Minni Forman (107)
Aside from community policing and preventative programs, law enforcement officials have offered up a tougher solution to get better a grip on crime in the city.
At a Forum at Wayne State University last week, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Bratton and Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee suggested Michigan adopt sentence enhancements for gang members who commit crimes. The idea is that it will discourage gang-related violence, which is responsible for the high homicide rates in Detroit according to Godbee.
But before we go running to lawmakers to push for these “enhanced” punishments for organized crime, we should look at how Detroit’s criminal landscape differs from California in the late 90’s when Bratton was police chief.
Bratton talked about L.A.’s crime scene in a 2007 NPS interview:
“It's the birthplace of the black gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. It is the historical birthplace of the Latino gangs [and the] Mexican mafia …”
In the late 90’s when Bratton took on the Californian Crips and the Bloods, it was easier to ID gang members. For starters, they wore distinctive colors. The gangs were larger, some spanning an entire city with key signs and symbols that were easier to spot and define.
But Detroit gangs are different. The problem isn’t Crips or Bloods but rather small, wild groups of friends and neighbors who dub themselves according to whatever street they live on. Names like “Fenkell Boys” or “Lafayette Goons” are just neighborhood cliques getting into beef with the gangs or cliques just one street over. These micro gangs are harder to identify.
Detroit City Council Member James Tate, who formerly served as deputy police chief in Detroit, said it is hard to ID gangs in this city:
“Our gangs are really just people who get together and get themselves a name. We have to redefine what we call a gang. They’re not all the same colors or anything like that.”
While crime fighting is tricky, we have to be careful not to be so reactionary and take a closer look at preventative measures. It would take intensive community policing to keep up on all of the city's little crime cliques since they are often remote, smaller than big organized crime circles, and change constantly.
Public-Private Partnerships? There’s a Prop. For That
With all of the ballot proposals cluttering the 2012 ballot in Michigan this year—especially Detroit—we can pick just about any hot political topic and confidently say (much like iPhone applications), “there’s a proposal for that.”
One of the hot-button issues is the public-private partnership. These gray lines between private and public dollars and control have become more common in Detroit as the city struggles to fend off bankruptcy or State management amid a financial crisis.
So as the October 1 deadline to transfer Detroit’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion to a private nonprofit approaches, let’s dig through the pile and see which proposals apply to these.
There is a couple. One of them is Proposal 2, an amendment to the state constitution that would engrave collective bargaining rights into state law. Those way, if a union-run city department gets transferred, guess who has the legal power to stop it?
The other is Proposal P, a Detroit measure that would amend the city charter to allow elected officials and employees to work for a private contractor with the city. In light of recent city hall scandals, the charter was revised to ban such movement, mandating a one-year interim period before a private company contracted by the City can hire for contract a former city employee.
Obviously, Proposal P has its issues. It blurs the line between public and private a little more than it’s already been blurred and without the proper controls could open the floodgates to more corruption, but as the city budget crunches and shifts services into private operations, it’s needed if city employee have any chance of keeping or finding a new job with the city.
Of course, this is creating kickback from unions, but it’s happening: public funds are drying up and services crumbling and private companies and organizations are there to catch them. In a lot of ways it makes sense.
Detroit is the only city in Michigan with health and wellness services on the payroll. Come October, that will change.
"The city has to increase its efficiencies in providing these services, and we've got to do a better job of making sure our citizens get the support services they need," Bing said in a statement.
As far as proposals go, Michigan's Proposal 2 would make such public-private transfers harder on a statewide level and Detroit’s Proposal P would make such city transfers a bit smoother, at least in terms of re-hiring those displaced by the public-private switch.
Detroit’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance Gets Community Review
Urban farming is on the verge of being legalized in Detroit. It’s not backyard gardens that are being addressed in the city’s newly proposed Urban Agricultural Ordinance, but entire lots decked out in vegetable production that have previously been “un-lawful” in the city. Wednesday evening marked the first in a series of three community meetings scheduled to discuss Detroit’s proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance. The ordinance represents years of concerted effort to develop city policy that legalizes and administrates the practice of farming in the city.
