Racial Justice Coalition continues to push for improvement

Devon Greene, editor-in-chief

The Racial Justice Coalition believes there are big changes that need to be made with the Macomb Police Department and Macomb School District.

The meeting was held in City Hall on Thursday and opened with a statement from chairperson Regina Matthews where she spoke about how the coalition is trying to make changes for the better in Macomb.

“We are not experts,” Matthews said. “We are volunteer community members who are deeply concerned about our underrepresented community members.”

Following Matthews, Candice Whitman informed those in attendance about implicit bias. Whitman is a counselor and owns her own counseling center.

“We are here today to address the fact that black individuals here in Macomb are facing a lot of painful experiences because white people in the community are not addressing their unconscious biases,” Whitman said. “As a white person, it is my responsibility to address my own biases and it is something I have to work on every single day.”

Whitman also called on leaders in Macomb to come to grips with their own implicit biases and work to start changing them as soon as they can. Whitman also brought up some comments that Macomb Police Chief Curt Barker allegedly said to her in a conversation the two had. Among these comments, were those that Barker said he understood what it was like to be discriminated against due to the alleged stigma against police officers. Whitman said that Barker told her that Barker has asked to not be introduced as a cop in his personal life due to a change in the way he was treated when people found out his profession.

“I asked him to reflect on how it must feel like for a person of color who is not able to just not reveal their race because they can not take off their skin color in the same way he gets to take off his badge, gun and title,” Whitman said.

Whitman also said that Barker said he was unable to do anything to stop any discrimination due to the fact that he hadn’t seen any firsthand.

Following Whitman, several volunteers from the crowd and members of the Racial Justice Coalition read several affidavits that had been filed claiming misconduct in the Macomb Police Department and Macomb School District. The first affidavit was one that was filed by a teacher that is no longer in the Macomb community. The teacher said that in a conversation with Barker, he allegedly said that minor offenses like jaywalking could potentially lead to more major crimes and that is why the Macomb Police Department stays vigilant with those offenses. Barker also allegedly said that he has to enforce “white cultural norms” due to the large white population in the area. The affidavit also claimed that Barker acknowledged that implicit bias was part of our culture but that people cannot “play the victim.”

The following affidavit was from a black, gay man who lives in the Macomb community and his experiences in the area.

“As a gay person of color growing up in a rural area, since as long as I can remember, racism has always been present and experienced,” the affidavit read. “For me it was being told to go back to where I came from or that I’m not an American.”

The affidavit went on to explain some of the racism that the man had seen and experienced in the community.

President of the Democratic Women of McDonough County, Heather McMeekan, read the next affidavit that came from a mother of children who attend Macomb High School. McMeekan became emotional reading the affidavit which painted a story of alleged misconduct and bullying on school buses and in school. The mother claimed that her child was forced off the bus after being bullied and was called racial slurs by some other children on the bus.

“On Sept. 16, my son got off the bus in tears,” the affidavit said. “I talked with him and my daughter separately to ask them what had happened. One of the same boys from the first incident had assaulted my son, again. He punched, kicked, slapped, and spit on him. On this day my son was also called the n-word.”

According to the affidavit, several students on the bus asked the bus driver for help but the bus driver refused saying that the alleged attacker “was a good boy and would not do that.” The mother also said that she filed a police report but came up with nothing due to the age of the children. She also said that as a result of the incident, her son received detention for “punched boy who called him n-word. Would not stay seated. Was screaming.”

The parent said that the bullying got so bad, she was forced to take her children off the school bus which lead to more financial instability for the family, but the bullying followed her son inside the school.

“The bully was slapping drinks and food out of my son’s hands in the cafeteria. He was being flipped off by the boy as he walked to my car after school.” the affidavit said.

The bullying got so bad, the parent attempted to meet with Superintendent of Schools, Patrick Twomey. After speaking with Twomey, she claimed that the two set up a meeting so her son could talk to the superintendent.

“He asked me if I was okay with him sitting down and having a ‘heart to heart’ with [her son] so he could give him some encouragement and get his ‘side.’ I agreed,” the affidavit said. “He said he was busy the next two days, but would come in on the third day to meet with him. [Her son] stayed home those two days and returned on the day they were supposed to meet. They never met and I have not heard back from Dr. Twomey to this day.”

The affidavit concluded with the current state of hopelessness felt by the mother.

“I moved so my children were no longer riding the same bus and stopped reaching out to the school for any help, because I know they will never be on my son’s side,” the affidavit said. “My son is tall, big and black. His attacker is short, small and white. No matter what my son endures at school, he will still be seen as the aggressor and that breaks my heart as a parent.”

In response to this affidavit, McMeekan said that she would like to see at least one more adult to ride on Macomb’s school buses to monitor behavior.

The final affidavit was filed by a man who was a victim of alleged police misconduct. The man was allegedly tackled and handcuffed in his girlfriend’s home by Macomb Police. According to the man, the police knocked on his door, asked for his name and then tried to grab him, at which point, he backed away, saying he was “fearful for his life.” The officer then pursued the man and tackled him without saying why he was being apprehended. According to the man, when the police finally answered why he was being handcuffed, the police said that they were chasing a man who got out of his car and started running away from them. He then asked if he was being cuffed because he was black and the man they were chasing happened to be black too, and the police allegedly responded that that was indeed the case. The man also said that the sheriff and Barker were in attendance too. The man said that he was forced to go to the emergency room the next day with chest pains.

McMeekan then laid out some goals that the Racial Justice Coalition and Democratic Women of McDonough County wants to see enacted in order to provide a safer and more inclusive Macomb. The first goal was to get Chief Barker to step down from his current position. This goal was started in mid-January after the Macomb Police Department allegedly bought a train ticket to a mentally ill man who was then lost in Chicago for two weeks.

The second goal was a more transparent system for filing complaints against the police department and one that allows for anonymous complaints as well. McMeekan said that the police complaint system was broken for months and when it finally got repaired, it became one of the most restrictive forms and least transparent of complaint systems possible. According to McMeekan, several people they have spoken to have said they don’t feel safe filing complaints about the police department because of the fact that they have to go through the police department to file a complaint. Along with that, individuals who want to file a complaint must have their name attached to the complaint.

The third goal was the hiring of minority police officers as part of the force. McMeekan said that the hiring of officers that are not caucasian will force officers to realize their implicit biases.

McMeekan also called for implicit bias and de-escalation training for all departmental employees and to end the “broken windows” policy which cracks down on minor offenses in certain neighborhoods in the area. She said that the “broken windows” policy is outdated and affects minority neighborhoods more frequently