Grand Rapids considers law criminalizing 911 calls on people of color 'living their lives'

GENESEE COUNTY (WJRT)- (04/22/19)- Waiting for a friend at Starbucks, staying at an air b&b rental, napping in a university common room, moving into an apartment.

These are all situations in which police were called on people of color in the past year.

Officials in Grand Rapids are looking to pass an ordinance that would make it a criminal misdemeanor to racially profile people of color for "participating in their lives."

"It's obviously two-fold at best."

Jeffery Hawkins is the pastor of Prince of Peace Baptist church in Flint.

He is also a longtime community activist, working with many organizations, including law enforcement to make the Vehicle City a safe environment for everyone.

He says having laws in place to prevent this type of racial profiling is a start.

"One, it is good that they are recognizing that this has been an issue that we've seen pretty much all over the country. And so for them to step up and say, you know what, this won't be allowed, and for that we will take legal action. That's a great thing. But the other part about that is, in 2019, why do we even have such a law? That shows us that there is obviously still some much racial healing that has to been done, " Hawkins said.

The ordinance suggests people "check their biases" before calling police.

Hawkins says it should include those responding to the calls.

"Not only check their biases, but I think there's obviously going to have to be some diversity training even with 911, there's a long list. Even with law enforcement departments . There has to be some further diversity training to deal with these things," Hawkins said

A violation of the ordinance would be punishable by up to a $500 fine per day that the violation occurs.

Cases would be prosecuted by the city attorney's office.

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says these types of cases though, could be difficult to prosecute.

"Because you almost have to get into the mindset of the individual who made the 911 call or made the report to the police. and you would have to be able to show the implicit bias in that person at the time they were making the call, " said Genesee County Prosecutor, David Leyton.

Hawkins says he can't recall an incident like this happening here, but says he believes local law enforcement is prepared to handle one appropriately.

"I've had the pleasure of working with Genesee County Sheriff's department where I trained the entire sheriff department on diversity and with Sheriff Pickel and Under Sheriff Chris Swanson, they are so adamant about making sure everybody gets treated equal," Hawkins said.

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