Kalamazoo voters come out to help homeless children

Millage will get kids off the streets, help families get on their feet

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Kalamazoo residents voted Tuesday in favor of a local housing assistance millage  which will create a fund to provide for families with school aged children who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  The millage is expected to raise over $800,000 for the model program in its first year. The initiative is the first of its kind in Michigan and is the result of more than a decade of work by Michigan United, a statewide community organization.

Back in 2006, when the group was still known as the Michigan Organizing project, Michigan United helped establish a pilot project, the Local Housing Assistance Fund, supported by the cities of Kalamazoo and Portage, Kalamazoo county and private donors.

“It’s based on a ‘Housing First’ model.” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United.  “You give people stable housing then work with them to get their lives together. It worked really well.  Now that we have sustainable funding, I can’t wait to see it bear even more fruit.”

Michigan United organized a coalition to put the issue on the ballot in 2010 but saw it voted down by the more conservative commission. Since then, they have worked with ISAAC, the Disability Network, Open Doors and the  League of Women Voters on the “Vote YES For Kids campaign”, making calls, doing many forms of public education and knocking on doors to raise support for the idea.

“This is a big victory!” said Alison Colberg, Deputy director of Michigan United. “It’s unique in a time of cuts and austerity. I’m proud to see our community take a stand with the most vulnerable”

Anti-Immigrant Lawsuit Sparks Michigan United Rally

Photos of threatened family members delivered to the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette

Families of immigrants who are in danger of being deported gathered outside Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s Detroit office to fight for their right to stay together in face of a lawsuit that could rip them apart. Schuette is one of the Attorneys General that has taken legal action against temporary relief from deportation granted by the Obama Administration.

“Bill Schuette should have to answer to my children and to me about why their father, my husband, can’t be with us,” said Mireya Quintero-Cornejo, whose husband has been in immigration detention  for 7 months, despite having a clean record.  “Ever is a great father and husband who has worked hard to provide for his children and has harmed no one. The harm has come from the political games that Bill Schuette and the courts are playing and have resulted in the separation of my family with my husband being locked up, and taken away from us. It’s so wrong. The lawsuit against immigrant families needs to be dropped.”

Local families threatened by the lawsuit along with clergy and other community members took action after families from around the country led a 9-day long fast outside of New Orleans’ 5th Circuit Court. That’s the site of the hearing on the lawsuit against Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). Families in Detroit carried pictures of their loved ones threatened by deportation and delivered the photos to Schuette’s office.

“Attorney General Schuette is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of our families,” said Adonis Flores of Michigan United. “There is no good reason to continue deporting parents of US Citizens. AG Schuette should drop the lawsuit now, and the Court should allow the President’s family immigration program to move forward.”

In 2014, the Obama Administration called for temporary relief from deportation for some immigrant parents who have been in the US five years or longer and who have American children. Immigrant families and their communities rejoiced at being given at least a temporary window to normal life without fear of being broken apart. But a group of Attorneys General, including Bill Schuette, sought to deprive them of even this bit of normalcy by blocking DAPA with a lawsuit.

“We will not be turned back or discouraged by legal tricks or stalling tactics,” said Ryan Bates of Michigan United. “Our movement for justice and dignity for immigrant families has come too far. We are winning the hearts and minds of the American people, we are winning in our cities and towns, and we will win in the courts as well.”

 

Michigan United puts the power in the hands of the people

Statewide convention brings hundreds of community leaders together with elected officials


Michigan United held its annual statewide convention Saturday in Southwest Detroit. The theatre across from St. Francis D’Assisi church was filled to the rafters with immigrants, faith leaders and union members from the UAW, SEIU, Teamsters and the Michigan Nurses Association. There was also a strong contingent from the Detroit Action Commonwealth, low-income and homeless people fighting for their right to live with dignity.  “
No one else is working to build a statewide multi-racial organization like ours.” said Freddy Polanco, SEIU organizer and Michigan United board member. “No one else is taking on the toughest issues of poverty, racism, and inequality head on. I am so proud to be part of this team.”

They all came together to remember the fights they’ve been through together, like when they stood up to armed, white nationalists who wanted to send refugee children back into the violence they were fleeing. They also celebrated the resulting victories from the past year, like the President’s decision to stop breaking up families by deporting innocent immigrants, getting boarder patrol officers to wear body cameras and restoring the authority of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners.

Alexis Wiley, Chief of Staff for Detroit Mayor, Mike Duggan was on hand at the City Council meeting where they voted unanimously to pass the resolution to restore the board in December to express the Mayor’s support for the move.  She also stood in for the Mayor at the convention where she was able to publicly state Duggan’s position on municipal ID’s.  The identifications would help those with documentation problems, like the homeless and immigrants, to access critical social services. Wiley said “No one in this city should be forced to live in the margins.”

