Friday, July 22, 2016


The people came: The people spoke, and the people were angry and frustrated at the Town Hall Meeting Policing and Community Relations Thursday at Eastern Michigan University, and for good reason. The event was held at the EMU Student Center Ballroom and featured a panel discussion with the community moderated by WEMU News Director David Fair and All Things Considered host Lisa Barry. The panelists consisted of U.S. Congress Woman, Debbie Dingell, BlacK Lives Matter organizer, Myles McGuire, Washtenaw County Sheriff, Jerry Clayton, Michigan ACLU Racial Justice Project, Mark Francher, and Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Brian Mackie.

The room was packed and the mood of many in the crowd was understandably angry in light of the recent police killings of black men who were guilty of nothing. The frustration and anger of those in attendance was represented in the lengthy questions and answers session moderated by David Fair in which those in the audience directed questions to the panelists. Many in the audience, as well as those asking questions, reflected anger and frustration with law enforcement in Washtenaw County. This anger and frustration is a reflection not only of the fear and frustration black people have in the county regarding cops, but also in the country as a whole.

Many people who directed questions toward panelists spoke of their own personal negative experiences they have had as black people with local law enforcement. One man who said he moved to Washtenaw County with his wife from Africa recently stated that he and his wife are living in fear of the police in the United States. A young black women who is a EMU student from my hometown of Flint talked of her palpable fear of the police and asked Sheriff Clayton what she should do if pulled over by the police. One of the statements he made in his response to her was not to make any sudden moves.

At one point during the Q&A a Native American man spoke of how he has been mistreated over the years by local law enforcement. In fielding his complaint Debbie Dingell did in my opinion appear to be agitated in her somewhat terse response to this man. Sure enough, a moment later the man asked Dingell meekly. "Are you angry with me." For the life of me she did seem aggravated with him in her response though I cannot figure out why. Later Dingell did say how she was upset by the way he was treated.

There were also several low points as far as Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Brian Mackie goes. Umm, lets just say that many in the audience did not like him, and I can see why as he was dismissive and insensitive to the grievances aired by several black citizens asking questions. In my opinion all had very legitimate issues in so far as how they feel they have been treated by law enforcement. Also, after a young woman asked Mackie a question regarding police tactics in dealing with people suffering from mental illness, Mackie actually told her that her question was "ridiculous." Wow. What an appalling thing for him to say to the young woman.

Washtenaw County Sheriff Clayton spoke eloquently about his feelings that all cops should not be categorized and negatively stereotyped as bad guys. He feels, and I'm para phrasing, that those cops who are acting badly should be held accountable.

The fact that a Town Hall Meeting was held discussing policing and the community is a good thing. It is good that people, primarily in the black community, were given a platform to talk about their feelings about policing in their community, It was also clear that panelists Debbie Dingell and Sheriff Jerry Clayton had their hearts in the right place and are concerned about law enforcement community relations issues with the public, but I'm not sure how effective the event was in reassuring a black community angry and frustrated with law enforcement.

Further, I would like to say that as a Black Lives Matter supporter, how impressive Black Lives Matter Activist Myles McGuire was Thursday. Also, Mark Francher of the Michigan ACLU brought much wisdom and advice to the event and to the local Black Lives Matter Movement as in when he said, "We must keep on fighting as black people. There is no room for fear."

Jeff Brown
Purple Walrus Press.
Town Hall EMU Student Center. Photo Purple Walrus Press.

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