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On the anniversary of George Floyd's death, activists call for Dearborn to defund police

Beenish Ahmed
Michigan Radio

Members of the Dearborn City Council declined to address concerns about policing from a local Black Lives Matter organization at a meeting that coincided with the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd on Tuesday.

City Council members did raise their concern for another timely issue, however. After going through the slate of resolutions, President Susan Dabaja, a candidate for mayor of Dearborn who has been endorsed by the city's police union, voiced her concern over the Israeli military action in Gaza. 

“I know this body does not typically get involved in foreign affairs or foreign policy, but I feel compelled to address the dire situation in Palestine which hits so close to home for many of our residents who have roots there or family members there,” Dabaja said. "The Palestinian people, like all people, have a right to exist in peace in prosperity, free from occupation, free from persecution."

Two fellow City Council members, Michael Sareini and Erin Byrnes, shared similar sentiments. 

During the public comment period that followed those remarks, several Dearborn residents involved with the advocacy organization Accountability for Dearborn called the members’ concern over Palestine “hypocritical,” and called out the governing body for what they see as inaction from the body on addressing their appeals for police reform. 

“The irony of it” one person said in public comments, “is that every single word you said [about Palestine] applies to Black people here in Dearborn. We are constantly policing them. Black people deserve to have peace.” 

Accountability for Dearborn has been calling for the city to reduce the budget for Dearborn police, and address what it sees as the disproportionately high number of tickets issued to Black drivers in the city. A public records request made by the group found that Black people received nearly half of all citations issued by Dearborn police, even though only about 3 percent of city residents are Black, according to Census information. 

When asked about these metrics, Police Chief Ronald Haddad, who attended the City Council meeting, said the analysis should not be based on the demographics of Dearborn, but rather consider all those who drive through the city. 

“We’ve conducted a lot of studies and the driving population is a lot different than the living population,” he said. “So it’s a lot more complicated than people think.” 

Haddad said that he would welcome a conversation about “improving” policing. When asked what improvements he would like to see, Haddad, who has headed Dearborn Police since 2008 said, “Making sure everybody feels that they have equal justice” — something that he characterized as “a tall order.” 

Some of the Black Lives Matter activists called for reducing the police budget to increase support for social services, making specific appeals for added mental health support to reduce police responses to people in crisis. The activists made repeated mention of two unarmed Black people who were killed by Dearborn police during mental health calls in 2015 and 2016. 

The Wayne County prosecutor did not bring charges against the officers involved in either case, and the families of the victims, Kevin Matthews and Janet Wilson, each settled with the city for $1.25 million dollars.

Dabaja, the City Council president, called out those who described the killings as “murder,” noting that that characterization amounted to “slander,” since the officers involved were not found guilty of murder. The officer who fatally shot Matthews took his own life in 2020.

In an interview with Michigan Radio following the meeting, Councilwoman Byrnes said she has been speaking with Chief Haddad and fellow members of City Council about creating an unarmed mental health response team. “I think it’s something we need to do, and we’ve seen other cities across the city do it and do it well.”   

When asked if she felt that the city of Dearborn had done enough to address concerns about police raised in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis she said, “Quite frankly, we have not done enough in the past year." 

“I can tell you that we’re having the conversations and we’re laying the foundation [but] it does take longer than most of us would like,” she said, noting that while City Council members did not directly respond to the appeals made in public comments at the meeting on Tuesday, they are taking into consideration the concerns raised around policing as they work with local partners to finalize a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. 

A public hearing for the proposed budget in Dearborn is scheduled for Wednesday night. 

Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Public's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.