Category Archives: Criminal Justice Reform

Education advocates host first annual Kalamazoo schools year end celebration

Food, entertainment and an opportunity for “kids to be kids”

About 100 students and their parents were greeted by community leaders, volunteers and members of Social Economic & Educational (SEE) Change and Justyce Against Bullying in Schools (JABS) at the Kalamazoo Metropolitan Branch NAACP for their 1st Annual Expect Respect And Safe Education (ERASE) End of School Year Celebration. Participants took part in activities such as face painting, table crafts, hula hooping and  a water balloon challenge.

“As we continue to pursue equity and justice for our youth to ensure they are successful and Promise ready,” said Dr. Strick Strickland, Kalamazoo NAACP’s interim President, “we must strive as a community to celebrate the accomplishments of all of our youth completing a year of school. NAACP is proud to support SEE Change and stands in JABS corner as Sponsor of JABS Awareness Month”

“Every year, students in Kalamazoo Public Schools are denied their right to education because of ineffective and harmful school discipline policies.” said Elisheva T Johnson of Michigan United. “When they fail to recognize and address the trauma caused by unjust, biased, and broken social systems, our kids are effectively ‘pushed out’ of public education. That needs to end.”

Community member and environmentalist, Chris Wahmhoff also answered questions as many of the curious youth enjoyed time playing with baby ducks. “For Michigan, for us, I think Environmental Justice is one of the most important struggles we face” Wahmhoff said.

Criminal Justice Advocates hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable (UPDATED w/video)

Lack of restorative justice and excessive prosecutions tearing community apart

A coalition of criminal justice reform organizations says that Wayne County Prosecutor, Kym Worthy’s tough on crime posture has been tough on the community. Rather than seek justice, they say Worthy has been going after the low hanging fruit to pad her conviction numbers. Victims of false and excessive prosecutions stood with organizers with Michigan United and Just Leadership USA to hold Worthy accountable for her practices and call for reform in her office.

30 years ago, when Bishop Herman Starks was 17, he wasn’t in school because he was recovering from a gunshot wound he suffered in the rough neighborhood where he grew up. When an acquaintance of his decided to rob and possibly kill someone, Starks intervened. Even though the victim testified that Starks saved his life, the prosecutor’s office at the time chose to charge him with the crime anyway, hoping to compel him to turn in the perpetrator. Instead of disclosing the robber’s name and risk getting shot again, Starks took his chances with a justice system that he didn’t understand and a public defender who was no help.

Now, Starks says Worthy is continuing this practice of intimidation and he wants her to change before another young life has to spend the next 15 years needlessly behind bars. “Let’s have a conversation about what needs to be done. You need to do better. You need to act like you have some compassion in your heart. You need to act like you love where you came from.” Starks said. “We on the beat to make sure that our young brothers stop being incarcerated, stop being punished for things they didn’t do. That school to prison pipeline needs to end and needs to end now!”

One such young man who narrowly avoided the pipeline was Marcus Allen Weldon, also known as the “Santa Claus Shooter”. A heating/cooling repair man moonlighting as Santa Claus at a company party in 2014, Weldon was defending a stranded woman from two hostile men when one of them appeared to draw a gun. Weldon was carrying a lawfully registered weapon and shot one of the two assailants in self-defense. Police, he said, did a sloppy job of investigating and Worthy seemed more interested in getting a conviction than getting to the truth. Weldon was found not guilty after more than a year of house arrest and $50,000 of legal expenses, including unencrypting the video tape that exonerated him. But his fate was not so certain when he entered the courtroom. “Stories like DaVonte Sanford, (he) was released right during the time I was walking into trial. I thought to myself, that could have easily been me.” Weldon said. “I have an 8 year old daughter and facing 30 years, you figure I would have missed her entire life.”

The group blames overreaching prosecutorial practices like these for creating hardships , job losses, and destabilizing communities and families. Instead, they want Worthy to be dedicated to creating safe communities that use methods other than mass incarceration. They point to the growing use of restorative justice practices which seek to confront the root causes of crime without dooming a young people to a life of joblessness.

Hold Prosecutor Kym Worthy Accountable from Michigan United on Vimeo.

Capitol Day 2017 features grassroots protests around Lansing

Activists demand support for teachers,
clean air for residents of 48217

Senate Majority Leader, Arlan Mekhoff found his office filled with protesters opposed to his plan to take away teachers’ pensions in Michigan. Representatives of Michigan United say the move would not only deter good teachers from coming to the state but students would also suffer a shortage of professionals able to deal with childhood behavior issues and an increase in criminalization of it.