For decades, agricultural practice within city limits has been taking place in a gray legal area that has not been formally recognized until recently. The changing the city ordinance is necessary "In order to allow for [farming] to take place legally across the city," said Kathryn Underwood City Planner for the CPC and strong proponent for the legalization of Detroit culture. The event offered attendees visual examples of terms that seek to clarify the ordinance. Terms like “Aquaponics”, “Farm Stand”, “Hoophouse”, and even “Urban Farm” are now getting official legal descriptions and definitions with the city.
Marcell R. Todd, Jr., director of the CPC, detailed the policy process made by people within the Commission, as well as numerous contributors including the Detroit Food Policy Council [http://www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net/], and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development [http://www.michigan.gov/mdard], Underwood introduced the ordinance with a brief history of agriculture in Detroit, highlighting a number of ways that horticulture has played a role in Detroit’s development as far back as the 1700’s, when ribbon farms formed three-mile strips of farmland starting at the Detroit River.
Currently, The Greening of Detroit, an environmental non-profit in the city, helps sponsor the Garden Resource Program [http://detroitagriculture.net/urban-garden-programs/garden-resource-program/] which currently has more than 2,000 family and community gardens registered within Detroit and offers invaluable starters, education and support for gardens of all sizes and farmers of all ambitions. Underwood also discussed the details of the proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance, highlighting the CPC’s recognition of the urban agriculture movement already in progress, the reality of current-day vacant lot percentages, and the potential for Detroit to become a world-leader in its approach to integrating this vital new movement into city policy.
The ordinance itself is concerned solely with the cultivation aspects of agriculture within the city. Future plans to address policy surrounding popular livestock such as chickens, bees, and goats are a separate initiative. Underwood presented critical definitions of the ordinance, clarifying the term “Urban Garden” to comprise an area of up to 1 acre—or approximately 14 city lots—and an “Urban Farm” to be a zoning lot of more than 1 acre. She said this ordinance intends to administrate areas for which cultivation of plants or food crops is the “principal use of land,” unlike a family garden on privately owned property, which is considered a secondary use. Gardens like these are entirely legal under existing city policy.
To view a draft of the proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance here: http://www.detroitfoodpolicycouncil.net/uploads/Urban_Ag_Draft_12Sept12.pdf,
and contribute your thoughts or concerns to the discussion at either at the remaining community meetings:
Central Detroit— Monday, September 24 at 6 pm, Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church – 2080 Grand River/48226 West Detroit—
Tuesday, September 25 at 6 pm, Greater Grace Temple – 23500 W. 7 Mile Rd/48219
Ballot Chameleon: Events Change, Constitutions Don’t
When we go to the polls this fall and we get to the ballot proposal section, we can’t make our decisions solely based on current events.
These constitutional amendments and city charter shifts could hold for decades, through all sorts of conflicts.
In Detroit, there are four ballot proposals for people to decide on in addition to six statewide proposals. These city proposals are mostly clarifications and amendments to the city’s governing document, the charter.
An example of current events affecting city laws came during the charter revision process that started in 2010. People were caught up on the Kilpatrick scandal, they wished, at that time, that the law department had more power over the scandalized mayor.
The decision to give city attorney’s independent power was supposed to provide some sort of insurance to make sure this never happened again.
But that backfired when a new situation arose. The State and the City entered into a consent, or turnaround, agreement and when the city’s top lawyer, using her new found power, tried to stop it, there was nothing the Mayor or the Council could do about it.
Now the question on the ballot is whether the charter says that city lawyers have this power or not. It’s a clarifying question that has been seen through current-event shades.
That goes to show us that the amendments proposed this November can’t be changed on an issue by issue basis. They have to stick through all sorts of police weather and economic shifts. They have to be versatile.
