Congress takes on criminal justice reform

Passage would be first step on a long road to racial and economic justice

Bipartisan legislation aimed at reducing the nation’s mushrooming prison population was introduced in Washington DC.  The “Criminal Justice Reform and Corrections Act of 2015” would reduce mandatory sentences such as “Three strikes” rules and 10 year minimums for nonviolent felonies.

MajcykD_jpg_160x160_q85_jpg_160x160_q85“Senator Schumer stated that this is in part about not ‘wasting lives.’ Senator Schumer is absolutely correct and this is long overdue.” says Majyck D, a Kalamazoo radio personality and advocate for criminal justice reform. “To say, too many lives, especially of people of color, have been wasted by our sentencing laws, is an understatement. “

Majyck D is currently working with Michigan United, a statewide social justice organization, on a campaign to pass a series of bills around youth justice in Michigan, including removing 17 year old children from adult facilities and raising the age of adult responsibility from 17 to 18 years old. “This is a solid and necessary move forward. But this isn’t a panacea.” says  Majyck D. “We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

barryA lot of that work involves thinking outside the box: both the cells the convicts live in and the boxes they must check when they get out. “In order for our nation to rise as a beacon of justice, resources to dissuade criminal activity in the first place, to build actual rehabilitation while incarcerated, to educate offenders, families and communities on successful reintegration are absolutely necessary.” says Pastor Barry Petrucci, Portage Chapel Hill United Methodist Church.

Petrucci thinks a great start for that reintegration would be a national policy to ‘Ban the Box’. Often,  applicants for jobs must check a box indicating if they have a felony of any kind on their record.  “Ban the Box” legislation would prohibit criminal background checks as a requirement for most jobs. This, proponents say, would make it easier for residents returning from prison to find gainful employment and less likely they will re-offend.

Kalamazoo Voter Forum Draws Crowd of Over 100 Residents



Candidates Talk Jobs, Youth, Prosperity, Housing, and Police Discrimination

A diverse audience of more than 100 people filled the Kalamazoo Public Library to hear from fifteen candidates for Kalamazoo Mayor and City Commission last night. The forum was hosted by Michigan United and the League of Women Voters. Majyck D, a well-known radio personality from Kalamazoo’s 95.5 FM “The Touch”, served as moderator.

The questions spanned a variety of issues including support for this November’s housing millage in Kalamazoo County and job opportunities for people with criminal records.

Every candidate, excluding Vice Mayor David Anderson, stated support for a policy to remove the criminal history question and delay background checks for businesses that receive tax abatements from the City of Kalamazoo.

“I absolutely support a policy that will do this,” said candidate Erin Knott, “People’s past mistakes aren’t the sum total of who they are, and if we are serious about economic stability, we have to get people back to work.”

Candidate Eric Cunningham, a sitting commissioner, referred to his own struggle to find a job with a felony record, and that he had to go through over 2000 interviews until he was given an opportunity.

All commissioners also supported the county wide millage on the ballot this November to support families with school age children who are homeless.

Commissioners answered questions posed about economic stability, the housing millage, being responsive and transparent to the community, racial profiling in law enforcement, and supporting youth.  However, none of the candidates for commissioner chose to respond to a question asking how they would make Kalamazoo more welcoming to immigrants.

Detroit City Council passes resolution to restore the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners



Detroit City council voted unanimously  today to restore the powers of the Board of Police Commissioners as originally described in the city charter. The board’s authority was reduced to an advisory role as part of the bankruptcy agreement. The resolution was authored by Council member Mary Sheffield. The vote comes after nine months of community organizing and campaigning by Michigan United.


“We are deeply satisfied to see the city council heed the will of the people to restore the full powers of our police commission.” Said Deacon Thomas of the Michigan United Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change at a press conference shortly before the vote. “Over many months, clergy and community came together to demand democracy, oversight and public accountability for our police.”

Clergy members began to work together at Michigan United to restore the board of police commissioners early this year with a petition drive amongst their parishioners.  They then met with each city council member and gathered most of their signatures on a letter that was the inspiration for Sheffield’s resolution.

Before the council voted, there was a period of public comment. “We need to restore the powers of the police commissioners for the protection of the people.” said Rev. Harvey Presberry of Michigan United Pastoral Alliance for Change. “They provide another level of accountability. Police are less likely to abuse people they are going to have to answer to.”

“This is important.” Said Ron Scott, spokesperson for the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and advocate of the Board of Police Commissioners. “For young people, especially young African Americans, to have faith in the system, we have to make sure that this resolution continues.”

Mayor Duggan’s Chief of Staff Alexis Wiley pledged on his behalf to support the reinstatement of the commissioners.

Councilwoman Sheffield acknowledged the work of Michigan United. “This has really opened up the lines of communications between the council, the board and the mayor’s office.” Sheffield said. “I don’t think that would have happened without you moving this issue forward.”

