Harper Woods City Council OKs resolution supporting social justice

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published November 18, 2020

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HARPER WOODS — At its regular meeting Oct. 19, the Harper Woods City Council voted unanimously to approve its Resolution in Support of Transformative and Restorative Justice.

The resolution officially states the intention of the council to promote inclusion and diversity within the community, and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, dismantling and addressing racism and how it affects health, education, human services, social services and economic development in the city’s Public Safety Department, court and government as a whole.

“I want people to know that we really want to bring our community together and to be one that we can all be proud of,” said Councilwoman Vivian Sawicki. “Anyone in Harper Woods, no matter their color or ethnicity or religion or who they love, is valued. We want to commit ourselves to having programs to educate each other and get to know each other. Fear happens when people are uneducated and when they don’t know their neighbors. There’s a fear that builds up and we need to break that down.”

Sawicki helped create the resolution alongside the other council members, particularly Ernestine Lyons, Veronica Paiz and Mayor Valerie Kindle.

Lyons said such a resolution and a focus on racial justice is something that many communities, including Harper Woods, have needed for a long while.

“It has been long overdue that the city has a commitment to anti-racism and having open discussions on biases and systemic injustice that run deep in our society,” she wrote in an email. “The Coronavirus has writ large the need to address health injustices, economic injustice, and strive to be the best version of ourselves. Creating a community built on civility, community and empathy.”

Sawicki also stressed how the COVID-19 pandemic has made the search for understanding and connection more difficult.

“Right now we are facing COVID. We have close to 400 people in our community who have contracted the disease and 36 people who have died here in Harper Woods,” Sawicki said. “That creates distance between people and that makes issues that separate people even wider. That makes breaking down these barriers even more important.”

She went on to say that this measure has been in the works for several months.

“We had talked about it for some time,” Sawicki said. “The original document we came up with earlier this year we put on hold with all of the uproar that took place in the community, and finally it was Ms. Lyons that brought it back to our attention. When we sat down to work on it, it was exciting to work on it together. We all came together as a team to put something together and let the community know we believe in racial justice. We want to support our whole community. It was obviously inspired by Black Lives Matter and the injustice we have been seeing throughout the country. We wanted to show that we are opposed to any type of injustice, and this includes agism or against those who speak foreign languages or those who are part of the LGBT community. We want people to know they can count on us to stand for them.”

Topics of racial justice in particular have been on the minds of many in the community, including the City Council, since the death of African American Harper Woods resident Priscilla Slater when she was discovered dead while in the custody of the city’s Department of Public Safety in June.

Slater’s death was later determined to have been caused by an undetermined cardiac problem. Two Department of Public Safety officers were later fired for having altered the report regarding her death, according to the city, but one of them is suing the city for wrongful termination.

“The tragedy that took place in our community regarding Priscilla Slater left us all shaken,” Sawicki said. “It’s something we have to work through and we need to ensure people know this isn’t something their public officials accept. I don’t want anyone in this community to think we’re not trying to get something done.”

“There has been much upheaval in our country and indeed our city this past summer,” said Lyons. “The difficult things we face will not go away by failing to acknowledge that there is work to be done, we have to take a deep introspective look inside and be strong enough to make goals and set plans to tackle our problems head-on.”

Both council members said that, more than anything, they hope this document will encourage members of the community to get more involved in their local government and discuss issues of social justice with community leaders so action can be taken to address them.

“This is an important step to getting more unity in this community,” said Sawicki. “I hope this makes people aware that they can talk to their council members and talk about things like this.”