Bazsa Miller credits quality teachers for pushing him to succeed. “I came to a point in my life where I had to choose between success and failure “ said Miller. “My teachers were there to make sure I made the right choice at a time when I couldn’t see the path myself.”

“Teachers have an important influence over children of single family homes.” says Arthur Howard who graduated from 9th grade to juvenile detention to adult prison by the age of 16. They are not just educators,” said Howard. “They are character makers.”

When they left the Capitol building, the crowd of hundreds moved on to the nearby offices of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) where they held a rally outside accusing the watchdog of giving Marathon Petroleum permission to spew toxic pollution into their neighborhood near the refinery in Southwest Detroit.

Wendy Kyles grew up in the 48217 neighborhood, the most polluted in the state. She watched her mother suffer from a cirrhotic liver even though she never drank alcohol and ultimately die of lung cancer even though she never smoked cigarettes. “Countless MDEQ rubber stamp hearings merely let us know what atrocities are on the way.” Kyles was hopeful in 2010 when Marathon announced they would offer relief to their “neighbors”. But sadly her optimism was misplaced. “Imagine my OUTRAGE to learn that they were only buying out the handful of white people who comprised 48217. Our black subdivision, squarely situated in front of and downwind of their facility, was curiously and conveniently left out of that process. We weren’t considered their neighbors;”

Parents push Kalamazoo school board to take new approach to bullying, discipline

Groups call for end of segregation and medication

Social Economic and Educational Change (SEE Change), a parent advocate group affiliated with Michigan United and Justice Against Bullying at School (JABS) attended Thursday’s Kalamazoo public school board meeting to express concerns about students bullying their children and staff using excessive force to physically restrain them, resulting in cuts, bruises, muscle strains and in one case, a concussion.  

Parents were also concern about the use of alternative schools to segregate minority students and the excessive medication of students with disabilities. Earl Moore described how he saw his son’s behavior change after being bullied. Rather than dealing with the bullying, the school responded to the behavior change with physical restraint. Ultimately, his son was suspended from school for more 30 days.  “The school refused to allow my son to come back to school unless he took medication” Moore said. Kalamazoo keeps records of its students in a School Wide Information System (SWIS) Moore said the SWIS report on his son describes his behavior in criminal terms, a characterization that will follow him wherever he goes.

Gwendolyn Hooker told the school board how her granddaughter, Justyce suffered  multiple brutal attacks. She said the district showed a lack of concern in addressing the issue of bullying and how it affected students like Justyce.

Tammie Woods  spoke of her son’s battles with depression and anxiety after multiple restraints resulted in a concussion, cuts, and his arm being twisted. Woods described the Specific Learning Disabilities reading program (SLD Read) at Western Michigan University where she sought help for her son. Woods feels Kalamazoo school should provide since her child does not qualify for SLD Read services.

George White, lead advocate with SEE Change said bullying and the effects of bullying can lead to depression, withdrawal, low self esteem, poor grades, poor peer relationships, increases the dropout ratio and in rare cases can lead to death. White also commented on the need for the Restorative Justice models gaining traction all around the country in addressing student bullying. White also recommended Trauma Informed Care practices in classrooms to improve student, parent, teacher relationships.  

White said SEE Change will return to each school board meeting with more parents until they get the results that the parents seek. SEE Change plans further conversations in the community about policy reform needed to reduce bullying, expulsions, suspensions, restraint and medication dependence. The goal is to return all children to mainstream classrooms.

School board member, Lauren Freedman expressed an interest in working with SEE Change to resolve some of the issues. Dr. Rice also indicated a willingness to meet with the group.  

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JOB POSTING: Criminal Justice Reform Organizer

Criminal Justice Reform Organizer

Location: Kalamazoo

Salary Range: $30,000 – $32,000

Deadline: Candidates are encouraged to apply immediately. Applications are due by February 14, 2017.

Michigan United is a statewide coalition of faith, labor, civil rights, business, and social service organizations working together for racial and economic justice through community organizing.

We put everyday people at the center of campaigns that build power to address the root causes of poverty and inequality. We also provide services to help develop the capacity of our members to lead.

Our major campaigns areas include immigrants rights and immigration reform, ending mass incarceration, universal family care and environmental justice.

Michigan United provides extensive training on organizing for change. We are a collaborative work environment where we invest in our team and win powerful campaigns. We provide generous paid time off to promote work/life balance, health benefits for those who qualify, and the opportunity to earn a paid sabbatical.

We value passion for justice and our issues, creativity, and initiative. Expect to work in a fast-paced environment and balance multiple priorities.

Women, people of color, and LGBTQ persons are strongly encouraged to apply.