Just because it’s unpopular for a city attorney to have power right now after the Crystal Crittendon consent fiasco, the scene may change next year.
So when we vote on these long-term decisions this on Election Day, we have to keep in mind: things won’t always be like this. These people won’t always be in power. Times change. Are these laws versatile?
Every good story has a bad guy. It keeps people reading. That’s why it’s easier to dish out criticism than praise.
But there are two sides to every story.
Today, instead of criticizing the Governor Snyder or Mayor Dave Bing for not fully communicating with the Detroit City Council before holding a big shiny press conference about a floppy proposal for Belle Isle Park, I’m going to try the tricky side, the perhaps less mainstream, side of this one and support the Council members for opposing this excuse for a proposal.
Yes, the council opposes the Belle Isle deal, but it’s not for crazy, reactionary reasons like many people have assumed. It’s not because of a proposed entrance fee to the island, or because they feel that the state trying to pull some kind of enemy takeover. In fact, they want what we all want for Belle Isle: For it to be a safe, beautiful place for people to go and enjoy the outdoors and other attractions.
It’s being rejected by the Council because the proposal that they were given to vote on is not complete. It is missing large chunks of key information.
Gov. Snyder was right. This isn’t Detroit v. Michigan; it’s Detroit, Michigan.
We’re all in this together. So why hold out of information?
After reading the proposal for Belle Isle (exactly as it was presented to City Council) I understand why the Council members plan to vote it down.
In short, it’s not a proposal at all. A proposal when something is proposed. Specifics are given. Information is shared so that the people deciding on the proposal can vote whether or not it’s a good idea.
One blaring example of this comes at the very beginning where the lease document says it has five exhibits—important, key information about the agreement—attached. However of the exhibits listed on the proposal, only one is actually physically attached to the proposed lease.
“List of Exhibits. The following Exhibits are attached to and made a part of this Lease:
Exhibit A: Legal Description [of property]
Exhibit B: Identification of Roads and Bridges
Exhibit C: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and MDOT
Exhibit D: Memorandum of Understanding between the City and DNR Regarding the
Belle Isle: Greenhouses
Exhibit E: Phased Management Approach of Belle Isle dated July 2012”
On the lease, proposal A, a legal description of Belle Isle, is the only thing that is actually attached. It's the only exhibit the council would have to go by before making a major decision on whether or not to grant Belle Isle to the State of Mcihgian for 30 years (or more).
“This is no way to conduct business,” Councilman James Tate said in a meeting this week regarding the State's proposal. He said he called State officials three times this week seeking the information and had still not received those exhibits of the lease.
Sara Wurfel, a spokeswoman for Snyder told The Detroit News: "it's premature to discuss specifics" :
"Until we have an agreement with the city, we can't do the needed and detailed analysis and structural and cost assessments of the buildings and facilities," she said.
That poses a catch 22: The council can’t, in good faith, agree blindly to something as big as Belle Isle’s management and the state won't fork over details until they have control over the Island.
It's a hot mess, but it doesn't have to be. It's set up so the Council looks they they're the bottle neck to the dealm but the Council shouldn't take the fall for this one. They're not stalling progress like some have opined, rather they are doing their job. That is, to make informed decisions on behalf of the people of Detroit.
Will Detroit grant Belle Isle to the state in a 30-year lease? Possibly. But we need to know what the plan is.
After attending the Kilpatrick jury selection last week I can’t get affirmative action out of my head. I can’t get the racially geared questions out of my head, either. Last week I must have heard the same question asked 50 different ways: “Do you know what affirmative action is? Based on historical events do you understand why African American people would speak in an angry, frustrated way about white people?
If that’s in my head, I can only imagine how these questions have been branded into those who have been sitting in that courtroom for the past two weeks.
But I can’t help but ask myself those questions, over and over. Of course, I understand why black people are frustrated. Of course, I understand what affirmative action is.
