Billboard tells drivers entering Livonia: Black lives matter here

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Drivers on Telegraph near Livonia are being greeted with a message: Black lives have to matter here, too.

A digital billboard on Interstate 96 near Livonia says: 'Driving While Black? Racial profiling just ahead', with the tagline 'Welcome to Livonia.'

On Monday, a digital billboard from a grassroots group went up in Redford Township, just south of Interstate 96, that says "Driving While Black? Racial Profiling Just Ahead. Welcome to Livonia."

The $1,800 installation aimed at highlighting racial profiling was paid for with crowdfunding. The billboard is expected to remain for at least two weeks, said Delisha Upshaw, a Livonia resident and member of the Facebook group Livonia Citizens Caring about Black Lives. 

"This is big and in your face and ugly," said Upshaw, 45, who is Black. "Some people need a big sign. You can't change something that you won't talk about or face."

The campaign, which launched Wednesday and raised enough funding for the billboard in three days, is the latest from the 1,600-plus member Facebook group that formed at the end of May in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Livonia Mayor Maureen Miller Brosnan in a statement Monday stressed that the city "will not tolerate racism."

"This billboard is counterproductive to these and other efforts we are taking to ensure Livonia is a welcoming place for all, a goal that this group and I share," Brosnan said Monday.

In response to Floyd's murder, Brosnan said she recommissioned the Livonia Human Relations Commission with a new vision and appointees dedicated to improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the community. 

In recent weeks, the majority-white city hosted its first "Partnership for Progress Listening Session" focused on conversations about race across the region and sponsored by the Western Wayne NAACP and Conference of Western Wayne, Brosnan said. 

The city, she said, also has reached out to representatives of the citizens group to invite them to attend Human Relations Commission meetings. 

Brosnan said she knocked on tens of thousands of doors last year during her campaign for mayor and knows that the city is more diverse than it was a decade ago, "a sign of progress."

"It is also a signal that more people feel safe and welcome in Livonia," she said. 

In 2010, the city was 90% white; in 2018, was 86% white, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Police Chief Curtis Caid echoed Brosnan, saying the department does not target enforcement actions based on gender, race, religion or ethnicity.

"Racial profiling is a serious allegation and is not tolerated," he said. "Livonia is a welcoming community to all, regardless of one’s race. This billboard sends the exact opposite message of our values at the Livonia Police Department and of those in our community.”

Upshaw said the Facebook group has organized multiple efforts focusing on racial equality. 

In June, the group marched in with Black Lives Matter, drawing a crowd of about 2,000. It began at Livonia's recreation center and ended outside of City Hall and the Police Department. 

The group also is seeking detailed traffic stop data and use-of-force policies from the city. Members also have attended Livonia council meetings and have reached out to city, state and congressional lawmakers about their concerns. 

They held a Juneteenth celebration in Rotary Park in Livonia and formed a committee of educators, counselors and parents who are working on education issues. They also have circulated a survey through groups and person-to-person on social media to gather feedback from parents about their experiences, Upshaw said. 

"If Livonia is really interested in building trust with the community, it's going to take transparency and accountability," Upshaw said.