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U.S. Sen. Gary Peters was joined by community leaders Friday to call for the creation of a commission to review the country's criminal justice system in the wake of incidents involving race and police.

"We've seen too many times when we tune in on our TV sets disturbances in Baltimore, New York, Ferguson (Missouri), and even here locally, the incident in Inkster," the Bloomfield Township Democrat said.

"It is quite apparent that it is probably a time to step back, take a look broadly at the criminal justice system and see what's working and what may not be working."

Peters, who introduced legislation in April to establish the commission, made the remarks during a news conference at Wayne State University Law School's Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights in Detroit.

He was joined by Wayne State Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson; the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP's Detroit Branch; Detroit Police Chief James Craig; Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper, and Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

Napoleon said he applauds the creation of the commission, which he hopes can provide insight into the root causes of crime, prison overcrowding and recidivism.

"I think it's time that we have this kind of commission to look at how we're going to move forward," he said. "I look forward to us not being here 50 years from now addressing the same issues."

Peters' legislation has 11 co-sponsors, including Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, according to the Library of Congress. It has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Peters said the bipartisan commission would include 14 experts on subjects including law enforcement, criminal justice, victims' rights, civil liberties and social services. All 14 will be appointed by the president and Congress, he said.

Peters said race will be a part of the panel's investigation.

"It's an issue that will have to be explored, there's no question about it," he said. "We have communities that don't trust law enforcement and law enforcement doesn't feel trust from the community. We can't be afraid to tackle some of the very tough issues before us."

On Aug. 9, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was fatally shot after a confrontation with a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson. The incident led to riots and looting.

Eight months later in Baltimore, Freddie Gray, a black man, suffered a fatal spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances after he was handcuffed and put in a police van. It also led to riots.

Closer to home, a police officer was captured on video punching Floyd Dent, 57, of Detroit during a January arrest in Inkster.

Anthony praised Peters for his legislation. He also said if he didn't hope things could change, he wouldn't support the proposal.

"It's very bold and it's critical because we know for many young people in the African American and Latino communities, this is the No. 1 civil rights issue of our time," Anthony said. "Our senator has taken the bull by the horns. We want to support that effort."

On Monday, Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to discuss criminal justice in Michigan with the state's legislature.

Officials said the governor will be joined by Keith Bennett, director of the Flip the Script program at Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, as well as the current and incoming directors of the Michigan Department of Corrections, Dan Heyns and Heidi Washington.

cramirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058

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