Spring 2022 Newsletter

Happy May from the Detroit Justice Center!

In early May, Detroit City Council unanimously passed the Right to Counsel ordinance, which provides free legal counsel to low-income Detroiters facing eviction, forfeiture or other administrative proceedings where housing benefits are at risk. Within the last decade, an estimated 24,000 Detroit residents have been pushed out of the city due to evictions. Of those evicted less than five percent have legal representation compared to 83% of landlords in Detroit. Predatory landlords, gentrification, and foreclosures have plagued the city causing many community members to be left unhoused and devastated, often causing a ripple effect that leaves families vulnerable. The Right to Counsel ordinance being passed is a victory and a step in the right direction offering equity to those in need. DJC staff attorney Joe McGuire gave testimony regarding his work around the housing crisis prior to the victory. While this new ordinance won’t resolve the issues at the root of the housing crisis in Detroit, we are hopeful that it will allow low-income Detroiters better opportunities to remain in their homes. We extend gratitude to our partners at The Coalition For Property Tax Justice, United Community Housing Coalition, Detroit Eviction Defense and community members who continue to rally around various housing injustices in Detroit. 

What’s Happening at DJC?

Continuing the Fight Around Cash Bail in Michigan

DJC has been engaged in the critical fight to overhaul Michigan’s cash bail system since our organization’s inception. DJC attorneys have represented countless clients who were incarcerated pretrial on low-level misdemeanor offenses, purely because they could not afford even a nominal bond amount. We have seen how even a single day in jail, pretrial, can lead to a person’s life being turned upside down by collateral consequences, such as the loss of their employment or custody of their children. Additionally, we’ve witnessed improper and untimely notices of hearings that have led to warrants being issued for clients who would have shown up to court had they known about their court date. Some of our clients have struggled to find childcare for their children or to get time off from work to attend court hearings for minor traffic infractions. We have seen clients notify the court of their need to reschedule a hearing due to a documented illness or death of a loved one, only for a warrant to be improperly issued anyway with a cost-prohibitive bond amount to clear the warrant. Our attorneys have encountered firsthand how pre-established bond schedules act as a gatekeeping mechanism for those who wish to have their matters adjudicated but do not have a means to post bond to gain access to the courts. DJC’s Managing Policy Counsel Erin Keith has been working closely with members of the state legislature to combat these issues as bills intended to reform bail in Michigan are set to go up for a vote this month. It is our hope that lawmakers are able to completely overhaul the cash bail system, which has impacted so many of our clients.

Partnering to Bail Out Black Mamas for Mother’s Day

Our partners at Michigan Liberation are hosting the Michigan Black Mama’s Bail Out (MBMBO) throughout the month of May in honor of Mother’s Day. The MBMBO Coalition is raising funds for a mass bail out of Black mama’s in jails and detention centers across Michigan. The donations will be contributing to bailing out mama’s in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

Eighty percent of women in jails are mothers, and more than half (58%) of women in prison are mothers. Many of those women are the primary caregivers of children. This year, 155,000 women spent Mother’s Day in a cell, including many of which were only jailed due to the fact that they couldn’t afford to post bail. It takes a community, and we need your help to free Black mamas in jails and prisons across Michigan. Donations can be made here.

Celebrating DJC’s 4th Birthday!

Back in April, DJC turned four years old! To celebrate, we brought our community together for a Zoom birthday party. During the gathering, our ED Amanda Alexander shared the powerful story of DJC’s founding. Our special guest, Alexandria Hughes, lead organizer of Accountability for Dearborn (A4D), spoke about A4D’s work and impact, and the role that DJC’s research and support have played in helping to secure recent victories.

Students from Cass Technical High School were busy attending class during our birthday party, but they surprised DJC with a special recorded message that was played at the event. The message revealed that the students had raised $400 in support of DJC because they want better for their community. The Cass Tech scholars also asked 400 of our supporters to match their donation with a $100 gift for each $1 the students gave. They had a goal of raising $40,400 in honor of our fourth birthday, and $1700 was raised in one hour during our party! We want to give a huge thank you to the Cass Tech scholars and those who donated during the event. We also want to thank everyone who has participated in matching the students’ donations.

Road To Restoration Clinics Restore Driver’s Licenses to Community Members

Early this month, our senior staff attorney Rubina Mustafa and DJC attorneys AJ Hamilton & Dan Hofman participated in a successful Road to Driver License Restoration Clinic in Ypsilanti at Brown Chapel AME Church. The clinic was a part of the Road to Restoration program that helps Michigan drivers get their licenses reinstated. Mustafa wrote of the clinic: “The biggest highlight for me was that the participants were welcomed and treated warmly, helping them to be comfortable when discussing these very difficult situations. Last Tuesday’s clinic served 50 participants. One participant was able to reinstate her driving privileges at the mobile SOS unit at the clinic that same day.”

After our legislative victory last year, hundreds of thousands of Michiganders whose licenses were unjustly suspended – for things like not being able to pay ticket fines or afford court fees – became eligible to get them reinstated. Most Michiganders can renew their licenses online with the Michigan Department of State, but many of our community members need legal support to fully restore their licenses. Our attorneys have participated in several clinics, with the final one happening May 19th at New Faith Temple Church (1701 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Grand Rapids).

Celebrating the Launch of Three Co-Op Clients!

DJC’s Economic Equity Practice (EEP) clients and community partners are ready to celebrate! Our team is looking forward to celebrating Grace In Action Collectives (GIAC) Co-Op Launch Party on Saturday, June 4th at UNIs Springdale Park from 1-4pm. Over the last year, EEP has been working with all three co-ops being featured at this event–Dulce Detroit Childcare, Radical Productions, and Bridging Languages–and we’re beyond excited to celebrate their launch!

EEP is also wishing our community partner, Detroit Community Wealth Fund (DCWF), a happy 5th anniversary of its work supporting and strengthening Detroit’s cooperative network! We’re also excited for the launch of DCWF’s new cooperative network, the Cooperative Economic Network of Detroit (CEND). DCWF will be celebrating its anniversary on Thursday, June 9th 6-10pm at Jam Handy. EEP has been working with a few of the fantastic co-ops being celebrated at this event as well, and we’re looking forward to meeting and supporting those that are new to us!

Artist in Residence Program Re-opened!

Our applications for the 2022-23 Artist in Residence program are open. Applicants must be residents of Wayne County and submit a project that contends with a world without prisons and incarceration. Artists may work in any medium and the winning project will receive $10,000 and assistance with publicizing the work. Last year’s Artist in Residence, Lauren Williams, had a successful exhibit as part of the Monolith show at Red Bull House of Art in Detroit last fall. To learn more about her project, Making Room for Abolition, you can read her thoughts on her own work here. Artists should apply here: bit.ly/DJCAIR by June 8, 2022.

DJC in the News

Our community legal advocate Sonja Bonnett was featured in both Click On Detroit and the Metro Times . She spoke on Detroit homeowners being illegally overtaxed $600 million dollars without being compensated. “I’m not saying the current administration did it,” Sonja told Click On Detroit. “But they can be on the right side of history and make it right.”

Staff attorney Joe McGuire was also quoted on Michigan NPR talking about the right to counsel victory.

We’re Hiring

Join Us!

Introducing the Lawyering for Liberation Conference happening this July in St. Louis. It’s time for us to collectively strategize about how movement lawyers can support radical movement in this critical moment. DJC is co-hosting this powerful conference and we look forward to seeing you there!

Applications for Registration are now open for in-person and virtual tickets. Visit lawyeringforliberation.org for more information and sign up today! #LawyeringForLiberation