- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

Detroit Free Press. June 3, 2015.

Inkster beating showing cost of police

About $178.67 for every household.

That’s what Inkster residents will pay to settle a lawsuit brought by Floyd Dent, the 57-year-old Detroit man viciously beaten last January by an Inkster cop. And it’s the tangible price of systemic injustice.

You’d think knowing our criminal justice system is biased, a realization surely made inescapable by a streak of high-profile police shootings, would be enough. That awareness that our system produces different outcomes for white and non-white Americans accused of the same crimes, that there’s a broad demarcation between the lived experiences of white and non-white Americans, between outcomes and opportunities across the board, would be a sufficient call to action, enough to invoke the quintessentially American notion that all people are created equal.

It’s not. So, try this: Racism is too expensive.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation recently issued a Michigan-centric version of its 2010 report, “The Business Case for Racial Equality,” which documents the economic costs of systemic injustice, cultural bias, and the wealth and opportunity gaps that result. Social safety net programs to mitigate the impacts of financial and economic exclusion cost money, but investment in early childhood education and other programs that provide a route out of poverty pay tremendous dividends and could save the state some $4.5 billion. If non-white workers earned wages equivalent to their white counterparts, it would mean a $32-billion leap in the state’s GDP.

And then there’s Floyd Dent.

A police dashcam captured Dent being hoisted from his vehicle, put on the ground, and restrained by former Inkster cop William Melendez and another officer as Melendez punched Dent in the head, again and again and again. Other officers arrived, and Dent was cuffed and led toward the camera, his bloodied face clearly visible in a final gut-wrenching shot.

Melendez lost his jobs in Inkster and Highland Park, and he’s facing criminal charges in the beating. All charges against Dent, whom Inkster police initially accused of possessing cocaine, were dropped.

And so the civil settlement, $1.38 million Inkster can’t afford to pay, which is why taxes have to go up: $178.67 for a house valued at $55,400, the median value of a home in this town of 24,857 individuals, 38% of whom live in poverty.

It is nauseating that we’ve come to this, but if this is an argument that works, we’ll make it: Based on what we do know, we can’t afford to pay the cost of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. And that’s another problem - we can’t even begin to quantify the statewide cost of bias in the criminal justice system.

An investigation by WXYZ-TV found the Detroit Police Department has paid $27 million to settle lawsuits against officers since 2008, money that cash-strapped city likewise can’t afford. Why focus on Detroit? It’s a large city with a greater density of complaints, settlements and payouts, but it would be a mistake to assume such things don’t happen in other communities.

In the last year, we and others have called repeatedly for Michigan legislators to adopt rules that would provide greater accountability and oversight of police departments, namely, body cameras for officers, outside agency investigation of police shootings, and uniform reporting requirements for use-of-force complaints and officer-involved shootings.

While Gov. Rick Snyder has signaled support for body cameras, the Legislature has failed to take up these issues. Opponents have cited the expense of body cameras, but look at the numbers, and it’s clear that taxpayers have two choices: Pay now, or pay later.

And yet none of these would be a panacea. Melendez was surely aware, as he punched Dent repeatedly, that he was on camera. It seems that he simply didn’t care. Without accountability, oversight is meaningless. No legislature or city council can require it, or force the kind of culture change that promises clear-eyed examination of outcomes, redress of grievances and zero tolerance of bias.

But maybe, if it costs us too much, we can.___

The Detroit News. June 2, 2015.

Keep Straits of Mackinac pipeline safe, open

All pipes can leak. That’s why it’s vital Michigan is doing an extensive review of the safety and monitoring practices of the petroleum pipeline that runs beneath the Straits of Mackinac.

Water is Michigan’s most precious resource, and protecting its quality is its highest environmental priority. A major oil leak in the straits would have a terrible impact on Lakes Michigan and Huron that could possibly taint Lakes Erie and Huron.

Making sure the pipeline is structurally sound and is being constantly inspected for leaks, and that there are adequate response plans in place should an emergency occur is a core responsibility of state government.

But pipeline policy should not be a political football, nor should its crafting be influenced by scare tactics and unwarranted hysteria.

Michigan’s Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, assembled last summer by Gov. Rick Snyder, Attorney General Bill Schuette and Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant, has been studying the risks associated with the more than 60-year-old No. 5 pipeline owned and operated by Enbridge Energy. Its report is expected by the end of this month.

Not waiting to see what the report says, an environmental group, For Love of Water (FLOW), is preemptively dismissing its legitimacy, claiming Enbridge did not produce all of the information necessary for a thorough review.

