KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — They were meant to deter drugs in the 1990s, but some say street signs posted in Kalamazoo's Northside neighborhood opened the door for racial profiling by police.
Now, those signs are coming down.
“It feels great,” Ed Genesis told 24 Hour News 8 Tuesday, holding one of the signs that was taken down. “It’s like a trophy.”
The signs prohibit parking, stopping and standing.
“Even though it says no parking, no stopping, no standing and it’s related to vehicles, when you stood outside — just a group of young men, young women, just people — that would cause them (officers) to stop you and come up to you and have undue police contact,” Genesis’ wife Patrese Nicole said.
It was hard for the Kalamazoo husband and wife to hide their excitement after city crews began removing the signs April 12.
Months ago, they began discussions about the decades-old signs with the city’s traffic board.
“Drugs were prevalent, crack cocaine specifically,” Genesis said. “People would be out on the block 15-20 (people) deep in somebody's front yard.”
The couple said they know the signs were meant to hinder a growing drug problem in the early '90s, but told the board they are now having negative effects on residents, especially those in the minority community.
“People have just been ecstatic at the ability to just be able to live,” Nicole told 24 Hour News 8.
Lifelong Kalamazoo resident Earnest Gathing is among those celebrating the change.
“They didn't take care of no drug issue. I think they just stopped family unity,” Gathing explained.
“I watched so many people get harassed over these signs,” he continued. “Go from just standing in front of your house cooking, everything's just smiles and dandy. Next thing you know, police out of nowhere.”
In August, Gathing parked in front of his brother's house on Lawrence Street near N. Westnedge Avenue for a barbecue. He told 24 Hour News 8 that minutes later, he saw police lights. Then an officer searched his car and found marijuana. Gathing explained that his marijuana possession case was eventually thrown out.
In the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety police report, the officer wrote that the signs are posted “due to the area's suffering quality of life such as drug, gun, and gang activity.”
Gathing said residents of the area shouldn’t be judged by the area’s past.
The fight to bring the signs down was also personal for Genesis and Nicole. Genesis said he was ticketed in his own driveway.
They also recalled seeing people stopped by police while bringing in groceries from the car and waiting at the bus stop.
“When you think about quality of life issues, you think about a parent waiting for their child on the bus (being ticketed by police), that's a problem,” Nicole explained. “There's true trauma behind this signs. People's lives have really been affected behind these signs. It's more than just, ‘Follow the rules.’ So what you have to understand is your voice is powerful and not to give up.”
Northside residents told 24 Hour News 8 that they have tried to get the signs taken down for years. Nicole explained that making it happen originally required 51% of homeowners to sign a petition. In that area, many rent and the actual homeowners often live in other states or cities, complicating that process.