Happy March from the Detroit Justice Center!
The Detroit Justice Center will be moving into our new headquarters in The LOVE Building later this year, and we got to tour our new office recently. We can’t wait to welcome our clients and whole community into this space this fall, and to share a home with Detroit Disability Power, Detroit Community Technology Project, Allied Media Projects, Detroit Narrative Agency, and Paradise Natural Foods. The space is designed to amplify social justice organizing, nurture creativity, and provide a community space that’s inspiring and accessible. It’ll include computer and printing stations for neighborhood residents, a multi-purpose community event space for film screenings, meetings, and dance classes, a childcare space, a lactation room, and more. Stay tuned for more details on this project!
What’s Happening at DJC?
Our team has continued to expand conversations about community safety and to amplify community efforts to make communities safe without policing and incarceration. As our Managing Policy Counsel Erin Keith told WDET last month, “You don’t have to hate police or think they’re all bad to want more for our city, and to want to divest from carceral structures to invest in communities.”
Our Executive Director Amanda Alexander penned a piece for the Boston Review alongside Danielle Sered. They wrote: “Many people have continued to debate the semantics and political palatability of ‘defund the police,’ too often at the expense of answering the real question the movement poses: what will keep people safe? And will we, as a country, choose to invest our resources accordingly? The increase in lethal violence over the past year makes these questions even more urgent. And police are still not the answer… In cities and towns across the country, people have produced safety in ways the criminal punishment system has not and cannot.”
We are holding robust conversations about safety in the Divest-Invest Coalition and the Metro Detroit Restorative Justice Network (MDRJN), two programs of our Just Cities Lab. For those of you in Detroit, we invite you to join the conversation by taking our “Community Insights on Safety, Accountability, and Resources” survey, created by the MDRJN.
We closed out 2021 by filing a lawsuit, in partnership with Detroit Will Breathe and Detroit Eviction Defense, against multiple Detroit police officers, the City of Detroit, and a local landlord. The suit alleged that the police and the landlord illegally evicted a young woman named Whitney Burney and her children from their home. The Complaint, filed in Wayne County Circuit Court on December 9, claimed that the City of Detroit and its police department’s own policies and practices caused the incident and others like it to occur.
“This is not a case of a few bad apples,” our staff attorney Joe McGuire stated. “The City of Detroit and its police department have had a longstanding problem with officers conducting illegal evictions on behalf of landlords. And time and time again, it has failed to hold officers accountable or to make needed changes that would address this problem.”
We also called for an end to police evictions in the city. “There is no reason for police to get involved in these disputes,” as McGuire stated. “These matters should be brought before a judge. Eviction cases in Michigan are some of the speediest legal proceedings you can find, especially in cases where squatting is alleged. There is no reason for police to help landlords circumvent that process.”
On the policy front, over 200,000 Michiganders became eligible to regain their driver’s licenses thanks to a new law that took effect in October. This change in state law will make a big difference in the lives of people who had their license suspended for not being able to pay ticket fines or afford court fees. It will also prevent future license suspensions because of issues unrelated to safe driving.
Why is this victory so meaningful? In 2018, the state of Michigan suspended more than 350,000 driver’s licenses for non-driving-related offenses. A suspended license doesn’t change the reality that Michiganders overwhelmingly rely on their cars to get to work or to take their children to daycare. It is unsurprising, then, that driving without a license is one of the most frequent reasons Michiganders are placed behind bars. The DJC team is proud to have played a role in this victory that will bring us closer to ending the criminalization of poverty.
We’ve also made strides with implementing Michigan’s new “Clean Slate” law, which expanded eligibility to petition for an expungement and created a new process that will automatically seal certain conviction records if a person has remained conviction-free for a period of time. DJC’s Community Legal Advocates (CLAs) are helping to assist people to access expungements through the new program.
We’ve wrapped the first season of our podcast Freedom Dreams! We closed with an episode featuring Natalie Baszile and the co-founders of The Detroit Black Land Fund discussing liberation, land ownership, and food sovereignty. We’ll release our second season this fall and a couple of special episodes in the meantime. Subscribe to the podcast and leave a review to help us reach a wider audience.
Since March 2020, arrests for carrying a concealed weapon (CCW) have quadrupled in Detroit and 97% of those charged for the violation are Black, according to data from our partners at Neighborhood Defender Services. In these CCW-only cases, improperly carrying a firearm is the only “crime” being committed. The arrests have increased significantly in Downtown, Midtown, and Greektown where gentrification is thriving.
Our Interim Managing Attorney Nancy Parker weighed in on the arrests: “It doesn’t behoove anyone to clog up the court system with these non-criminal, non-violent issues.
“The bigger issue that I want people to see through this increase in arrests, is the nature of the over-policing of Black and Brown communities, in general, but specifically in Detroit,” “DPD is not creating safer communities. What they’re doing is criminalizing Black people and they’re creating communities for non-Black people.” DJC has joined the call for Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy to drop CCW-only cases.
Amanda Alexander and the Detroit Justice Center won the 2021 Elevate Prize! DJC is one of ten organizations selected this year from across the world and the prize comes with funding and capacity building support over the next two years.
Amanda has also received the 2022 Fanon Outstanding Activist Intellectual and Scholar Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association! CPA’s President thanked Amanda “for your commitment to social justice and the creative energy you bring to building institutions for social change.”
Amanda is also a Semi-Finalist in the Valuing Homes in Black Communities Challenge, a collaboration between Ashoka and the Brookings Institution.
DJC in the News
Managing Attorney Eric Williams spoke to WDET regarding Project Green Light’s inability to reduce crime.
Interim Managing Attorney Nancy Parker spoke to freelance journalist Brandon Chew about increased gun arrests in Detroit.
Managing Policy Counsel Erin Keith also spoke to WDET for their feature “Would Abolishing Police Create Safety and Justice in the World?”. She also spoke to Michigan Radio about people being incarcerated in Wayne County for 18 months or more without trial or conviction.
What We’re Reading