Not so, says a source on the commission, who added the task force will have “strong recommendations” for what needs to be done to keep the pipeline safe.

The goal of FLOW and other environmental groups is to shut down the pipeline altogether, regardless of what the task force finds.

The goal for Michigan should be to keep this essential conduit open, while making sure it does not threaten the world’s largest body of fresh water.

Enbridge is vulnerable because of the rupture of one of its pipelines in 2010 that poured oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The company assures that the line running under the straits is of a different construction far less susceptible to breaks, and that it has aggressive monitoring and maintenance practices in place.

The straits pipeline - actually two 20-inch parallel lines that run 4.6 miles along the lake bottom - has never experienced a leak. The company says its age does not necessarily increase the risk of a rupture because of its seamless construction and lack of exposure to the elements. It describes the below water stretch of the pipeline as being in nearly-new condition.

Most pipelines ruptures are caused by third-party activities, Enbridge says, and the depth of Pipeline No. 5 and the way it is anchored to the lake bottom make it less susceptible to being struck or moved by currents.

Still, the task force must verify the company’s safety claims, and be 100 percent certain Enbridge is prepared to respond immediately and effectively to emergencies.

Meanwhile, pre-judging the task force’s findings serves no useful purpose. Nor does tying the fate of the pipeline to an anti-carbon agenda that seeks to stop the transport of all oil.

The task force’s job is to determine what it will take to keep this pipeline open and safe.___

Times Herald (Port Huron). June 2, 2015.

Reforms will raise trust in civil forfeitures

In 2010, a national advocacy group said Michigan’s civil forfeiture laws were among the worst in the nation. Since the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit watchdog group, issued its rankings, many states have enacted sweeping reforms to protect citizens against what some called “policing for profit” schemes.

Michigan lawmakers are now considering reforms. Critics suggest they don’t go far enough.

Michigan civil forfeiture rules allow police to seize assets when they believe they were used in the commission of a crime and were purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity. Police don’t have to prove either of those beyond even a hint of doubt - or even that there was any criminal activity to begin with. Nobody has to be charged, tried or convicted of a crime before police can take their property.

But to get their seized items back, property owners must hire lawyers to sue to prove their innocence - an unfair and unreasonable burden, especially considering how low little the police have to prove.

The reform bills pending in Lansing would raise the bar, requiring “clear and convincing evidence” that the property being seized is connected to a criminal enterprise, and - more important - that nothing can be seized without a criminal conviction.

The package of reforms would also mandate annual reporting of seized properties by police agencies. Most Blue Water Area police agencies already report what they take in seizures.

Institute for Justices and other civil rights groups say there is one more essential reform that the bills in Lansing miss - police agencies should not be able to keep the material they seize. There is precedent for the logic of such a policy.

Police don’t get the money from traffic fines, despite the popular notions of speed traps and ticket quotas. Money from fines goes to support libraries in Michigan, not to equip and operate police departments. Other costs and assessments levied on traffic tickets support courts and other state initiatives, but don’t go into police department budgets.

Revenue from traffic tickets is disbursed that way to avoid the appearance that police are motivated by profit instead of safety. The same structure should be in place to assure the public that asset seizures aren’t being abused.___

Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 2, 2015.

Forgetful gun owner needs to face charges

News item: A Buckley man left a handgun in a downtown Traverse City restaurant’s restroom on Saturday. City police said Pangea’s Pizza Pub employees reported someone left a .45-caliber handgun on a bathroom sink. Officers collected the weapon and later discovered a Buckley man, 40, “just used the bathroom and left it in there,” a city police official said, adding the man had a valid concealed carry permit.

Delightful.

Isn’t it great to live in a state where firearms and ammunition manufacturers call the shots and politicians are their puppets? Isn’t it great to live in a place where puppet politicians shred gun safety laws to allow any nitwit to get a “valid” concealed gun permit so he can compensate for a personal shortcoming and revel in a .45’s heft when he wanders into a downtown Traverse City restaurant’s bathroom?

Isn’t it great the “valid” Buckley man was so tuned into his surroundings, his senses so keen for danger that he wandered off and left his gun on a restroom sink for anyone - perhaps a child - to find and possibly use?

Wouldn’t it be great if the rest of us weren’t effectively held hostage by this burgeoning and deeply disturbing gun culture?

And wouldn’t it truly be great to see Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney step up, do his job and protect the public by charging the Buckley man with a count of reckless endangerment with a firearm?___

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