In a unanimous vote, the Westland City Council tabled a resolution that would declare racism a public health crisis. The move came following a challenge brought by Tasha Green, the council's only African American member and comments from the community accusing the council of gutting the original anti-racism resolution.
The council was set to vote on a resolution addressing the issue Monday night, but Green said it was a revision of her proposal that had been changed substantially without her input. Green’s original draft would have created a board of stakeholders, while the revised version instead inserted the mayor in the process and watered down the remedies and its urgency.
“Mayor Wild has a nineteen-member mayoral cabinet, not one African-American, a majority white city council, six of the seven officials,” said Ashley Stewart, a Westland resident, during public comment before the council voted. “(For) a white mayor and a city attorney to remove sections of a racism solution that would require the city to make procedural changes to racial equality and anti-racism practices is nothing less than white supremacy.”
Dr. John Duckworth of Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church was instrumental in weekend negotiations with the mayor’s office to slow down the rush to vote on the amended resolution. In comments he later made at the Monday night meeting, Duckworth said “Any and all resolutions that are designed to denounce racism MUST include participation from the oppressed community.”
Sen. Ericka Geiss (D-6), whose district includes Westland, issued a statement supporting Councilwoman Green’s version. “The resolution as written mirrors language that has been adopted by multiple communities in Michigan including neighboring Romulus. It is also the same language presented in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature by Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-4) & myself in the senate and by Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson (D-5) in the house.”
The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus also weighed in. “At all levels of government and policy-making, leaders must acknowledge and address the barriers to inclusion that stem from decades of often taciturn, but long-practiced systemic institutional racism, they said in a statement. “To pass a resolution amended in such a way as to dilute its intent and scope would render the resolution symbolic only and therefore meaningless in its goal of being a tool to improve policies when it comes to racial equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
Councilwoman Green also received support at the federal level. “Residents across the 13th Congressional District and around the country have taken to the streets to demand meaningful action against racism and the violence that comes from it, said US Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI 13). “As elected representatives, it is imperative that we respond to this critical moment with bold action that ensures that government on all levels is reflective, inclusive, and responsive to the needs of every single resident; anything less is not acceptable.”
After hearing from residents, elected officials and community organizations such as Annapolis Park southeast Westside Homeowners Association and the Western Wayne County NAACP, Council voted unanimously to table the unpopular version of the resolution until they could conduct listening sessions to gather community input. “It is very important that our residents are heard, that their experiences are shared and heard and understood,” said Councilwoman Andrea Rutkowski before casting her vote. “I think it is a great step towards meaningful legislation because we can put anything we want on a piece of paper.”
Council will return to the issue when they meet again at their next meeting August 3rd.