you make African-American history as important as everything else and make it more than just a monthly lesson?”
ACLU Attorney, Mark Fancher- “Join with others to demand it of our schools constantly. Learn the history for yourself, and join with others to teach it in every convenient venue.”
“2.3 million people(of color) are incarcerated with 7-million under supervision. This disproportionately affects minorities and ht epoor. Roughly 90-percent of criminal cases do not go to trial, rather they are resolved by plea deals. Prosuctors routinely overcharge defendants to facilitate a plea deal and convictions. What are you willing to do to change this?”
“How is it that there are no legal repercussions/consequences to officers when they break someone’s spine through a ‘rough ride’ or cause someone to die who says, ‘I can’t breathe?’ When will our white national leaders admit people of color are unjustly dying rather than simply say, ‘All Lives Matter?’ “
“Why cannot I, or my family, adopt my grandson, who is bi-racial? Judge Julia O. will not allow out black family to see our blood. We have been treated unjustly by Washtenaw County Probate Court.“
“With all of the conflicts going on today, what are some ways we can get Washtenaw/Ypsilanti and EMU PD to interact with the community with projects and fundraisers to build bonds amongst citizens and officers?”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The WCSO as mentioned above is engaged in many efforts to interact with the community. From our formal partnerships designed to create summer day camps, provide summer recreational and employment opportunities for teens, to efforts to support our schools and students, to the forums, “Just ‘Cause” and ENPACT dialogues To our “informal” method of our deputy sheriffs initiating positive non-enforcement related interactions on a daily basis. There is a lot already going on to accomplish what you are asking for. Perhaps we could do a better job letting the public know about everything we are doing and ask for ideas of what else we can do."
“What avenues are in place to meet many of the African-American concerns? Will these forums be held in the community in which they live? Will there be more discussion on law enforcement within the communities in which we live?”
Iris Guidry-Ypsilanti Township
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"We recognize the need for continuing the dialogue post the Unity Town Hall. We are planning future educational forums. We are also looking at holding them in various locations throughout the county."
“Are there programs where the police department can be involved with the community? For example, a police and community barbecue, a basketball tournament or baseball game?”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"As mentioned in the answers to prior questions, we are engaged in these kind of events already. For example, the WCSO Ballin’ Basketball series championships which culminate the basketball that takes place every week in our communities, will take place as part of the West Willow Community picnic."
“Can we think about addressing racism, privilege, race relations and racial awareness on a community wide basis, in addition to the immediate critical concerns of community-police issues?
David Schoer-Ann Arbor
Debbie Dingell-"Absolutely and it is critical we do so. It is a reality that racial bias still exists and not just towards African Americans. We heard that during the town hall meeting. This is something we have to take on as a community, attempt to understand the issues and dynamics, keep seeking different options to address and understand and also acknowledge they are significant root causes of the current tensions between local communities and police officers. "
“Are police recruits screened for hair trigger tempers and bullying history” Also, how can we stop security guards from being able to carry?
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The WCSO hiring process is long and arduous. It includes detailed background checks and psychological evaluations. Among other things, this is designed to screen out those who do not have the temperament or character that would make them good law enforcement officers and public servants. We are planning to provide a detailed explanation of our recruitment, hiring and new employee training process at one of our upcoming Educational Symposiums."
“Please help to keep WCC (Washtenaw Community College) gun-free. No deputy sheriff’s, please.”
Judy Bonnell-Wenzel-Ann Arbor (an emeritus student at WCC)
“I believe the ‘War on Drugs’ has fueled the animosity between law enforcement and the African-American community. What can be done on the federal level, in terms of policies, to ease these tensions? And, when is the follow-up meeting for this?”
Debra Wright- Jackson, MI. Member of NATION OUTSIDE. (From N-O website: “Nation Outside is comprised of formerly incarcerated people and allies who are working to reduce mass incarceration and its impact on our communities in Michigan-and nationwide.”)
Debbie Dingell-"I have very complicated feelings about the "War on Drugs” in this country as my family has been deeply impacted by these drugs. But what is very clear to me is that this issue has disproportionally impacted minorities and those in poverty, and that they are treated very differently than others who use or sell the same drugs. The U.S. federal criminal justice system is in very serious need of comprehensive reform.
Currently pending is proposed legislation to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws, especially for non-violent and drug offenders. Right now, even if a judge thinks someone deserves a lighter sentence, they are not able to grant it. This leads to longer incarceration, higher recidivism, and makes it difficult for people to find work once they are released. We need our criminal justice system to work fairly for everyone and it is simply the right thing to do. Policies that help achieve that are important and we need to encourage discussion of this wherever possible."
To Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie: “Did black lives matter when you justified Aura Rosser’s killing by (Ann Arbor Police) officer Reid, by saying that she had a mental illness and she deserved to die in the way she did?”
“Comment on fear.”
“Within the police department, how is the culture changing, internally? Are there measures in place to deal with the police officers that currently have disciplinary problems, before they hit the streets and gnite on citizens what’s being done? What is the process as a citizen to engage in the legislation regarding laws and rules?”
Washtenaw County Sheriffm Jerry Clayton-"The WCSO has undergone a major effort around culture change over the last 7 ½ years. We have focused on creating a culture that supports our Mission: “Create Public Safety, Provide Quality Service, Build Strong and Sustainable Communities”.
This culture is built on a foundation of community engagement and its core values are: accountability, openness & engagement, financial integrity, professional competence and organizational integrity. These values are fundamental to the culture of the WCSO and to “who we are” as an organization. We monitor ongoing behavioral challenges very carefully. We are in the process of instituting an early intervention program that helps to identify and proactively address those staff members who may have issues before they rise to a level that could create problems for themselves or with community interactions.
We have also developed and have started a new training series designed to address the specific knowledge and skill sets that we believe are critical for staff when engaging and managing interpersonal interactions and enforcement/social contacts."
“Many in academia, such as psychology, want to assist with movements such as Black Lives Matter, or just engage with the community in facilitating and processing these conversations. However, given our position of privilege, this can be tricky. What are some suggestions of how these issues can be addresses in academia?
Imani- Eastern Michigan University
“How do we have this conversation in the neighborhoods like Huron Heights and the MacArthur Apartments complex? It is great to see everyone tonight (at the Town Hall Forum on Policing and Community Interaction, July 21st, 2016) however, this is the choir that we are preaching to!”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"We plan to follow-up the Unity Town Hall with a number of community engagement initiatives. We agree that we need to connect in a variety of ways, including bringing events to people in our communities. Given some of the tough questions that were asked of various panel members, there were attendees at the Town Hall who were not part of “the choir”. "
“The officer that shot Philando Castile had received ‘Graceful Warrior’ training from a private consultant, including ‘combat’ training and relying on snap judgements about whether people are telling the truth. How can the federal government reign in false authorities about policing?”
“Has the black community been over-policed? And, are there statistics that show that?”
To Congresswoman Debbie Dingell: “Stop saying ‘black men.’ It is ALL African-Americans. Have you forgotten?”
To Congresswoman Debbie Dingell: “How will you work at the federal level to address issues like for-profit policing and private prisons which prey on, and profit, off of people of color?”
Debbie Dingell-"For-profit policing is done by using current civil asset forfeiture laws to seize cash or property before an individual has ever been found guilty. Any cash or property seized can be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the police department and sometimes federal law enforcement. This practice circumvents due process, assuming guilt instead of innocence, and is in dire need of reform. Our judicial system shouldn’t be about making money, especially at the expense of those who might be ill-equipped to defend themselves in court. "
“I’ve found that one of the most important tools for not only black people but everyone is to be knowledgeable about the law and an individual’s rights. What, if any, resources do police departments have to reach out to the community and aid in understanding our rights and how to stand up for ourselves respectfully? And, what should a person do if they find themselves in a situation where their rights are being violated? What should a person do in that moment, and after the fact? I would also like to emphasize the absolute fear and anxiety that exists for a black individual when dealing with law enforcement. Everyone shows this differently and what may come off as anger, or defensiveness, is actually that fear.”
Jasmine Ridley-Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The Sheriff’s Office has participated in a number of “Know Your Rights” and “What to Do When Stopped by the Police” type events. The Sheriff’s Office and the ACLU have handouts that also talk about what to do. That being said, when interacting with law enforcement it is better to argue about whether your rights were respected after the event, when making a complaint or in a court of law. When you are stopped, it is best to comply, as you may not be aware of the context for the interaction and what the officers’ perceptions may be (i.e. did you get stopped for a broken tail light or because the officer is looking for a dangerous life-threatening felon). Fear and or concern for everyone’s safety during these interactions can be present on both sides."
“How much money is made from court fines and tickets in Washtenaw County, and where does that money go?”
To Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton: “What is being done to address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder amongst officers (some are returning veterans) in interactions with survivors of trauma in the community?
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"We do have a number of officers who have also bravely served their country in the military. As mentioned above we are in the process of instituting an early intervention program that can help identify employees that may need assistance of some sort. The WCSO is also partnering with Community Mental Health to create a Crisis Intervention Team made up of law enforcement and community mental health workers to better cope with situations that may occur which need law enforcement intervention where mental health challenges may be involved. This would include PTSD. The WCSO is participating in an upcoming “Blue Courage” training, a program designed to help staff manage the challenges associated with the noble profession they have chosen for their careers. We definitely can do better in this area and are open to suggestions."
