Attention Readers: We're Back
C&G Newspapers is pleased to have resumed publication. For the time being, our papers will publish on a biweekly basis as we work toward our return to weekly papers. In between issues, and anytime, continue to find local news on our website and look for us on Facebook and Twitter.

Council members reflect on Black Lives Matter movement

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published June 19, 2020

Advertisement

MADISON HEIGHTS/HAZEL PARK — The Black Lives Matter movement has taken the world by storm in the wake of George Floyd’s death, raising awareness for the hardships minorities suffer at the hands of police. The movement has challenged white people to recognize their privilege and has compelled those in power to correct systemic racism in law enforcement.

As protests continued to unfurl across the country mid-June, city officials in Madison Heights and Hazel Park expressed general optimism that their communities were ahead of the curve when it comes to a progressive approach to policing. The Madison-Park News reached out via email to every member of council in both cities. Here is what the ones who responded had to say:
    

Andy LeCureaux
Hazel Park City Council

LeCureaux has been a member of the Michigan Black Caucus of Elected Officials since 2002. The group works on various initiatives such as fundraising for scholarships for Students of Color, as well as educational programs on diversity and inclusiveness.

In addition, LeCureaux has also served with the Michigan Municipal League. At one point, he was one of three trustees in the running to be president. Of those three, two were white men older than 50 — LeCureaux being one of them — and the other was a black woman.

“How cool would it have been, for me and Hazel Park, to be the president of an organization that I believe in and supported? But instead, I decided it was time for the league to have its first black female president,” LeCureaux said. “I withdrew my name from consideration for the position and put my support behind (the black female candidate), Brenda Moore. She is the current president of the MML.”

LeCureaux said it’s important for people of color to have opportunities in leadership roles in order to create a better society for all. He got involved in the Michigan Black Caucus of Elected Officials to better understand the situation.

“I felt that, since I had three stepchildren of mixed ethnicity and Hazel Park has a diverse population, it was my responsibility to educate myself on the issues of racial discrimination and the government’s role in perpetuating these practices,” LeCureaux said. “I wanted to make a change for the betterment of all. My heart aches for the heartbreak these families are going through (losing loved ones to police).”

He said his city of Hazel Park has been trying to diversify its police ranks while prioritizing deescalation over violent confrontation, “to ensure this kind of situation (seen in Minneapolis) doesn’t ever happen in Hazel Park.”

He said the issue makes him emotional.

“I get choked up trying to get my thoughts about this in print,” LeCureaux said, before adding, “It’s not gonna change until white folks decide enough is enough!”  


David Soltis
Madison Heights City Council

Soltis said he doesn’t see an urgent need for police reform in his own community. He said he has faith in the judgement of the officers.

“Our officers are not like those other officers,” Soltis said, referring to the four officers in Minneapolis who participated in the death of Floyd. “Our officers are awarded commendations for saving lives. Our officers have pretty much eradicated human trafficking in our city.

“This defunding police is the wrong policy for this problem,” he continued, when asked about other communities in other states that have considered diverting funds away from police or even abolishing the police altogether. “We put our faith in our chief of police, Corey Haines, who has done an outstanding job. If a problem were to develop (with racial profiling or police brutality), I have faith that he would rectify it immediately.”

    
Mark Bliss
Madison Heights City Council

Bliss said that the city’s chief has already taken “some thoughtful steps” that include speaking with attendees at a protest outside the Police Department and compiling an extensive FAQ that addresses resident concerns about policing, available on the city’s website, madison-heights.org, including steps the city has already taken and additional steps being taken to modernize the department in the future.

“I’m proud of where our department is at today, and I’m incredibly excited about where we’re going with the addition of body cameras this year,” Bliss said. “Also, I have called for the creation of a new task force that will help us find ways to make the community an even larger part of our approach to law enforcement.

“America’s eyes are open (to this issue). Our children are watching,” he said. “Now is the time to move past simply acknowledging the issues that plague our country and to be the change we want to see in the world.”