Another battle Michigan United is currently engaged in is the fight to end mass incarceration and keep youth out of the pipeline that leads from school into prison.  “The present prison system destroys families, communities and futures. Mass incarceration is maybe the clearest example of unequal justice in our country.” said Rev. Louis Forsythe II of Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. “People of color, African-Americans and Latinos, receive the short end of thestick on almost every level. The police treat us differently, more aggressively, and profile us more often because of the color of our skin. We get longer sentences than whites for similar crimes. Instead of investing in Job training, opportunities, education and strong communities, our government has built prisons and enacted longer sentences.”

Recently, a bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers introduced a package of bills to do just that.  Most notably, it would prevent 17 year olds from automatically being sentenced as adults. Three of the bill’s sponsors, Martin Howrylack, Leslie Love and Harvey Santana were on stage at the convention.

12068482_1038589792838227_1851017186755628853_o“There’s an attorney general in this state who says ‘To hell with that package’.” Said Santana. “But I do believe there are people in this state that are going to stand up and say ‘You had better listen to what those folks in Lansing are saying because this ain’t right.’ and those people are you!”

Currently, Michigan is one of just nine states that considers 17 year olds adults for sentencing purposes although they are not considered adults for any other legal reason.  At the courts discretion, they can treat ids of any age as grown ups.

“They can not serve in the military, they can not even vote, “Said Howrylak. “and yet, as young as 11 years old, for some reason this country, this state has decided that these kids should be treated like hard criminals and adults.  What kind of Justice is that?”

12068716_1038589052838301_8036211730179485033_o“It’s beyond time we change the way we sentence and punish youth”. Said Love.  “We should give them opportunities to become something in life instead of sentencing them at 17 and making them serve adult time in adult prisons.”

Kendall Campbell of “Fair Chance 4 All” in Kalamazoo described how his organization worked with Michigan United to begin undoing the damage created by mass incarceration in his community by getting the City of Kalamazoo to require all businesses that receive tax breaks and incentives to commit to non-discriminatory hiring practices for people with criminal backgrounds. To do this, they worked with Humans Beyond Boxes, a local storytelling collective of people with criminal backgrounds to tell the stories of families facing incarceration. They also met with Kalamazoo Mayor, Bobby Hopewell to encourage him to endorse their idea.

Michigan United also held a voter forum in conjunction with the League of Women Voters which gave candidates could publicly take a position on the issue.  Majyck D, a popular Kalamazoo radio personality served as moderator. “I have seen too many families torn apart by our incarceration system. “ said Majyck D. “I have seen too many children in my community robbed of their childhood, and treated like they are less than Human. Our government shouldn’t be locking up our children and giving up on their futures.”

All systems GO! for Michigan United Convention Saturday in Detroit!

Activists and elected officials converge in Detroit for annual event Saturday!

Members and supporters of Michigan United will meet in Southwest Detroit for their annual convention October 10th at 11 AM. We will hold workshops to discuss our work on issues including immigration, ending mass incarceration, the environment and housing.IMG_4546

The payday loan problem is another of the many issues Michigan United has addressed in the past year to help our neighbors. Convention goers will also have the opportunity to photograph themselves helping a payday loan victim out of their “pit of dispair”. It is actually a 2 dimensional trompe l’oeil that creates the illusion that a hell mouth has opened up in our parking lot. This street theater illustrates the hazard short term, high interest loans present to working families.

Dozens of elected officials have also been invited to join us. Already confirmed to attend include: US Representative Debbie Dingell; Michigan State Representatives Stephanie Chang, Harvey Santana, Martin Howrylack, Peter Lucido, Rosemary Robinson, Alberta Tinsley Talabi and Wendell Byrd; Michigan State Senators Burt Johnson, Hoon Yung Hopgood, Coleman Young,  and Steve Bieda; and Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and County Commissioner, Jewel Ware.

Michigan Legislators Introduce Youth Justice Reforms

State takes steps to keep kids out of prison

A bipartisan group of Michigan legislators introduced a package of bills Tuesday to keep 17 year old offenders from automatically going into the adult corrections system. In the past decade, more than 20,000 youths under the age of 18 have been sentenced as adults in Michigan. Most were convicted for nonviolent offenses and had no prior juvenile record. The proposed legislation was introduced in conjunction with the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency (MCCD).

11145180_953178574712683_4176913000838121574_o“I was caught up in the adult system at age seventeen. I made a bad decision and ended up with felony on my record. The consequences of having that felony very nearly led me to take my own life.”  said Elisheva Johnson, a Youth Justice Organizer with Michigan United who works with the MCCD on advancing the Youth Behind Bars package. “In Michigan, we can prosecute children of any age as adults if the court sees fit. There is no reason that teens, kids who often come from bad situations in the first place, should be put in adult facilities where there is no fitting rehabilitation for them.  Worse yet, there’s a much greater chance of abuse and suicide. This package is definitely a step in the right direction. We want to thank the legislators for stepping up.”

