TRAVERSE CITY — Anti-racism activists found some footing with local law enforcement amid demands for reform.
The Northern Michigan Anti-Racism Task Force, headed by a small group of locals, spoke on the matter Wednesday during an afternoon press conference.
“The matter of racial justice, and a safe, non-racist community, is in the interest of every person in this community — not just Black, brown, Indigenous, people of color,” said task force member Courtney Wiggins, noting progress in discussions about implementing anti-profiling policies and putting officers through implicit bias training.
“There is much to do. We are urging fellow community members to continue standing with us and making sure this is a front-burner issue.”
The task force’s founding was spurred by overwhelming support at local Black Lives Matter protests held May 30 and June 6, Wiggins added. The latter drew more than 1,000 people to Traverse City’s Open Space to hear speeches and raise signs. It’s also where to-be Task Force members presented a list of 10 demands for local law enforcement, all of which focus on reform and better treatment for people of color.
They include reworking profiling policies, implicit bias training, ending ICE/CBE holds for non-violent individuals, implementing body cameras, shifting a portion of the department’s budget toward community health and safety-related issues, and establishment of an independent oversight committee to review complaints against local officers, according to a release.
They spoke on the sidewalk in front of Traverse City’s Governmental Center, answering questions under a blistering afternoon sun and near-clear sky. Both sides shared cautious optimism about the continuing conversations.
“We had some good discussions, and we’ll be meeting again to continue those discussions,” Bensley said.
That included formal scheduling of the first implicit bias training session, which is set for next week, Wiggins added.
“That is something that they’ve already decided upon, which is great,” she said. “What we’re looking for is something that’s a little more in-depth than a three-hour training — implicit bias is something that is ingrained.”
Implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously impact one’s understanding, actions and decisions, according to a report from Ohio State University.
Bensley invited the group to take part in shaping those sessions, said task force member Holly Bird. They plan to attend each training.
They hit some rocky terrain when conversations turned to body cameras, however.
It, along with training and policy changes, was a main point of discussion at the Wednesday afternoon meeting between the two parties, which wrapped minutes before they addressed the press.
It’s a work in progress, Bensley said — one that’s likely to proceed slowly.
“My concerns are long-term — where do we go next year, the year after, the year after — specifically with funding and which ones work and which ones don’t,” he said. “We’re going to start looking into that and … we’ll have a group of our officers looking into that — they have a unique perspective because … they’ll be using them.”
That committee, headed by Sheriff’s Department Capt. Chris Clark, will explore equipment, storage and implementation options.
Bensley wasn’t sure what up-front costs for body cameras would look like, but imagines the price tag to outfit each of the department’s 50-odd patrol officers wouldn’t be cheap.
Bird, who’s spoken with other local departments, said most with body cams had up-front costs around $50,000. In the past month, the task force has collected $30,000 in donations to go toward that program. They also plan to help the department apply for grants.
“I think the takeaway today was, we made some progress. And we’re willing to meet again and keep meeting,” Bensley said.
Traverse City Police Department officials have also been receptive, Wiggins said in a release shared Tuesday.
Wiggins requests anyone willing to speak in support of reforms to contact Bensley at 231-995-5001 or email@example.com.
“As Black and Indigenous and people of color, living and working and raising families and paying taxes in this community, what we want is the same experience and safety and welcoming ... as any white member of this community,” Bird said. “This is just the beginning.”