Roslyn Grafstein
Madison Heights Mayor Pro Tem

Grafstein said open communication and anti-racism education are needed. She also wants Madison Heights to recognize “Juneteenth” going forward — the day celebrating when emancipation finally reached the last confederate state on June 19, 1865.

“I reached out to Ferndale council member Raylon Leaks-May about setting up some type of coalition aimed at addressing systemic racism and hate based on skin color, religion or culture. It was just one conversation, but she is supportive and we are going to reach out to other leaders in the area to set up a brainstorming meeting to get things started,” Grafstein said. “We should not be looking to solve this in our bubble of Madison Heights — we need to expand and collaborate with our neighboring communities. While we may have a mainly white population, we need to show that we support and value the diversity of all our current and future residents.”


Kymm Clark
Madison Heights City Council

While she hasn’t observed any police brutality in the community firsthand, Clark said that if anyone has had problems with the police officers there, they should contact her.

“I would love to listen to their concerns and address them. For us, I think it is important to first listen to our black community and follow their lead as to what they think we can do to help make our city a safer place to live, work and play,” Clark said. “We need legislation to be representative of our growing diverse community and for elected officials to be working towards the goal of improving our community by addressing the crater-sized disparities in our current social contract.

“Lastly, our registered voters need to turn out in numbers so that they can impact the policies out in place to shape their community,” Clark added. “The younger voters in this city are highly unrepresented at the polls.”

She said that police brutality is just one symptom of a larger problem — systemic racism — and there are other ways in which minorities are held back. Clark said she wants leaders at all levels of government to look at things such as the criminal justice system, education, healthcare reform, secure housing for the homeless, economic opportunities for all, and supporting minorities who wish to run for office or vote.

“Real change happens on a local level,” Clark said. “When we bolster our infrastructure to prevent our neighbors from falling through the cracks, we build a stronger community that is safe for everyone to live.”


Amy Aubry
Hazel Park City Council

Aubry noted that several years ago, Hazel Park police began wearing body cameras. These not only encourage police officers to remain on their best behavior, but should someone accuse them of something and they didn’t do anything wrong, the footage will also clear their name.

“The cameras were not brought about as a response to misconduct by our officers, but proactively,” Aubry said. “Speaking with several officers, they said they welcomed the cameras. Body cameras are seen as a best practice and a layer of accountability.”

Aubry noted that her colleague on City Council, Alissa Sullivan, is working with Hazel Park Police Chief Brian Buchholz on reforms and best practices for keeping community members safe when dealing with the police.

“I look forward to seeing those outcomes,” Aubry said. “One thing I do support is open background and personnel files to allow an applicant agency access to information that could show if there’s a negative history tied to an officer applying to work in our community. This increased transparency allows us to make informed decisions when hiring a new officer.”


Emily Rohrbach
Madison Heights City Council

“Let me begin by saying … I support the Black Lives Matter movement,” Rohrbach said. “No one should have to face undue scrutiny and violence because of the color of their skin.”

At the same time, “I am proud of our Police Department and the proactive approach to reform that our police chief has been acting on for several years now,” she said, pointing to the list of reforms that have been implemented in recent years, available at the city’s website.

“As the council representative on the Crime Commission and the Multi-Cultural Relations Board, I’m especially interested in re-envisioning those groups into a commission that has a greater focus on community oversight, community relations, racial relations and diversity,” she said. “Staff are working on a proposal now, and I hope to have some action there in the next few weeks.”

    
Alissa Sullivan
Hazel Park Mayor Pro Tem

Sullivan noted that the Hazel Park Police recently completed de-escalation training, just prior to Floyd’s death. The training includes ongoing education.

“Our chief has spoken openly about the inexcusable actions taken by those officers, as well,” Sullivan said. “Our officers do have body cameras — City Council approved those last year. We are currently looking at other policies that could be improved, as well. … Our biggest goal is to make sure that we are always following best practices to protect our residents, people who travel to and through our community, as well as our first responders.

“Our chief is very proactive when seeking training and continuing education,” Sullivan said. “He’s also very open to discussion and ideas on how to improve our officers’ safe interactions with residents and other people they come in contact with during their work.”

Advertisement