More than 500 people attended Thursday night's town hall forum on policing and community relations at Eastern Michigan University. It was moderated by WEMU. Panelists included a representative from Black Lives Matter, the ACLU of Michigan, and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's office. It also featured the organizers of the event, Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton and 12th District Congresswoman Debbie Dingell.
Dozens of local residents stepped-up to the microphone to ask questions about what can be done to prevent violence between the police and the community. The room was full of passionate people who want to see some actual change. Mark Fancher is an attorney for the ACLU of Michigan. He says many police officers receive good training at the police academy but are taking down the wrong path by others on the force.
"It's not just training. You have to have a comprehensive approach to it. In some law enforcement agencies, not all, we have to change the fundamental assumption that these people are more dangerous than those people."
Myles McGuire is a Black Lives Matter organizer. Throughout the forum he stressed the importance of people joining the campaign to protect black lives. During one of those call to action moments, a caucasian man in the audience yelled "All Lives Do Matter!" McGuire responded to the man's reaction by saying that all lives do matter, but the situation is different for blacks.
"It's like a fireman coming to a house on fire and going around and saying, 'All houses matter," and then putting out houses that aren't even on fire. African-Americans are burning."
But William Lopez, a Latino man from Washtenaw County believes black lives aren't the only ones that are burning. He feels that some groups were overlooked at forum.
"So I think that's part of what's missing in the conversation. As we talk about the needs of African-American communities, many of those needs overlap with Latino communities."
Cheto Christian moved to the U.S. two years ago from Africa after meeting his American wife in Kenya.
"And I didn't know anything about racism, then. But, until I moved to the United States, every day I spend it in fear. My wife and I love each other, but I don't know how to live in this fear."
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who was part of the panel, says respect will be key to prevent violence between police and the community.
"I think we need to respect each other. Period. That's what tonight's about, if we're going to start the unity. And so, let's respect each other. Some stories I've never heard before. I would do anything I can to make sure every person is treated with dignity and equality and respect in this country. And yet, the reality is it is not happening. Do I think that? Young, black men in this country are treated differently. It's a reality."
Most people who attended the forum stayed for the two hours that it lasted. There is no doubt that this community discussion will continue to move forward right here in Washtenaw County until residents see the move towards change that they want.
Watch the video of the entire discussion here:
Listen to the recording of the audio and download it here:
— Jorge Avellan is the Ann Arbor beat reporter and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org