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New Detroit coalition seeks "justice and fairness to reform law enforcement"

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

A new umbrella group says Michigan’s leaders need to hear their concerns about fairness in law enforcement.

The Coalition for Justice and Fairness to Reform Law Enforcement has come up with a list of priorities it wants state and local officials to address, members announced in Detroit Tuesday.

The coalition group formed in response to the recent deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other unarmed black men at the hands of police. The ensuing lack of criminal charges in those cases has sparked nationwide protests.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, head of the Detroit branch of the NAACP, said recent events show “America has a problem” with fairness in policing and the larger criminal justice system—particularly when it comes to the treatment of black men.

Anthony said the coalition—which also includes more than two-dozen other faith, civil rights and community groups--wants to “get out in front” of these issues in Metro Detroit, and any “civil disturbances” they might cause.

“No city in America can escape from, or believe that it is beyond such outrage or activity, particularly when injustice is prevailing,” Anthony said.

Coalition members want to know what plans and programs might already be in place to address these concerns. Citing recent directives from President Obama and US Attorney General Eric Holder, they're asking for strict limits on racial profiling in law enforcement.

Also on the group’s agenda: allowing Detroit to re-institute residency requirements for police officers, as well as more “educational training and cultural orientation” for those officers; mandatory use of body cameras to monitor police activities; better data collection on individual deaths at the hands of law enforcement; and the restoration of full power to Detroit’s elected Police Board of Commissioners (the board's current powers are limited as the result of an order issued by Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr).

Civilian oversight is a particular concern for Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality. Scott and other coalition members want more limits on the increasing use of military tactics and equipment in policing.

“If you have a military institution, the fundamental basis of [our] constitution is that the people have to control that institution,” Scott said.

The NAACP’s Anthony says the coalition is in the process of setting up meetings with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s and US Attorney Barbara McQuade’s offices, and will reach out to state officials for talks as well.

Michael Nabors, Pastor at Detroit’s New Cavalry Baptist Church, says Detroit and the nation need to deal with these issues in the context of larger questions about basic fairness and justice. “It’s not a black and white issue,” Nabors said. “It is a moral issue.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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