Photo by Franz Knight
Photo by Franz Knight

Here are the strategies Michigan police use — and will start using — to prevent police brutality.

KALAMAZOO, MI — On the west side of Michigan Tuesday, police officers were encouraged to walk with protesters. Kalamazoo Gazette reports tear gas was used by police instead. 

“We’re obviously in crazy times,” Shannon Sykes-Nehring, an anti-racism facilitator from the Kalamazoo area told The ‘Gander. “I think right now is a time for police departments to simply stand down. I believe it’s time for them to stand down, humble themselves and await further instructions from the actual communities who are being policed.”

READ: The George Floyd Protests Are Grimly Familiar — But They’re Also Different

As police departments around the nation respond to the killing of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died when an officer knelt on his throat for nearly nine minutes, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is calling on the Michigan State Police to help ensure that no one else dies at the hands of systematic police brutality. 

That’s being done through new and existing policies that keep healthy ties between police departments and their communities, she explained. 

In Michigan, official policing strategies include setting representation goals for women and communities of color, creating a Equity and Inclusion Officer position, and establishing community service trooper positions, according to Gov. Whitmer and police officials like Col. Joe Gasper, director of the Michigan State Police. 

“The role and responsibility of police officers in our society is a great one; one in which our authority is derived from the trust and support of the people we serve,” Gasper said. 

While rubber bullets and tear gas have been deployed at the direction of President Trump to “dominate” protesters, in Detroit the police chief is decrying curfew and not standing in the way of demonstrators marching for justice. In what protesters called a “Victory March,” Wednesday’s Detroit  protests amounted to some of the most impactful and organized demonstrations Michigan has recently seen.

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Policing Responsibly

Michigan’s most recent case of death stemming from police brutality occurred last summer when 15-year-old Damon Grimes died after crashing his ATV into a parked pickup truck while state troopers pursued him. Michigan State Trooper Mark Bessner was charged with second-degree murder for reportedly deploying his taser out the window of his patrol vehicle during the chase, hitting Grimes before his deadly crash. Bessner, who resigned following the incident, is presently serving a 5-15 year prison sentence, reports the Detroit Free Press.

The state police now limit cases where officers engage in vehicle pursuits. 

The state police are also working to improve transparency with the community, officials said. Part of that transparency is a new web portal for Freedom of Information Act requests, which guarantees that public information — police reports, for example — are accessible. All department policies that are not confidential are also posted online for the community to browse. This ensures the public has access to information relating to how their communities are policed by state troopers.

The state also engages in community policing programs designed to foster ties between the state police and various communities in which they operate through community events. The community service troopers would be charged with helping to institute community policing across the state, Whitmer said.

“Our members take an oath to protect and serve all people, and in this time, we cannot stand on the outside looking in,” said Gasper. “We must listen and take action, reviewing our policies and practices to work together to pave a path forward where everyone has a voice and all are treated equally as human beings.”

These policies were in place prior to Wednesday’s announcement of new police procedures Whitmer wanted to institute in the wake of Floyd’s death and mass demonstrations.

SEE: ‘Walk With Us’: Michigan Showed Police Across the Country How They Should Be Treating Protesters 

Imperfect Pieces of a Greater Plan

Though the state police has set a goal of 25% applicants of color and 20% women applicants in their hiring process by the year 2020, Michigan Advance notes that diversity goals for representation among its applicants hasn’t yet translated to a diverse police force, despite being a goal for Michigan. By having police more accurately represent the diversity of their communities, the state police hopes to foster trust between its troopers and those communities. 

There are other flaws in the state police’s approach as well, said Sykes-Nehring, but by implementing these policies in smart ways they can be strengthened. 

“There is some form of implicit bias training or something of the sort that departments across the country are already using that are frankly ineffective,” she said. “But do they need implicit bias training? Absolutely they do.”

Sykes-Nehring, who is a partner at women-run anti-racism program Truth and Titus and helps run programs like implicit bias training tailored to specific groups and communities, also suggested that police be from the area they serve and be subject to oversight from members of that community. 

“Frankly, no human being from outside a community should be policing a community that they’re not in,” she said. “I also don’t buy that you can do community policing and have officers hold special events to build relationships and somehow that takes away the danger of implicit bias.”

Such approaches to resolving the tensions between police and their communities are, on their own, not a vaccine against police violence. But they form part of a broader strategy when taken alongside other proposals from various leaders, including new reforms called for by Whitmer and the greater accountability that Michigan’s conservative Trump critic Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) is calling for.

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“We recognize the shortcomings of the systems in place today — systems that have left Black, Latino and other communities of color feeling underserved, even threatened by law enforcement,” said Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist. “People across Michigan have been calling for changes to police practices, and these actions are clear steps in the direction of needed reform.”

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green, State Sen. and Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Chair Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) and Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington also commented on the state of Michigan policing in light of the tragedy as part of Whitmer’s statement. 

“Out of the fractured sadness, despair and widespread anger at the tragic murder of George Floyd has arisen a powerful, united voice,” said Gay-Dagnogo. “We know that we can do anything when we do it together, so let’s keep talking and moving the arc to bend toward justice because the world is listening.”

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