Detroit City Council to officially endorse Michigan United Campaign

Resolution calling for the restoration of Board of Police Commissioners expected to pass unanimously

Detroit City council is expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday morning recommending they restore the powers of the Detroit Board of Police commissioners as originally described in the city charter. The authority of the board was reduced from oversight to an advisory role as part of the city’s bankruptcy agreement which can’t be amended for one year. If the resolution passes, the changes would be made in December.

City council member, Mary Sheffield offered to draft the resolution in a meeting with the Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change (DPAC).  The coalition of Detroit area churches is concerned with social justice and police accountability. They were brought together by Michigan United in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. DPAC has gotten verbal and written commitments from all the members of the city council and expects the resolution to pass unanimously.

Last week, State Representative, Wendell Byrd announced a resolution by the Detroit delegation that also supported the move at the “We Are One” prayer rally organized by DPAC. His comments and those of other participants can be heard and downloaded for broadcast and transcription here:

Sheffield and DPAC will hold a brief press conference in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue at 9AM before going into the city council meeting. Once inside, DPAC members and other community leaders will speak in support of the resolution and thank city council for taking this important step.

Press Conference to celebrate resolution on board of police commissioners

Mary Sheffield, Detroit City Council Member
Willie Bell, Detroit Police Commissioner
Deacon Charles Thomas, Michigan United’s Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change

Tuesday, September 29th at 9AM

Spirit of Hope statue, Coleman A. Young Municipal building
2 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

September Justice Assembly: Canvass for Kids and Families!

Our whole community benefits when families and children have what they need to succeed. A place to call home and a fair chance for employment are two crucial issues in a family’s success. That’s why it’s time to get out to the doors and on the phones to make sure that our Kalamazoo County residents know the importance of these issues and are ready to Vote Yes for Kids on November 3rd!

At our September Justice Assembly, we’ll teach you about these issues and what’s on deck in Kalamazoo County to change them. We’ll train you on how to talk with people at their doors and on the phones to make sure they get out to vote. And, we’ll actually get on the phones and out to the doors to get momentum going for this November!

So join us Thursday, September 24th from 6 to 8pm at Stockbridge United Methodist Church in Kalamazoo! Dinner and childcare included!

Click here to let us know you’re coming!

State and local officials stand with Detroit Clergy in support of Board of Police Commissioners at “We Are One” prayer rally.

City Council President Pro-Tem, George Cushingberry opened the “We Are One” prayer rally with his full throated support of Michigan United’s Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change (DPAC) campaign to restore the authority of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. Cushingberry was one of the first council members to sign on to their letter calling for the board to be restored. Council member Mary Sheffield has drafted a resolution that mirrors the letter which she plans to bring up for a vote next weekSep 22 2015_7710.

Cushingberry couldn’t stay long since a recently scheduled council meeting had been called, but Sheffield’s aide, DeAndre Calvert was able to stay and unveil the resolution to the public. “Therefore, let it be resolved, notwithstanding emergency manager’s number 11 and 42, the powers of the Board of Police Commissioners are contemplated by the 2012 Detroit City Charter and fully restored effective December 11th, 2015…” The document pointed to the city’s 1968 uprising and notorious police task force, Stop Robbery Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS) as inspirations for the Board of Police Commissioners creation and a desire to avoid the unrest in other communities resulting from recent “questionable civilian deaths” as reason for their restoration.

Sep 22 2015_7758

The resolution found even more support at the state level when Representative Wendell Byrd announced a similar resolution proffered by the delegation of Detroit’s State Representatives. “We are totally, 100%  supporting your efforts to restore to you the duties and responsibilities that were mandated to you by the citizens of the city of Detroit.” Byrd said. “Government should be for the people and by the people, not by people who come in who’ve had no elective office, not voted by the people to represent them.”

The vote on Sheffield’s resolution now a week away, the assembled clergy remained confident that council members would stand by their signatures. “We’re celebrating, tonight, the reinvestment because we believe it’s already a done deal.” said Dr. Joseph Hobbs, Pastor of the Triumphant Life Christian Church.  “There’s a song that says ’don’t wait until the battle’s over. shout now!’”  But just to be sure, Michigan United’s Elder Leslie Mathews, Organizer for DPAC, called for people to come to the September 29th council meeting wearing Michigan United’s iconic color to create a “Sea of Blue” to strengthen the resolve of the council.

Sep 22 2015_7832

We Are One

We are one flyer-singleA long campaign to bring civilian control of the Detroit police is coming to a close.  The Michigan United’s Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change (DPAC) met with Detroit city council members and one by one, gotten their commitment in writing to restore the authority of the Board of Police Commissioners.  On Tuesday, September 22nd, City Council is expected to vote on a resolution adopting our proposal.  So that night, we will come together to declare victory!

DPAC invites you to “We Are One”, an opportunity to praise the Lord for our successes this past year and prayers for healing and guidance in the years to come.  State Representative Wendell Bird will discuss the Detroit delegation’s resolution in support of our campaign. We’ll hear from our elected police commissioners about what their renewed authority will mean to community policing and what you can do to take advantage of it.  And we’ll hear from Black Lives Matter Detroit, an active supporter of our campaign, with an update on their movement and what a responsive police commission can mean to protecting Black lives.

