STATEMENT FROM THE GROSSE POINTES & HARPER WOODS NAACP BRANCH ON POLICE HIRING PRACTICES & ON POLICE RESPONSE TO COMPLAINTS BY CITIZENS OF COLOR
On February 15, 2021, an African American resident of Grosse Pointe Park discovered her neighbor had displayed a KKK flag in a side window facing her home. As this disturbing, long-time symbol of racial hatred has no place in our country, the event elicited a prompt and strong public response from both individuals and organizations in the community. While the complaint has rightly been sent to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office for consideration of ethnic intimidation charges, Prosecutor Worthy found that, “After a thorough review of the facts and evidence in this case it has been determined that there is insufficient evidence to charge Ethnic Intimidation or any other charge.” While the hateful and offensive display has since been taken down from the window, facts surrounding law enforcement’s handling of this case, and of previous complaints, continue to emerge and highlight inequities and insensitivities on the part of the Grosse Pointe Park Department of Public Safety.
When the African American resident complained a few years back that the same neighbor was firing a gun into the air from his back deck, in a neighborhood where homes are too close to one another to accommodate a driveway, her initial complaint was dismissed by the dispatcher without investigation. When the complaint was corroborated by neighbors, public safety sent officers to the offender’s home. Still, despite violation of at least three city ordinances,* no further investigation or enforcement action resulted.
Despite multiple neighbors having called in complaints about this neighbor for a variety of issues, he had yet to face any enforcement consequences, that GPHW NAACP is aware of, by public safety officials.
According to the victim, when she complained approximately five weeks ago of cans containing gasoline having been disposed of alongside her home and in her covered outdoor recycling bin, officers went to her home but again opted not to take further action on her complaint despite the neighbor’s known history, despite a matching can in his yard, and despite at least two city and one state ordinance violations.** The victim was instructed by public safety officers to mount a camera to monitor the common space between the homes, where a trespasser would walk to access her property.
There was no attempt by Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety to gather fingerprint evidence, or to call a fire marshal to review the safety hazard, and there was no indication that officers had considered a potential connection to racial intimidation. This left the victim feeling unsettled and unsafe.
In the aftermath of the neighbor hanging the hateful KKK flag in the window, public safety responded to calls from the media. The victim and the public were initially told that public safety was unable to contact the neighbor, yet officers later indicated that the neighbor explained away the use of the KKK flag as a means to block the view into their home, as they ironically considered themselves to be non-confrontational. Interim Public Safety Director Lt. Jim Bostock was quoted in the media as stating the neighbor “probably had just had enough … (and he) made this poor decision by putting this flag up,” validating and sympathizing with the neighbor. Further, rather than questioning the neighbor regarding their intention to threaten by using a KKK flag to block their window from the camera's view, public safety officials have since indicated they aided the neighbor by purchasing and delivering a window covering for their home. It is unclear why the resident was not asked to use something they had on hand, rather than public safety officers taking it upon themselves to ease the offender’s burden. In not allowing the burden of decency and correction to fall on the neighbor responsible for violations, public safety officials favored a de-escalation of citizen protest, over addressing the underlying and more serious problem. In assisting the aggressor, rather than the victim, the Grosse Pointe Park Department of Public Safety again exhibited an insensitivity to the issues at hand.
Although local municipal and public safety leaders rightly express the importance of emotional intelligence, sensitivity training, and victim-centered response, there remains a struggle to implement these ideals when responding to calls by residents of color.
It is the belief of the Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP that:
1. Municipal leaders and public safety departments, including those of Grosse Pointe Park, must convey this shared message to the citizens they serve.
2. Racial profiling routinely puts people of color before the law at higher rates than whites.
3. This case is an example also highlighting how acts by white citizens may be overlooked when complaints are made by residents of color. Public safety departments must enforce
the law equally and fairly when the complainant is a person of color, and the aggressor is white.
4. All residents have the right to look to public safety with confidence that their concerns, particularly with respect to issues of safety, will be handled respectfully and appropriately, and that skin color will not play a role in appropriate law enforcement.