Michigan is currently one of nine states that automatically prosecutes 17 year olds as adults, even though they are not considered adults for any other legal reason. The package also includes bills that require public monitoring and oversight of youth under the jurisdiction of the MDOC who entered for an offense committed prior to turning 18, ensure age-appropriate programming and outdoor exercise for youth under 21-years-old in administrative segregation, and establish a family advisory board within the MDOC to ensure effective partnerships with families and victims.

FSLO-1352902333-111333“This certainly has to be done.” said Pastor Joan Herbon of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Portage. “It just makes sense knowing that children’s brains aren’t even fully developed until their mid-twenties. Children are children. It’s so much better for the children and for our communities to give them the help and rehabilitation they need in the juvenile system that is equipped for them, instead of throwing them into an adult facility that will just teach them to be better criminals. These children are our children and we are all responsible for them.”

 

Hundreds rally for justice in Detroit

By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press, October 5, 2015

Hundreds rallied Saturday in Detroit for justice of all types, saying that many citizens are being left out of the city’s development.

Walking from southwest Detroit to Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit, the crowd included members of about 40 organizations, including environmental, Black Lives Matter, immigrant, water rights and labor groups such as the metro Detroit AFL-CIO. Called the “Detroit March For Justice,” the protest was a way for progressive groups that normally work separately to come together and find common ground, said organizers.

“All of these things happening to us, we’re tired of it,” Maureen Taylor, an activist with the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told a crowd at Hart Plaza in drizzling rain. “Don’t give up hope.”

Water shutoffs, police brutality and pollution were among the topics during the three-hour event. 

“There was no reason for anybody to have their water shut off,” JoAnn Watson, a former Detroit City Councilwoman, told the crowd. “No man should have the power and authority to shut off anybody’s water.”

Baxter Jones, a disabled former Detroit Public Schools teacher who said he’s facing eviction from his home, led the crowd in cries of “Beat back the bullies.”

“Only evil would try to deprive people of water, something that God put here on this planet for all his living creatures ” Jones said. “We need water to live,” Jones said.

“They’re not going to stop unless you stand up against them,” Jones said. “They might have more money. They might have more power. But we got the people power.”

Other speakers, such as Grove Easterling III, with the Coalition for Black Struggle, touched upon the issue of police shootings. Mertilla Jones, the grandmother of Aiyana Jones, who was killed in 2010 during a Detroit Police raid of a home where she was sleeping, also spoke, calling for police accountability.

And some talked about the pollution problems that some residents in Detroit and suburbs such as River Rouge are facing from nearby power plants. Visiting Detroit, Sierra Club National President Aaron Mair told the crowd that transitioning from coal-based power to alternative sources will improve the health of metro Detroiters and create jobs.

Detroit has played a key role in America’s past, and can continue to do so, he said.

“This is the city where the impossible has always been possible,” Mair said. “This is the Motor City…Detroit can serve America with clean jobs, clean power.”

Regina Strong, director of the Beyond Coal Campaign in Michigan with the Sierra Club, said of Saturday’s rally: “This is the first time this kind of diverse coalition came together.”

Hank Wisner, who works on environmental issues with Michigan United, a social justice group, said that minorities and poor people are often disproportionately affected by pollution. Saturday’s protest was a good way to bring together groups that are often “silo-ed off in our individual groups and it can be forgotten our work overlaps.”

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo

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.

Demand Justice of all Stripes Saturday, October 3rd!

Join the Detroit March 4 Justice

Click here to register TODAY!

Detroit didn’t just put the world on wheels. The Motor City created a living wage and made social justice a reality for workers across America. Today we are losing ground in a globalized Wall Street economy where justice takes a back seat to profits.  We are no longer just fighting for a living wage but for clean air, access to drinking water, and freedom from pollution that is disrupting our climate and threatening our way of life.

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On October 3, we’re standing up and fighting back against injustice. We’re calling on all people who care about justice to come together in support of a common vision for our future. Environmental justice, worker justice, racial justice, water justice, housing justice, food justice, human rights, access to democracy, and many more issues are all connected. Together we can build power and send a clear message about our future. Why choose Detroit? That’s because many of the issues we face about across the United States and Canada are playing out in the Motor City.

When we march, it’s the beginning of a larger movement that unites us toward achieving our shared goals of reviving democracy and strengthening communities through collaborative action. It begins in Detroit but it continues everywhere.

Sign up now!

bit.ly/march4justiceDET

Kalamazoo Voter Forum Draws Crowd of Over 100 Residents

 

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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.”
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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

 

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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.

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“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.”