Community discusses current affairs at justice forum

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published June 17, 2015

 Chief of Police Eric Hawkins speaks to the audience at the Community Justice Forum.

Chief of Police Eric Hawkins speaks to the audience at the Community Justice Forum.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


SOUTHFIELD — Residents interested in current affairs surrounding the justice system gathered recently for a forum discussion.

Held at 6 p.m. June 10 in the Southfield Public Library auditorium, 26000 Evergreen Road, the Community Justice Forum featured a panel discussion by Chief of Police Eric Hawkins, Judge Shelia Johnson, Magistrate Eman Jajonie-Daman and attorney Saul Green. The discussion was moderated by Mark Lee, president of the Lee Group, a marketing firm. City Council President Sylvia Jordan and Councilwoman Joan Seymour also attended the event.

Lee opened the forum by asking the panel members their thoughts on the current state of affairs in the U.S., and how they would compare that with the current state of affairs in the metro Detroit area.

“There’s a perception that certain groups are being targeted. There’s a perception that there’s insensitivity on the part of law enforcement, and so it really is a tense time,” Hawkins said. “It’s something that concerns me greatly because over the last 20-odd years, the crime rate in this country has dropped dramatically.”

Hawkins said he believes that while the state of the nation is tense concerning the interaction between law enforcement and the public, things in Southfield are improving.

“Our citizens’ complaints are way down, and our compliments are way up. And think about that for a minute. Compliments, formal compliments to the Police Department, are sky high,” Hawkins said.

Johnson also spoke on the tensions between the police and the public, saying that she thinks education is the key to preventing misunderstandings.

“I think as long as people feel they’re comfortable with their officers, and as long as (Hawkins) dictates to his officers to treat people fairly and (the public is) willing to say who they are and what they’re doing, we don’t have to see as much of that problem, but it doesn’t mean we won’t,” Johnson said.

When asked if he thinks metro Detroit, particularly Southfield, is a powder keg waiting to explode regarding the relationship between the justice system and the public, Green said the area could be close to erupting the same way Baltimore has in reaction to the death of Freddie Gray.

“I think any community in this country that has a diverse population — that has an underclass — they are naive if they believe we’re not one or two incidents away from what we’ve seen, unless the officers are being trained in the way that the chief has described,” Green said.

Daman said she does not think the metro Detroit area is close to erupting in tension, and that Michigan could learn from other states.

“The more we see, the more we learn,” Daman said.

There was also an opportunity for audience members to ask questions. They could either ask their question verbally, write it down on a notecard, or use #southfield forum on Twitter to submit their query.

Christian Mays, of Southfield, asked the panel what the current laws are regarding using smartphones to film interactions between the police and public.

Johnson said she doesn’t know of any law prohibiting the filming of officers, unless the filming obstructs the police from doing their job.

“We train our officers to assume they are being recorded,” Hawkins said.