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Grand Rapids City Commission holds meeting on proposed changes to civil rights ordinance

calder plaza in downtown Grand Rapids
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
Calder Plaza in downtown Grand Rapids

Several Grand Rapids residents spoke in favor of proposed changes to a civil rights ordinance at a public meeting Tuesday night.

One change to the ordinance would make it illegal to call the police on people of color when they aren’t doing anything wrong. Doing so would be a misdemeanor if the city adopts the changes.

Kymie Spring, a community organizer with the Creston Neighborhood Association who supports the proposed ordinance changes, says she urges her neighbors to look out for suspicious behavior.

“But we don’t want people to look at someone as the way they look, and then complain to me or the police that they shouldn’t be on their street or on their block,” Spring said.

Spring says she was once called by someone in her neighborhood to deal with two black kids riding bikes in the area.

“If this new ordinance was around then, I would’ve probably had a different response to [the call],” she said.

Neo Walton, an 18-year-old college student in Grand Rapids, says this one piece of the ordinance is important because the police have been called on him while he says he wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Walton says a neighbor called the police on him and his friends while they were playing tag. They were 11 years old at the time.

“It did degrade me and it made me feel worthless at the time. I just didn’t understand why the police should be called on me, only 11, and my friends for playing outside of where we live,” Walton said.

But not everyone who spoke at the hearing supports the ordinance.

Michael Farage, a lifelong resident of Grand Rapids, says the proposed changes and additions to the ordinance are unnecessary.

“I believe the city commission should just enforce the laws that are the books,” Farage said.

Farage says he doesn’t feel like many people would file complaints if the changes are approved.

“I don’t see this as a big problem. I see a lot of angry people talking about it, but not much else,” he said.

The proposed changes would also clarify the process for residents to file civil rights complaints, and outline what might happen after filing. Another proposed change seeks to remove discriminatory housing practices. Violating the ordinance would be punishable by a fine of up to $500 each day the violation continues.

City Manager Mark Washington says the commission could vote on the proposal as early as May 14th.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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