5. Local municipalities must reflect and act on the lack of transparency and citizen involvement in their department of public safety hiring practices.
6. Local municipalities must encourage diversity in public safety candidates without discouraging those who are not yet cross-certified in police/fire and EMT service. They must publicize that they will provide cross-training to qualified candidates, rather than allowing cross-training certification to deter qualified candidates.
7. Local municipalities must pass an ordinance against hate intimidation, serving as clear policy for appropriate public safety response to such complaints.
Grosse Pointe Park and its City Manager, Nick Sizeland, can begin to implement these changes today. They have the opportunity, right now, to set an example and to show their sincerity in this shared message through their current selection process for the new Grosse Pointe Park Public Safety Director. They must allow transparency for this selection process to ensure the new Director is educated in leading on issues of racial diversity, equity and inclusion in public safety, and to ensure that the new director will grow the Department of Public Safety into an organization that is as diverse as the population it serves. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said here in Grosse Pointe on March 14, 1968, “The time is always right to do right.”
The Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP will prepare a statement addressing the urgent need for work with legislators to amend the Michigan Ethnic Intimidation Statute.
Time is up for perpetuation of a status quo that does not serve all equally. Perception of injustice is often more than an appearance; oftentimes, it is reality. Members of the Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP Branch, representing the five Grosse Pointes, Harper Woods, and Eastpointe, demand that public safety departments look like the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. We need all public safety departments to take all threats of ethnic intimidation and domestic terrorism against citizens more seriously. We need public safety departments to take citizens of color seriously. We can and must do better for all people, of all racial backgrounds living and working in the five Pointes and the surrounding communities. Hate and a casual attitude towards acts of hatred against African Americans and people of color must stop NOW!
* Preliminary List of Ordinance Violations Relevant to Firing Gun
● Sec. 16-97. Responsibility for Disorderly Premises. No person shall permit or suffer any place occupied or controlled by him to be a resort of noisy, boisterous or disorderly persons. (Code 1957, §9.41)
● Sec. 16-137. Discharge of Weapons. No person shall discharge any firearm, air rifle or air pistol, bow and arrow, or sling shot in the City. (Code 1957, §9.41)
● Sec. 16-143. Burden of Proof, Negation of Exemption, Exception or Authorization. (a) In any prosecution for violation of this division, … [the] burden of proof of any exemption, exception or authorization is upon the person claiming it. .... (Ord. No. 52, § 1, 4-1-72).
** Preliminary List of Ordinance Violations Relevant to Gas Can Incidents
● GPP Sec. 12-12. Littering. No person shall, without the lawful consent of the ..... owner of private property, dump, deposit, piece through, or leave or cause or permit the dumping, depositing, placing, throwing, or leaving of, litter on any public or private property .... other than property lawfully designated and set aside for such purposes. The phrase “public or private property or waters” includes, but is not limited to, .... any residential properties.
The term “litter” as used herein means all rubbish, refuse, waste material, garbage, offal, paper, glass, cans, bottles, trash, debris or other foreign substances of every kind and description. (Ord. No. 48, § 1, 3-1-72) State law reference-Littering, MCL §752.901, MSA
● GPP Sec. 16-66. Trespass Without Lawful Authority. No person shall willfully enter upon the lands or premises of another without lawful authority, nor shall any person being upon the land or premises of another without lawful authority, neglect or refuse to depart therefrom upon being notified to depart by the owner or occupant, or the agent or servant of either. (Ord. No. 109, § 2, 11-5-84)
● State of Michigan Fire Prevention Code (EXCERPT) - Act 207 of 1941, 29.5 Hazardous materials or other substances.
Sec. 5. - Hazardous materials or other substances, including alcohol, gunpowder,
dynamite, crude petroleum or any of its products, fuel oils, pyroxylin, combustible finishes, and other commodities of a similar nature or quality shall be manufactured, kept or stored, sold, transported, or otherwise handled or disposed of in a manner and by a method as not to constitute a fire hazard or a menace to the public peace, health, or safety, or to endanger or cause loss, injury, or damage to persons or property.
Cynthia M. Douglas, President
Submitted: March 7, 2021