Michigan United is currently organizing numerous campaigns to reform our criminal justice system. Mass incarceration tears apart families and worsens the pain of poverty. We believe in a more humane approach that emphasizes alternatives to incarceration, diversion courts, fairer sentencing, and supportive re-entry programs.

The Criminal Justice Reform Organizer will work in Kalamazoo to develop the leadership of Returning Citizens and their allies to win important local and statewide reforms. These include better opportunities for housing and employment.

Prior experience in community or political organizing a plus.

Send resume and cover letter to Christine@miunited.org, cc: elisheva@miunited.org  

Subject: Criminal Justice Reform Organizer

“We’re Here to Stay!”

Detroit’s immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and Communities of Color honor Dr. King with a message of defiance and unity

Hundreds of people from across Southeast Michigan gathered at UAW Local 600 Saturday afternoon to honor Rev. Dr. Martin L. King Jr. in a show of unity across lines of color, gender, ethnicity, religion and immigration status. Michigan United joined the United Auto Workers and community based groups in a mass call to action to defend the rights of immigrants, refugees, communities of color and the members of the LGBTQ community. In addition to the King holiday, groups cited the well documented rise in hate crimes in Michigan since the presidential election as inspiration for the event.

“We have no doubt that Reverend King would be pushing us to stand with people who are under attack because of their immigration status, the color of their skin or who they love,” said Michigan United member, Reverend Samuel Johnson of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “Mobilizations like this are crucial to show that the majority of people will not tolerate hate crimes and attacks. The fight to keep immigrant families together is connected to the fight to keep all families safe.”

The Congress of Communities, Chadsey Condon Community Association, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights worked with members of the LGBTQ community to host the event. The intersection of struggles and resistance was at the heart of the gathering.

“Some victories such as marriage equality or the Deferred action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which protects immigrants brought here as children are recent,” said Seydi Sarr, General Secretary of the Senegalese Association. “Some, such as the 1960s civil rights legislation are decades old. We stand to defend them all. We fight to keep immigrant families together here in the US, for refugee families fleeing violence to be safe here. We must defend human and civil rights won for the LGBTQ community and people of color. We can win if we see that all these struggles are connected.”

“No event, not even a presidential election will stop us from standing up and fighting for human and civil rights,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “As Gay man who has benefited from DACA and advances in LGBTQ rights, I refuse to go backward just as Dr. King and those who fought with him resisted the backlash against civil rights laws. Those of us fighting for justice are the majority. Making that clear with gatherings like this will push us toward victory.”

Immigrant families at risk if Trump keeps promises

Don’t despair. Organize!

Join Michigan United and our partners as we work to resist deportations.

Michigan Sanctuary Movement 

Are you or your congregation interested in providing sanctuary for immigrants in danger of deportation? CLICK HERE  to become part of the statewide movement to protect immigrant families.

 Michigan United statewide strategy summit-December 10th

We have a lot of work to do, and we need to get organized. Please cjoin our statewide strategy summit, co-sponsored with the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center. CLICK HERE to be part of the discussion on how we can resist the deportations, support families, and develop strategies for how we can stand up for justice and dignity for all. 

Strategy Summit

Saturday, December 10
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Trinity Lutheran Church
1400 W. Stadium
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Michigan community organizations push back against Sessions’ appointment

Too racist to be Federal judge, certainly too  racist to be Attorney General

Detroit city council members stood with Michigan civil rights organizations to oppose President elect, Donald Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General. Janee Ayers, one of the city’s two at large representatives, and Brenda Jones, the council President joined the chorus of voices calling for a more moderate choice. “We’re talking about is a dangerous person.” Said Ayers. “The Civil rights act, sanctuary cities, criminal justice reform. These are all things that any one of us could have to deal with at any given time… We are all human beings who have had somebody come before us who fought so we could have inalienable rights. Now those rights are under attack.”

Hear and download audio from the press conference

Sessions, the Junior US Senator from Alabama, has been a staunch opponent of immigrant rights. His bid for a Federal Judgeship ended amid controversy over reported racist statements. He’s also referred to groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American”. Add to this President elect, Donald Trump has called for unconstitutional policing tactics such as “stop and frisk”, the use of “waterboarding and much worse” and that American citizens could be sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and held without charge.

“Donald Trump staged a very divisive campaign to be elected President” said Bishop Herman Starks of Michigan United’s Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change. “If he hopes to heal the nation, he’s going about it all wrong.”

Starks focused on the effect Sessions would have on voting rights going forward. As Alabama Attorney General, Sessions pursued bogus voter fraud cases against African Americans. “In the post- Voting Rights era, this is not the person to put in charge of protecting minority rights.” said Starks “The next AG must have a respect for civil rights and equal protection under the law.”

