Beyond Reform: The Detroiters’ Bill of Rights

Shea Howell

A strong community-based coalition brought together by Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield and Council member Raquel Castañeda-Lopez introduced a Detroiters’ Bill of Rights that outlines basic values shaping a framework for revisions to the City Charter. The people of Detroit will ultimately ratify the charter.

The Detroiters’ Bill of Rights reflects responsiveness to decades of work at the grassroots, enshrining the right to clean, affordable water; to a protected, healthy environment; to safe communities; to basic needs; recreation; and mobility.  The document strengthens our welcome to immigrants, supports people with disabilities, and establishes principles for public, fair budgeting practices.  It provides concrete steps to shift police culture away from violence, surveillance, and control.

The racial justice working group convened by council member Castaneda-Lopez and council pro-tem president Mary Sheffield included groups like Detroit Community Technology Project, Detroit Action, Black Lives Matter Detroit Chapter, Green Light Black Futures, Detroit People’s Platform, We the People of Detroit, Michigan Welfare Rights, Detroit Disability Power and many more, as well as impacted residents working at the intersections of access and mobility, community safety, housing, and water.

This Bill of Rights also recognizes that we are at a critical juncture in the evolution of our city. Mary Sheffield said, “We are at a rare moment in this nation’s history when the voice of the people is being amplified and real change is achievable.” She explained, “It is important to meet such a historic opportunity with the organization, action, and policies that could deliver quality of life improvements for the oppressed.”

Castañeda-Lopez emphasized the importance of establishing clear values that encourage the capacities of human beings to reach our fullest potential. She said,  “It is our responsibility as public servants to uphold this value and lead with courage to build a just future. By embedding the principles of racial equity and social justice in the City’s charter, we are changing the status quo and laying the foundation for a new way of governance.”

A fundamental aspect of this new way of governance must be to develop ways of living that recognize the systemic racism and white supremacy that is reflected in the current system the Mayor, Police Chief and the majority of the Council are trying to protect. The Bill of Rights includes strong language increasing community control of policing.

It is this effort to limit police power that has sparked the most resistance among some on the City Council. While people are gathering daily in the streets demanding deep system change, members of the council have used every trick in the book to block even modest reforms. Councilman Scott Benson is one of the major obstructionists. He has been aided by former policeman turned councilman, Roy McCalister and Jaynee Ayers. Ayers frequently asks, “What do the boots on the ground think?” She seems unmoved by the fact that often those boots are used to squeeze the life out of people. Jones, Tate, and Spivey seem to lack any sense of the critical moment we face. They are increasingly at odds with the mood of the city, drifting toward concern for their own political advancement and currying corporate favor.

Tawana Petty, data director of the Community Technology Project explained how this bill puts into practice efforts to dismantle racist systems. She says, “We are dedicated to creating systems that dismantle anti-Blackness, center Black Detroiters, and create equitable access to and distribution of resources for the most vulnerable people in Detroit.”

The Detroiters’ Bill of Rights deserves our support. You can sign on as an individual here at bit.ly/DetBOR-ind, or as an organization by signing here: bit.ly/DetBOR-org.

Let’s make it clear that those who protect the current system and its forces of violence are on the wrong side of history.

Additions to Detroit City Charter, Specific to Policing, Proposed by ‘Detroiters’ Bill of Rights’ :

“Every Detroit resident is entitled to live in safe communities and has the right to live free of threat or harm from one another and city agencies.

— To ensure this right, the acquisition, stockpiling, and usage of chemical weapons or riot control agents as defined by the United Nations (UN) is prohibited.

— To ensure this right, the acquisition, stockpiling, donations (or transfer), and usage of military-style weapons is prohibited.

— To ensure this right, a public hearing must be held prior to acceptance of federal donations or funding that militarizes DPD

— Every Detroit resident is entitled to move throughout the city, free from government surveillance. To ensure this right the usage of facial recognition technologies is prohibited in and around, and on, public spaces. Council shall pass an ordinance to establish community oversight and rules and regulations to any surveillance program developed.

— No officer, agent, or employee of the City of Detroit shall expend any time, funds, or resources on facilitating the civil enforcement of federal immigration law or participating in civil immigration enforcement operations, except where state or federal law or regulation or directive or court order shall so require. Nor shall the City of Detroit enter into any contract, agreement, or arrangement that would grant federal civil immigration enforcement authority or powers to the City of Detroit or its agents or law enforcement officers, including but not limited to agreements created under 8 U.S.C. § 1357 or similar statute.

Additional Proposed Charter Amendments:

Board Of Police Commissioners’ amendments regarding membership eligibility; duties; giving additional power; increased transparency and community oversight, as well as engagement; establishing a new “Auditor/Monitor” position to analyze data and trends.