Candidates hear concerns of constituents on jobs, healthcare, immigration
Many of the leading candidates in the race to fill John Conyers Jr.’s seat in the US house heard from the people they seek to represent Saturday in a candidate forum held Detroit’s New Providence Baptist Church. Detroit City Council president, Brenda Jones, mayor of Westland Bill Wild and state senator Coleman Young Jr. answered questions from constituents about the issues they deal with every day. State senator Ian Conyers and former state representative, Rashida Tlaib were also invited but couldn’t appear due to scheduling conflicts.
Paul Johnson III of the Disability Network of Wayne County wanted to know who supported a public program for elder care that would guarantee seniors access to quality, affordable long-term care. “I am lifelong Detroiter who has learned the value of assisting others from his Parents.” Johnson told the candidates. “I have had to overcome learning disabilities always treating customer, friends and all others with compassion. “
A teacher in Detroit bravely told the story of how she had been impacted by sexual harassment. Gevonchai Hudnall said a man who had power over her made sexually suggestive comments at work, making her feel deeply uncomfortable, embarrassed, intimidated, and afraid for her job. She challenged the candidates to stand up for survivors of sexual assault on campus. “ I am glad we are now living in the #MeToo moment, and we are seeing an important shift in our culture.” Hudnall said. “Sexual harassment and assault must no longer be tolerated. Campuses are one place where we must continue to fight and ensure that students are safe.”
Rokhyatou Toure (ROCK-key-ah-too too-RAY), a member of African Bureau for Immigration and Social Affairs (ABISA), came to protect what remains of her family after aggressive immigration enforcement that took her father, Katim last month despite having lived peacefully in Michigan for 29 years. “If elected, we expect one of you to be a champion for immigrant communities and refugees.” Toure told the candidates. “ It is time for a Compassionate Immigration Reform, that focuses, ONLY in legalization and the reunification of separated families, NOT one more dollar for deportations. Our loved ones are being stolen away from us and deported, simply for driving to work, or for showing up to their court appointments. Immigration authorities don’t even care if the spouse or children are American citizens.”
Since no Republicans have been nominated to run in the 13th district this year, whoever wins the Democratic primary on August 7th will be unopposed in the general election in November.
Hopefuls to appear June 9th at New Providence Baptist Church in Detroit
The congressional seat held by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. is open for the first time in over 50 years and his successor will be at the candidate forum hosted by Michigan United, SEIU Local 1, SEIU Healthcare, Nation Outside, Detroit Action Commonwealth, ABISA, The Women’s March of Michigan and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity later this month. Candidates who have agreed to appear so far include state senators Ian Conyers & Coleman Young Jr., former state representative Rashida Tlaib, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Westland Mayor Bill Wild.
Participants will be faced with issues that constituents deal with every day in the 13th district including environmental protection with the Marathon refinery near Melvindale, Immigration reform and aggressive enforcement in Hamtramck and Southwest Detroit, Criminal Justice Reform and the impact it has on the job prospects of residents in Highland Park and protecting and expanding access to healthcare which affects everyone everywhere.
The People’s Candidate Forum for the 13th congressional district will be held at 2PM June 9th, 2018 in Detroit’s New Providence Baptist Church, 18211 Plymouth Rd., Detroit, Michigan 48228. Admission to the event is free but seating is limited so guests should register in advance to reserve a seat.
At this moment, hundreds of thousands of people around the country sit in a jail cell, stripped of their freedom. While they are no longer able to vote, pay their taxes, or engage in public protest, they are not guilty of any crime – they are just poor. Individuals like this have fallen victim to an aspect of the criminal justice system that has been criticized by former Attorney General Eric Holder, the International Association of Chiefs Police and the American Bar Association. What’s keeping them locked up? They don’t have the ability to make their bond.
The cash bail system is one of the bluntest instruments made available to judges and prosecutors to keep poor people in jail. On any given day, kids are left unsupervised, home and car payments are left unpaid, and job loss takes place not because individuals are negligent or lazy, but because they are locked away from their lives outside jail. Last week, Detroit activists came up with a partial solution to this problem: establish a charitable bail fund to release mothers’ detained pretrial by Mother’s Day.
