Activists demand action on policing in Dearborn; police chief says changes ongoing

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

On the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota, activists demonstrated in Dearborn on Tuesday to demand city officials enact policies to address alleged systemic racism or discrimination.

"It's urgent and should be a top priority," said Alexandria Hughes, who works on the strategic team with the advocacy group Accountability for Dearborn. "The community needs to come together."

Hughes and about 20 protesters rallied outside the Dearborn Administrative Center on Michigan Avenue before the City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

Alexandria Hughes, 28, of Accountability for Dearborn group, speaks during the rally about police accountabilty and fariness.

Some chanted "Black Lives Matter" while carrying handmade signs bearing messages such as "Care Not Cops" and "It's a privilege to believe the police will protect you" when council members arrived for the meeting.

Amanda Saab,32, of Dearborn attends the rally Tuesday.

Among the group's demands are Dearborn elected and appointed officials declaring racism and police violence public health crises, investing in community services and more transparency from the Police Department.

Dearborn police Chief Ronald Haddad said Tuesday that others are entitled to

their opinions but his department has diversified in recent years, including adding

more minority officers.

“We’re trying to make sure that we build a diverse team here that represents the people we serve," he told The Detroit News. "I think that’s a good starting spot. Is it enough? No. We’ve got more work."

Haddad said recently that Floyd's death prompted his department to be the first in Michigan to adopt the ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement) training, which teaches officers to intervene when they see colleagues having personal problems.

Haddad cowrote a Georgetown University white paper, "Building Trust Between Police and Community in Michigan: Lessons for the Nation from the Year 2020," which explores how police can better serve the community, and it focuses, in part, on police response to Black Lives Matter protests.

In the paper, Haddad said he and Mayor John O'Reilly set up "permit-free zones" to allow BLM protesters to demonstrate without obtaining permits. 

Some of the activists who spoke Tuesday night during the council meeting said city officials are hearing their concerns about racial issues and profiling or working to address them.

Some said they believed police targeted African Americans at higher rates and demanded changes such as offering non-police responders to help residents facing mental illness or other issues.

Several speakers cited the deaths of Kevin Matthews in 2015 and Janet Wilson in 2016 during encounters with Dearborn police.

Officers in both cases were not criminally charged. Meanwhile, the city later reached settlements topping $1 million in lawsuits brought by relatives of Matthews and Wilson.

"I am concerned that they experience no legal or professional consequences and I am concerned that this council continues to fail to take action to bring accountability to our Police Department," resident Beth Bailey told the council.

At one point, council president Susan Dabaja asked the speakers to refrain from saying Matthews and Wilson were murdered, which she called slanderous.

"There were two individuals that did die in the course of interaction with police. However, it was not murder," she said. "Because it was investigated by the Michigan State Police, and our Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy was very clear in clearing these officers of any wrongdoing."

Dabaja did not immediately respond to a request for comment about claims by the activists Tuesday night.