But somehow it seems as though there have been so many tidy, sterile ways language has formed around race. Words like affirmative action, African American.
We go about our days and don’t talk about it’s. It’s a taboo topic, an emotional one. But race relations are still strained. Detroit in 2012 is certainly not Jackson Mississippi in the sixties, but it’s not exactly Sesame Street, either.
The worst part is that it seems impossible to pin down exactly what’s wrong. Race-based Discrimination is elusive, hidden and if you talk about it, you’re playing some sort of “race card.”
The fact is, there is no updated language to communicate about race. We’re stuck with terms from a civil rights movement long past.
Activist Jesse Jackson was on to something when he spoke in Detroit last week:
“This is the early morning of a new phase of our struggle. Freedom without equality is freedom to starve. In the business world, we are not playing on an even playing field,” he said.
Jackson is right, in the business world and outside of it, minorities are not playing on an even playing field. But today it’s not as obvious, there’s no easy way to describe what exactly tilts this proverbial playing field. It’s tangled in years of history, in culture, woven discretely into the fabric of society, in laws and knee-jerk thought patters.
The first step to changing is for people of all backgrounds be willing to talk about race first without emotions getting out of hand. There has to be some avenue to disscus race openly and often, and not in an accusitory way, but in one that seeks to truly understand what we mean when we say we aren't on a level playing field. Books have been written about this, great books, but it will have to be through everyday that change comes about.
“This is a very different dimension of our struggle,” Jackson said at a press conference last Thursday. He’s right.
If President Barack Obama wins Michigan in November, it’s likely that Public Act 4 (PA4), the state’s emergency manager law-turned-ballot-proposal, will not.
How are the two related?
A new poll conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for The Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV showed that people who support Obama are generally against the PA4 ballot proposal as it is split over party lines.
“According to the poll, Obama voters oppose the emergency manager law, 61%-29%, […]. Romney supporters are almost mirror opposite, supporting emergency managers, 60%-26%.”
The poll results showed Obama with a significant 10-point lead over Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. That’s not a good sign for the fate of PA4.
But it raises the question: When should we cast party politics aside? If the emergency manager law is really helping repair broken school systems and slashing spending for cities in crisis, then isn’t this an example of when it’s best to cross the isle?
Party politics have a way or dividing people and ideas. But just because you’re a Democrat doesn’t mean you have to vote no on PA4, or vice versa.
Politicians often brag about the times they were willing to work together with both sides to get something done.
This news may present a conundrum for Obama supporters who also strongly support PA4: does one have to choose? The ideals seem polarized.
But they don’t have to be. The problem in this election is that with all of the proposals cluttering the ballot, voters may get tired towards the end and vote along political party lines as a shortcut, or simply not vote at all.
Yes, a Republican a governor introduced PA4. It’s a law that would go hard on unions and easy on public spending. But it's one that is needed in cities and school systems tangles in a financial mess. So on Nov. 6th, we shouldn’t trap ourselves in party zones, even if it makes voting quicker and easier. Voters can work with both sides of the political isle to get things done, too.
As Belle Isle floats on the brink of becoming a state park, it’s clear that there are big changes in store for the island.
One of the major changes will be a steep increase in law enforcement presence on the island not only by Detroit police and state police, but conservation officers working for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) making the island a safer place.
This reminds me of an interesting conversation I overheard between a DNR conservation officer and a man who was trying to sell roses in downtown Detroit at William G. Milliken State (the first ever urban state park in the country).
The officer was politely telling the man that he couldn’t sell stuff on state park ground without a permit. The rose vendor nodded, but before the officer turned to go he was offering flowers again, “for the pretty lady…”.
Then DNR officer firmly ordered the rose peddler out of the park. He obeyed, then asked the officer a key question: “Sir,” he said, “you’re a park ranger. You can’t tell me what to do when I’m not in that park, can you?” The conservation officer then explained the scope of his power: that he, in fact, had the same, if not more, power to enforce state laws than the state police.