Organizing a bail fund
The Church of the Messiah, where these Detroit area organizers convened, sits just off East Lafayette, about two blocks from Belle Isle. Although the church is historic – about 142 years-old – it is very much vibrant and intact. About 60 percent of its congregation is African American men under the age of 30, and most of the church’s work includes providing affordable housing, nutrition and aerobic classes, serving food to the elderly, and maintaining after-school programs.
The spacious basement of the church is strewn with tables, and has high ceilings and windows that creep just into view. Here, I met the organizer of the Mother’s Day Bailout, Nick Buckingham, who sports a wide smile and a thin mustache. Nick, a Mass Liberation organizer for the Mass Liberation Campaign with Michigan United, hopes to cut mass incarceration in half by 2030.
“Over the next four years 2018-2021, we will develop the permanent grassroots organizing infrastructure that augments the overall movement to end mass incarceration and achieve this 50% reduction by 2030.”
For Buckingham, the creation of a bail fund is not some abstract goal. Having been formerly incarcerated, he knows what it’s like to be detained in jail before having a fair trial in court, and wants to prevent that for others.
“I remember sitting in the Ingham county jail, immersed in a violent, harmful place with the expectation to keep a humane, sane mindset and fight my case. During my time in the county jail, I would witness fights and correction officers’ (deputies’) misconduct which ultimately placed the incarcerated individual at risk of creating more trouble for their case.”
At the first convening to form a bail fund, organizers hailed from several activist organizations like Black Youth Project 100, Michigan United, The Color of Change, Good Jobs Now, and one individual running for office in Washtenaw County. They discussed their grievances with the criminal justice system, and the most optimal path towards creating a successful bail fund.
While new to Detroit, bail funds – especially on Mother’s Day – are not novel. Last year, Black Lives Matter helped raise over $500,000, and bail out mothers from across 20 different cities. More consistent bail fund non-profits have become even more popular.
According to the Marshal Project, funds raised to helped poor individuals get released from pretrial detention have arisen in Boston, Brooklyn, Nashville, and Seattle, and more bail funds are beginning to take root in St. Louis, Miami, Cincinnati, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Austin.
The Bronx Freedom Fund, a non-profit bail fund in New York City, has already helped 600 people stay out of jail in 2017 with their charitable fundraising, according to their website. That organization morphed into the Bail Project, a nationally scaled bail fund with the mission of bailing out thousands of individuals’ detained pretrial around the country in the next five years.
Given the numbers of those incarcerated pretrial, it’s surprising a bail fund hasn’t been suggested in Michigan before.
According to an investigative report by Bridge Magazine, about 41 percent of Michiganders in jail are awaiting trial. Some of the more egregious counties include Newaygo, Genesee, and Ottawa, where some odd 78 percent, 72 percent, and 60 percent, respectively, are in jail awaiting their trial or arraignment. While there has been no pretrial data made available by Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties, some in the area are advocating against money bail.
Barb Hankey, Oakland County Community Corrections Manager, is vocal about the injustice that money bail provides for community members, and that it serves no purpose.
“If you’re dangerous and you pose a threat to society, you’re dangerous and society should be able to assume that you’re going to be detained. No amount of money should be able to effectuate your release if you’re dangerous.”
An American Exception
Money bail is a problem particular to the United States, according to Hankey. “The United States and the Philippines are the only two countries in the whole entire world that use for-profit bail – doesn’t that seem kind of odd?”
Many have taken notice of money bail’s pernicious affect. It’s become common knowledge that America shares five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population, allowing the U.S. to lock up more people than any other nation on earth.
According to a 2018 report by the Prison Policy Initiative, 536,000 people in America are detained before having a trial – most of them remaining in local jails. That population of incarcerates is larger than most other country’s prison and jail populations combined.
The incarcerated population locked up for not being able to afford bail has skyrocketed just within the last 30 years. From 1983 until 2014, 99 percent of jail growth increase consisted of people that were legally innocent. This means that the vast majority of America’s increased jail population comes from those that have not yet been convicted of the crime they were charged with.