“I’m concerned that the Black Lives Matter movement has simplified the race issue (at least for everyday Americans) to white officers killing black men disproportionally, when really it is an output of institutional racism and the color-blindness paradigm, which has resulted not only in the killings of black men but also the mass incarceration of young black men who are locked up for life-both in and out of prison. How will the Black Lives Matter movement know when it has achieved its goal? Is it when white officers stop killing black men? Or, is it when institutional racism is confronted?”
To Black Lives Matter organizer Myles McGuire: “What does (Washtenaw County Prosecutor) Brian Mackie need to do to demonstrate to you that he is administering justice?”
Beth Ann Verde
“Cameras don’t lie, so, why when we see it does law enforcement say, ‘there is more to it’?”
“Growing up in Evanston, right outside Chicago, our school often had visits from Officer Friendly. Officer Friendly made us feel safe as elementary school children. We trusted him as h attempted to get to know us better. Now, as the mother of three sons, my trust is beginning to dissipate. I’m concerned for my sons’ safety. How can we make sure our officers are a part of the fabric of our communities and actually live in and are getting to know the people living in these communities?
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"It is essential that law enforcement and the people we serve work together and trust one another. The more we connect with each other under positive circumstances the better. We recognize this, and do everything in our power to make sure that these positive interactions happen.
In addition to the other activities already mentioned, the WCSO holds a Citizens Police Academy 3 to 4 times a year. We participate in community parades; our deputies show up at the summer camps and play games with the kids, or grill hotdogs at the basketball games. We have staff who go to schools and read to children. We just graduated our first Junior Police Academy as part of a partnership with Ypsilanti Community Schools and the Ypsilanti Police Department.
Our ultimate goal is for our staff and community members to see each other as partners, working together to make our communities stronger and improve everyone’s quality of life."
“An online news agency reported on an unnecessary and brutal arrest of a black man in his 60’s. (https://radicalwashtenaw.org/2016/07/21/dignity-over-malice-racism-and-ignorance/) The report described the abuse of James Anderson of Ypsilanti and also the efforts of the arresting officers to corrupt the evidence of their conduct. They left him on the cold ground for almost an hour after almost stripping him. Were these officers punished? Was there a public investigation of the case?”
John Woodford-Ann Arbor
“How can law enforcement ensure that they treat African-Americans with kindness and not worse than they treat other races?”
“If the police are trying to kill you and you didn’t do anything wrong, who do you contact?”
“How can police departments ensure that they don’t assume that all African-Americans are violent and that all Muslims are terrorists?”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton-"The WCSO is committed to treating all people dignity, equality, and respect. To that end, in addition to very clear policies that prohibit bias based policing, we have designed and will soon implement a training series that includes sessions addressing procedural justice, cultural competency and implicit bias. We have partnered with nationally known academics, both in the design and evaluation of these new training sessions. The evaluation component will include surveys of the public."
“Key Points: Disadvantaged Populations
· A study published in ‘Molecular Psychiatry,’ February 11. 2014 indicated that Chronic Stress rewires the brain and promotes a negative feedback loop for ‘Fight or Flight’ reactions. I think this applies to those who are in law enforcement and those who feel over-policed.
· Chronic Stress can start young (Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE scores) and continue into adulthood in poor neighborhoods-things like: food poverty, low employment rates, low education rates, substandard housing, segregation, lots of insecurity around basic needs, and this rewiring can be compounded by poor parenting, drug use and poor health.
· The CDC (Center for Disease Control) commissioned a study and researchers theorized that those in prison have experienced a higher number of ACE’s than the general population.
· We, as a community, need to work on desegregating, creating more affordable housing, improving education outcomes, and the de-stigmatization of those with criminal backgrounds.
· Supporting accessory dwelling units, the proposed Platt Rd. housing development, and a tax credit for landlords who rent to people with criminal backgrounds.
· Reduce Stigma of mental illness and increase funding.
· Showcase a similarity-Be mindful.
· Propose systemic solutions
What can be done to address these systemic concerns?
Debbie Dingell-"You’re right that all of these problems are systemic; we can’t look at these issues and point to only one cause. As a country we should be investing more in mental health services and helping those in the most desperate need of care. Housing is another important factor - a stable and secure home, apartment or condominium is not only important for someone’s financial well-being but also to their physical and mental health as well. Some of this can be addressed at the federal level, but much of this comes through federal money to the state. We need to work together at the federal, state and local level for public policy tools that address these serious issues."
“What about Dr. King’s dream?”
Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton- "We should all strive to make Dr. King’s dream a reality."