“So you could arrest someone?” The rose seller asked. The officer’s answer was an unwavering “yes.”
So as Belle Isle becomes a state park, the public safety will increase just by having Michigan conservation officers on duty. Even though these DNR law enforcement officer’s primary job is to protect natural resources, they have the power to enforce all laws of the State of Michigan including laws for outdoor recreational activities such as off-road vehicle use, snowmobiling, boating, hunting and fishing according to the Michigan DNR website.
In other words, if a DNR conservation officer sees someone speeding, they can issue a traffic ticket even if you are nowhere near a state park.
Michigan Conservation Officers work with all law enforcement agencies including local police departments, sheriff’s departments, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Division.
The bottom line is that it’s important for people to know that state park rangers are law enforcement officers and deserve the same respect and obedience that a police officer does. Belle Isle will be a safer place with these law enforcers on board.
Minni's Morning Coffee: He's Making Me Look Bad:Kilpatrick, Drama, and Black Shame
Somewhere between hard news and nail-biting entertainment, there lies a blurry meshing point: It's there that you will find something called infotainment, a phrase coined in the 1980s that’s perhaps is more relevant today.
This is the age of Google, Reddit and Twitter. News media outlets are increasingly lodged at the mercy of clicks, readership and view numbers than ever before.
And while infotainment is arguably harmless and, in some cases, the only way to get a modern-fasted paced audience to pay attention, it’s a slippery slope.
We’re all guilty of falling for the infotainment trap. Whether it’s a psycho shooter in Colorado, a crazed gunman in West Bloomfield, or the high-profile trial of an infamous ex-mayor, we want to be the first to know.
Why? It’s a train wreck effect, so to speak: Just try to tune out of the sexy, fast paced coverage of the Kwame Kilpatrick corruption trail. Try to focus, instead, on the Detroit Works Project’s large-scale plans to re-zone and redistribute resources to Detroit residents.
Click back to the Kilptarick trial. Wait, that juror said WHAT? OMG, time to follow the Kwame Trail on my Smartphone. And yes, there’s an app for that.
So why do I feel something turn in my stomach whenever I get a glimpse of the Kilpatrick trial coverage? It’s not the infotainment aspect. I love a good news drama, I am a political blogger, hello. And it's not that I think Kilpatrick's actual trial is unjust, but, there’s something different about this.
But it wasn’t until I gave it some serious thought that I figured out what irked me: I’m black. Kilpatrick is black. He’s up there making me look bad, making my sister look bad, making my baby nephew look bad, making some black Joe Shmo in Nigeria look bad. Let’s not forget whose world we live in. Another black man on trial. Another infamous black crook going down in flames to the I-told-you-so of the majority. Oy.
Maybe it’s just in my head. Or it could be that I’m too caught up in my blackness. But as I click on the images chosen again and again for the Kilpatrick trial coverage, I see a black man frozen for eternity with a stupid frown being referred to by is first name even in cases where AP style calls for a surname.
I can’t look away, but I think I just hurled in my mouth a little bit.
If six statewide ballot proposals weren’t enough, Detroit just upped the ante.
Last Friday Detroit City Council voted to override Gov. Rick Snyder and add three controversial amendments—proposals C, G and P—to the city charter on the November ballot. That’s not counting proposal E—one involving petition signatures—that both Snyder and the Council agreed upon.
That means on Nov. 6th, Detroiters will face 10 ballot proposals after voting for president and other public offices.
Perhaps the most troubling of the four proposals are G and P. Proposal G would amend the city charter to allow elected officials and city employees to accept gifts while conducting official city business.
Proposal P would take away the city law that forbids former city officials and employees from entering into contracts with the city for one year after they leave their post.
Aren’t questionable gifts and conflicts of interest the reason the city is undergoing a federal corruption probe?
Just ask former City Councilwoman Monica Conyers.
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