The massive rise of incarceration rates, according to Denzell McCampbell, the Deputy Communications Director for Engage Michigan and organizer for Black Youth Project 100-Detroit, is not a design flaw in the justice system but rather an integral lever that helps push the machine along.
“People say that the system is not working right now. I will say that it’s working the way it is designed to be and we need to get to a point that we are doing true restorative and transformational justice. I think this (bail fund) is a step in that direction.”
Who are the losers and winners?
It should be no surprise that money bail – one aspect of an incarceration machine that disproportionately locks up people of color – most significantly affects African Americans. (A recent Princeton study on racial bias and bail decisions found that when judges in Miami and Philadelphia decide on bail, they are significantly impacted by racial stereotypes and exaggerated fears of crimes by black defendants.)
Bishop Herman Starks, an organizer with Michigan United and the Michigan Peoples Campaign, has been a pastor most of his life, having been raised in the church. He spoke with me at the Church of the Messiah.
“It’s not fair. There needs to be a restructure of the system. (Bail) is just one part of it. Everyone needs to come to the mindset that the system is unfair toward people of color. Period. It wasn’t established for people of color because people of color had no say in the creation of it. They had no say in the creation of laws pertaining to it. We should not be the individuals being victimized by it – and guess what? We are.”
The disproportionate impact of money bail on people of color is hard to deny. A recent UCLA report found that, between 2012 and 2016, people in LAPD custody paid 193.8 million non-refundable dollars were paid to bail bond agents – of that sum, $92 million and $40.7 million were paid by Latinos and African Americans, respectively. Since women family members, and friends, of the accused pay the vast majority of bail bond funds, it’s fair to say that Black and Latina women have had to pay the bulk of such bond money.
Of course, all that money has to go somewhere. Ultimately, the criminalization of those locked up without ever being convicted of a crime – disproportionately poor, black individuals – can mean big business for others.
A 2017 report entitled Selling Off Our Freedom: How insurance corporations have taken over our bail system, bail companies receive big profits in America, generating about $14 billion each year. However, people are not only profiting off individuals incarcerated in America; large, foreign corporations have bought up bail insurers in order to maximize their profits overseas.
Tokio Marine, one of Japan’s largest corporations “owns multiple bail sureties and bought a wholesale bail agency in 2016.” And Fairfax Financial, a Toronto-based life insurance company, bought up “multiple bail insurers” and is now worth about $10 billion. These companies help bail bondsmen stay in business with publicly traded stocks bought with money that is used to temporarily free the innocently incarcerated.
“How can somebody going to jail make someone else rich?” Asked Bishop Starks. “You got a little boy of there around three years old,” he said pointing to the child. “They betting on the fact that he’s already going to prison. They already got a bed made for him.”
The future of money bail and a Detroit bail fund
Hankey, of Oakland Community Corrections, thinks that although cash bail has become a default setting in our criminal justice system, there’s no need to think it will last in Michigan forever.
“Most people in the pretrial field would say there’s no need for money bail at all. It should be totally eliminated.”
Michigan’s move toward reform does not exist in isolation. Pretrial reform, and the shift away from money bail, has already begun around the country in places like New Mexico, New Jersey, Washington DC, Kentucky, Illinois, and Alaska, and more recent reforms have occurred in cities like New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.
“If we’re not going to eliminate money bail,” Hankey said, “then we need to make sure that we have restrictions around money bail and that people’s due process isn’t violated because if you can’t post a money bail, what does that mean? It means you’re detained. And our constitution – the Michigan constitution – says ‘only individuals who are charged with capital offenses can be detained.’
This week, Detroit organizers will meet again to hash out details that will help enact a bail fund. Questions like, how much money needs to be raised? Which jails should be targeted? And, who will follow up with families in order to make sure that detainees have the legal resources and social support they need?
McCampbell just hopes the bail fund will afford moms the ability to spend Mother’s Day with their family.
“I think we need to be making sure that we are getting folks back home to spend time with their family and having the opportunity to have mothers, and black women inside their homes and back in their community, where they should be, while they are dealing with things. And also providing the community a way that folks can have the support that they need. That’s the primary aspect for me.”
