'We do not feel safe,' Black Grosse Pointe Park resident tells council

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

An African American Grosse Pointe Park resident whose White neighbor hung a Ku Klux Klan flag in his home called on city officials Monday to diversify its public safety department to better address such incidents. 

"We do not feel safe because of the way that this situation has been handled," JeDonna Dinges told the Grosse Pointe Park city council. 

JeDonna Matthews Dinges gives her remarks during a rally at St. Ambrose Church in Grosse Pointe Park, February 21, 2021.

She and other residents of the Wayne County community spoke out about the police response to the incident as officials seek a new public safety director.

James Bostock, who was a lieutenant in the Public Safety Department, has been serving as interim director since predecessor Stephen Poloni left to become city manager in nearby Grosse Pointe Shores.

Last month, Dinges alleged her neighbor, a man whose name has not been released, placed the KKK flag in a window at his home on Wayburn. 

The clothing boutique owner had installed a security camera facing the man's house following an incident Jan. 20 when she found a full gas can inside her garbage container and was concerned.

Last month, JeDonna Dinges alleged her neighbor, a man whose name has not been released, placed the KKK flag in a window at his home.

The flag sparked outrage and led to a large "Hate Has No Home Here" rally that drew residents as well as public officials.

Last week, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced no charges would be filed against the neighbor. Michigan's Ethnic Intimidation law requires that "there must be physical contact, damage, destruction, defacement of property, or threats to do so."

During Monday's virtual council meeting, Dinges told the members she did not believe police took her concerns seriously or investigated thoroughly, suggesting it stemmed in part from the lack of diversity among officers.

"It was lost on everyone in the police department, because there's nobody Black that works there … the significance of me finding gasoline, then finding a Klan flag in the window four weeks later," she said.

"It is literally ... in your job description to make the public safe …, and I do not feel safe because you haven’t done your job. That’s why Bostock shouldn’t be chief."

In a statement posted on Facebook during the meeting, the Grosse Pointes & Harper Woods NAACP Branch said the "facts surrounding law enforcement's handling of this case, and of previous complaints, continue to emerge and highlight inequities and insensitivities" in the public safety department.

Multiple residents who spoke during the meeting called for the public safety director's hiring process to have public input and stronger vetting to address the department's makeup.

“I do think it’s important that this type of information is taken into consideration when making the hiring decision — that we try to find somebody who is going to be representative of all of the residents of Grosse Pointe Park,” Phil Easter said.

Dez Squire, a suburban organizer with the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity & Inclusion, urged the city "to look at opening up their hiring process and look at evaluating and changing their practices in order to be able to promote a more diverse and equitable process, and this would help to open up conversation in regards to the experiences of your residents of color, including the recent actions that have happened against the Dinges family."

City Manager Nick Sizeland said the department has been assigning additional patrols to Dinges' home and continues to talk with her. Meanwhile, the department next week is set to undergo racial awareness, implicit bias and cultural competence training under Darnell Blackburn, a former officer who specializes in educating law enforcement personnel.

"We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and move forward together as a community," Sizeland told the council. "Hate has no home in Grosse Pointe Park, has no place here. The support our community has shown for Ms. Dinges is reflective of the loving and inclusive culture we are working to nurture and protect."

The city had 14 applicants for director, Sizeland said. Before a hiring is expected by April, an outside consultant is scoring the candidates to narrow the field, and finalists are expected to undergo an extensive process that includes reviews by a third party, he added.

Some residents backed the department's leadership.

Since the city's crime rate is far lower than that in other communities, "if we're looking for somebody for public safety, it seems like they’re doing a good job," Walter Kolodziej said. "So maybe we should not decide we have to go outside the city and all that type of thing to find someone to do a good job. We have people doing a good job now."

Another, Tom Steen, urged the city to "hire the best qualified applicant and do not try to check identity profile boxes."