Civil Rights, Faith Groups Stand Together Against Post-Election Hate Incidents

Detail Plans to Resist Deportations

More than a dozen civil rights and faith groups stood together at Central United Methodist Church Monday to condemn a recent spate of racist incidents and to declare their intention to work together to protect their families and communities in the coming years.
sam_8680“The election is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to quietly accept the policies of a Trump Administration,” said Sergio Martinez, Michigan United board member. “We’re not going to give an inch to mass deportations. Our community is organized like never before to defend our families. We’re going to resist Donald Trump’s immigration plans, and we need your help.”
Speakers outlined specific plans for family defense:
  • Michigan United will host a town hall and know-your-rights meeting on Saturday, November 19th, at Noon, at their offices, 4405 Wesson in Detroit. Legal support will be on hand for immigrant families wondering about their options.
  • The Michigan Immigrants Rights Center is calling for pro-bono attorneys to volunteer to defend immigrant families in deportation. Volunteer attorneys will be trained in the basics of immigration law. Contact Susan Reed—susanree@michiganimmigrant.org
  • Volunteers who are not attorneys but would like to learn how to get credentialed to represent immigrants in deportation cases can join our Family Defense team. Contact Susan Reed or Michigan United legal director Diego Bonesatti, diego@miunited.org
  • Congregations who are interested in learning how to provide sanctuary to immigrant families in imminent threat of deportation, contact Rev. Jack Eggleston of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, j.eggleston@semisynod.com
  • Survivors of anti-Muslim hate crimes or bias incidents can report them to the Council on American Islamic Relations, www.cairmichigan.org248.529.2247
  • To help promote tolerance, diversity and educate your community, contact Take on Hate at ACCESS, Asha Noor, anoor@accesscommunity.org or Welcoming Michigan, Christine Sauve, csauve@michiganimmigrant.org
Participants in the event included Michigan United, the Michigan Immigrants’ Rights Center, Asian Pacific Islander Americans – Vote Michigan, ACCESS, ACLU – Michigan, National Lawyers Guild, Methodist Coalition for Social Action, Council on American Islamic Relations – Michigan, Latino Family Services, the Muslim Community Council, the International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit, the National Lawyers Guild, Voces Community Center, and State Representative Stephanie Chang.

Faith, labor and community groups march against hiring discrimination

Demonstration in downtown Detroit kicks off Fair Chances campaign.

Communications Workers of America (CWA) activists joined Michigan United members as they marched on city hall to urge the Detroit City Council to expand its ‘Ban the Box’ ordinance to private-sector employers. The ‘Fair Chances for All’ campaign focuses on private employers who receive tax breaks from the city and seeks to postpone questions about criminal records early in the hiring process.

“It will make us better. It will make us a more cohesive community,” said Kelli N. Williams, a CWA activist and state president of the Michigan Coalition of Labor Union Women. “Mass incarceration, the school to prison pipeline, and juvenile delinquency are just a few of the issues plaguing our society. After the punishment, there should not be a period of more punishment. There should be a time when businesses are reaching out and lending a hand to help former prisoners become productive members of society.”

Because a majority of recent job openings are in the private sector, this coalition of labor, faith, civic and business organizations is now working to ensure all Detroiters have an opportunity for gainful employment. Employers would still be allowed to do background checks later in the interview process, but the change would allow applicants to be evaluated on their merits first. Additionally, the ‘Fair Chance’ rules would also take into consideration the age of the criminal offense.

“Just as bankruptcy has given Detroit a fair chance to turn around and become productive again, the same opportunity should be given to returning citizens.” said Rev. Louis Forsythe, who is pastor at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist church, a member of Michigan United’s Detroit Pastoral Alliance for Change. “This is not only the right thing to do; it is the fair thing to do as we want all citizens to be part of the city of Detroit’s comeback story.”

A “Fair Chance” employer:

  • Has an equal opportunity employer statement on the initial job application.
  • Does NOT ask applicants to “check the box” inquiring about criminal convictions on the initial job application.
  • Does NOT conduct background check until conditional employment opportunity is offered.
  • Does NOT take into account convicted misdemeanors over three years old and convicted felonies over seven years old.

The momentum is growing and pressure is building on city council to prevent gentrification in Detroit amid rapid growth and investment. More than 100 cities and counties across the country have already adopted similar hiring policies including Kalamazoo where Michigan United recently won a similar effort earlier this year.  And President Obama recently announced an executive order doing the same thing at the federal level.

CWA activists were in Detroit this week attending the CWA Next Generation Summit. CWA Next Generation engages members ages 35 and under in key issues including organizing and bargaining rights, voting rights, campaign finance reform, income and racial inequality, fair trade, immigration reform, and LGBTQ rights.