62 coalition partners announce non-partisan forum for March 3rd in Detroit Will feature special guest Congressman Luis Gutierrez
An unprecedented coalition of more than 60 organizations so far has announced they will hold the next gubernatorial candidate forum at Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church at 1:00 PM on March 3, 2018. The People’s Governor Forum: Transforming Michigan’s Futurewill offer voters the opportunity to hear directly from candidates on issues that directly affect their lives.
“We are going to demand that the politicians come to us early, and that they listen to our community’s needs,” said Co-chair Rev. Deedee Coleman, President of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity. “We want them to address our bold agenda for a prosperous, healthy future for all.”
Co-chair Hassan Sheikh, Executive Directorof Emgage announced that the People’s Governor Candidate Forum will feature Congressman Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. “Congressman Gutierrez has been a champion for working people, for immigration reform, and a voice for those who have been marginalized and left out.” saidSheikh. “The Congressman will get us fired up, and outline the values we hope that candidates will embody.
The candidates confirmed to attend so far include Democrats Abdul El-Sayed, Gretchen Whitmer Bill Cobbs and Republican Patrick Colbeck. The group has invited candidates from all parties who have submitted 15,000 nominating petition signatures to the Secretary of State or drawn at least 5% support in an independent non-partisan statewide poll by February 19th. They will be challenged to address issues of poverty, inequality, and racism. Co-chair said the group has decided on 6 topics for the night: criminal justice reform, environmental justice, education, care, immigration and workers rights.
“We’re going to bring real people, workers, families, people of faith, child care providers and immigrants, to speak truth to power.” Said Co-chair Dr. Louis Forsythe of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church.
The candidate forum’s audience quickly outgrew its first venue and was moved to Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church where the sanctuary holds 2,400 with a quiet room for childcare.
Buses have already been reserved to bring voters from Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Macomb County. “When we join together, the candidates will know that they have to deal with us collectively.” Said Co-chair Freddy Polanco of the SEIU.
Pathways to Prison producer, stakeholders name causes for mass incarceration, offer solutions
A one hour special that aired on Detroit Public Television was given a screening Thursday at the Church of the Messiah. Pathways to Prison focus on American prison system and efforts to reform it, both in stemming the flow of new inmates and aiding their reentry into the communities to which the formerly incarcerated return. Afterward, the audience heard from producer, Bill Kuboda and many of the returning residents interviewed in the program such as Yusef Shakur and Tyrone Kemp.
“We need to move past the mindset that prisons are only there to house the guilty.” Said Kemp who is now an advocate for the wrongfully convicted. “We must be open to the prospect that true redemption is possible.”
U.S. imprisons more people than any other country, but America’s “get tough on crime” era may be evolving, as more people realize the greater societal and economic costs. The state of Michigan currently spends nearly two billion dollars a year on their prison system.
But for Nicholas Buckingham, the Michigan United Criminal Justice organizer who moderated the discussion, this is about diverting the next generation from the well worn path that resulted in his incarceration. “Poverty is just one of the factors that many kids deal with that lead to prison, but it’s not the only one. We all have to recognize all the forces acting on them that make their futures less bright and a criminal record more certain.”
While unprecedented in modern presidential history, the pardon of former Maricopa county sheriff, Joe Arpaio continues a trend in the Trump administration of threatening our civil rights. During a Presidential debate in Detroit, he said he was willing to violate the Geneva conventions against torture. Soon after his appointment, Attorney General, Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice would not pursue civil rights cases against police departments. Then on Friday, as a level 4 hurricane bore down on our nation, President Trump took the opportunity to unleash a flood of bad decisions, among them, the pardon of Joe Arpaio. Since his conviction would not have even resulted in any prison time, this action would do little else besides appeal to the most racist and extremist in his base for political purposes.
We at Michigan United condemn in the strongest terms the decision to extend clemency to Arpaio because it sends a clear and dangerous message to all law enforcement officials that the Trump administration will not protect the civil rights of Americans and it will overrule any effort to uphold them. We are very concerned with the precedent this action will set and the impact it will have on our futures and in our communities. We believe everyone in America, regardless of race, religion or documentation status, should be equally alarmed.