“We Are One” will also be an opportunity to take steps to build even stronger ties between the police and the communities they serve. One way is to have officers come from those neighborhoods, so Detroit police recruiters will be on hand to find young men and women interested in a career in law enforcement.

So come to Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday September 22nd at 6:30PM for “We Are One”.  Bring your faith, bring your ideas and bring a young person who is ready to show the Detroit police department how to serve and protect their community.

Click here to RSVP and invite friends on Facebook.

Victory! Deportation Halted!

Immigration officials agree to hear case of an Ugandan woman married to a Michigan man.
The stay will prevent Monica’s impending deportation and keep her family together for now.

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) reopened the case of Monica Bandutsya-Talbot, an Ugandan woman faced with threat of deportation despite her marriage to Frank Talbot, a Michigan resident and US citizen. The BIA remanded Monica’s case Tuesday to the Immigration Judge who will consider her Application to Adjust Status. The Board’s order preempts Monica’s removal order meaning she will not need to depart the US on September 20th as scheduled.

Over the past 17 years, while she fought for her right to stay in this country, Monica worked multiple jobs to get through nursing school and now works as an RN at Beaumont hospital. Her daughter, Rita also worked her way through college, earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kettering University. But sadly, the perceived hopelessness of her situation got to her. “On March 25th, 2013 out of frustration and the threat of imminent deportation, my daughter Rita took her own life.” Monica told a crowd of immigration reform supporters outside the Wayne County building earlier in the day. “She was 23 years old with a lot of life ahead of her.”

Frank and Monica were interviewed by the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) who found their marriage to be bona fide and approved their petition for residency, bringing Monica another step closer to citizenship.  But for some reason, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) opposed the union and continued to proceed with her deportation. “How is that fair?” Monica asked.  “We are so frustrated, but we are not alone.  We have the support of family and friends and are struggling with other families like the Lopezes and the Cornejos.”

Ever Cornejo and Alvaro Lopez are now in a similar predicament and are hoping for a similar outcome. Ever is currently in detention awaiting deportation; Alvaro is supposed to turn himself in Thursday.  Ever’s wife spoke at the Tuesday rally while Alvaro appeared with his two young daughters.

“I’m relieved that the BIA stepped in and put a stop to this madness.” said Diego Bonesatti, the legal services director at Michigan United who has been helping with the Talbots’ case. “But it says more about the mindset of ICE.  Rebecca Adducci doesn’t have to deport every case that comes across her desk regardless of who it hurts. She can keep Ever together with his wife and Alvaro with his kids. She doesn’t just have the power to do it, she has the responsibility to do it.”

Before she got the news of the BIA decision, Monica told her story outside the Wayne County Building. Later, Detroit City Council voted unanimously in support of pro-immigrant resolutions .

Detroit City Council Resolution Supports Presidential Immigration Program

SAM_6866Detroit City Council Resolution Supports Presidential Immigration Program
Council backs Deferred Action for Parents of Americans to prevent deportation of parents of US Citizen children

DETROIT– A single father threatened with deportation was among the community members whose testimony supported the Detroit City Council Resolution in support of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) and comprehensive immigration reform. Alvaro Lopez and his family, fresh from a rally to stop his deportation, spoke before a large crowd attending the Council meeting that resulted in a resolution in support of DAPA and immigrant families. DAPA is an administrative action from President Barack Obama to protect immigrant parents and their American children from being separated by deportation. An injunction in Texas is stalling this program.

“The Detroit City Council’s support of immigrant families speaks volumes,” said Erik Shelley of Michigan United. “Detroit’s challenges have put us in the spotlight and so it’s timely and important that city leaders have stepped up to say we support President Obama’s efforts to keep parents and children and, by extension, communities together. What’s good for immigrant families is good for our community overall.”

“Politicians need to hear the real stories of families who are living with the constant fear of deportation,” said Adonis Flores, with Michigan United. “I’m glad that the City of Detroit is able to express their support for immigrants, and it sends a strong signal to the world. ICE should follow the City of Detroit’s example, and use their power to immediately stop the deportations of families like the Lopez’s.” Mr. Lopez has lived in the US for 14 years with a clean criminal record. He is father to two US Citizen children.

The Council also passed a resolution welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, and calling on the City to opt-out of the Priorities for Enforcement Program. All three resolutions were sponsored by Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda Lopez and passed unanimously.


English Innovations classes begin September 14th


Michigan United is launching “English Innovations”, a new English as a second language program that features easy-to-use technology to teach English. Students are provided tablets to facilitate learning both in the classroom and at home.

The first session will start on September 14, with morning and evening classes. This unique program will benefit students who want to learn or sharpen their knowledge of the English language, setting them up for success and better job opportunities. Students will get to learn new online tools, including games. Students of intermediate literacy are encouraged to apply now.

To enroll contact our coordinator, Lilia Rivera at 877.507.7774 ext. 704.

Space is limited so apply soon.