Immigrant rights Coordinator, Michigan United
Michigan United files FOIA request, health complaint
The arrest of a black woman who was waiting in the wrong place has raised questions of racial profiling by St. Clair Shores police department. Michigan United filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to determine if people of color are more closely scrutinized, and subsequently arrested and fined, than white people. Amber York, a spokesperson for the multiracial, social justice organization said “In March 2015, the Department of Justice clearly established that the pattern of arrests and citations in Ferguson, Missouri was driven by revenue production–not public safety. We have good reason to believe that’s the same thing that’s happening here in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.”
Earlier this month, Rai Lanier was waiting for a carryout order and didn’t notice that she was in a handicap parking space next to the one for restaurant customers. Despite the car still being in gear, she was given a parking ticket instead of a warning. The officer then went a step further and also did a background check on Lanier, finding old ticket on a car she no longer owns then placing her under arrest.
“It was like a bad dream I couldn’t wake up from.” said Lanier on the steps of the police station. “One minute I’m waiting for my food, the next minute I’m being frisked and searched in front of a bunch of men. I was too stunned to even be angry at the time.”
Lanier said she was made to wait in conditions that were unsanitary. “Besides the toilet being in the middle of the jail cell and the toilet paper soaked, it looked like someone literally smeared feces on the wall.” said Lanier. “They didn’t just make me feel like a criminal for a parking ticket, they made me feel sub-human.”
Besides the FOIA request, Michigan United has also filed a complaint with the city of St. Clair Shores for the unsanitary condition of the city’s jail cells.
Several members of Michigan United showed their support at the Thursday press conference. “As a white woman, I have been let off many times, with only a verbal warning or friendly reminder, for things like an expired license plate or an overdue parking ticket,” said Laura de Palma. ”Our criminal justice system is racist, unjust, and unfair. I am speaking out against the explicit targeting and harassment by law enforcement of people of color.”
Lanier said she began to suspect that she was being treated differently because of her race when her boyfriend, who is white, showed up to bail her out. “The St. Clair Shores officer told me, in no uncertain terms that it would be over $500 for me to get out of their jail and another $1,800 to get out of Troy where the old ticket was.” Lanier said. “But once Seth showed up, Troy didn’t want me anymore and the bail was magically cut in half. I can’t help but think what it would have cost if my mother came to get me.”
Elder Leslie Mathews, the faith coordinator for Michigan United who is working towards criminal justice reform, said “We have never truly been allowed to fully integrate into the American society. We can become doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, even the President of the United States, but as long as our skin is black or brown, we face intense scrutiny by law enforcement. Calling the police nowadays for help can get you killed. Having faulty car equipment can escalate into loss of life as well. Being parked in a handicapped space can get you arrested and thrown into jail. Just being black in America seems to be a crime.”
Group to file formal FOIA request, health department complaint
Rai Lanier didn’t notice she was in a handicapped parking space as she waited in her car for a carry-out order. But rather than asking her to move, St. Clair Shores police not only gave her a ticket but ran a background check, finding an old ticket on a car she no longer owned. She was subsequently arrested and things just got worse from there.
Lanier will describe her experience in greater detail Thursday at a press conference held outside the St. Clair Shore police department. The organization she works for, Michigan United will deliver a formal Freedom of Information Act request asking for statistics regarding the racial makeup of police interaction and actions taken. They will also file a complaint with the Macomb County Health Department due to the deplorable conditions Lanier was subjected to during her unnecessary stay.
WHAT: Press conference: Racial profiling, unnecessary escalation by SCSPD
WHO: Rai Lanier, Ticketed, arrested, frisked and detained for parking violation Elder Leslie Mathews, Criminal Justice Reform organizer, Michigan United
WHEN: 3 PM, Thursday, June 29, 2017
WHERE: St. Clair Shores Police department 27665 Jefferson Ave, St Clair Shores, MI 48081
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.
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.