Demeeko Williams speaks at a Detroit rally | Ken Coleman

Demeeko Williams, a Detroit activist who participated in dozens of Black Lives Matter rallies in 2020, said the Michigan Senate’s recently unveiled bipartisan police reform effort is needed, but more must be done to address issues such as the use of facial recognition technology and qualified immunity for law enforcement officials.

“I think the state Senate action is fine, but there is much more that needs to be done,” said Williams.

Facial recognition technology has been known to misidentify people of color more often than white people, according to a 2019 federal study. Qualified immunity is a judicially created doctrine that protects government employees or those acting with state authority from being held personally liable for constitutional violations.

Senators introduced a series of bills aimed at law enforcement reforms on May 25 — the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, who was Black, by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. That helped spark Black Lives Matter protests in hundreds of cities across the country.

The legislative measures target training, enforcement, and accountability standards for police departments in Michigan. 

Activist group protests facial recognition contract, Detroit City Council approves measure 

“As our nation marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, we are coming together here in Michigan to address police accountability and transparency, especially regarding use of force,” said Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), a bill sponsor. “We continue to mourn the tragic deaths of Floyd and countless others across the country and know that many Americans still feel pain and anger. Change in our justice system is overdue, and this bipartisan package is the result of months of work to develop practical solutions to improve policing and public safety in our communities.”

The measures won praise from a top labor official in the state.

“It’s great to see Republicans and Democrats working together on proactive reforms that will build trust between police officers and folks in the communities they serve,” said Ron Bieber, Michigan AFL-CIO president. “Police reform is not only a practical necessity — we have a moral obligation to increase transparency and accountability, in order to make our communities safer while adopting common sense best practices that will improve policing. Let’s get it done.”

State Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) told the Advance on Tuesday that he and colleagues are working on reintroducing their “Equal Justice for All” policing package from 2020, which was not taken up by the GOP-led state House. It would have established measures to increase accountability for law enforcement agencies and officers by creating an independent entity to investigate and prosecute excessive force cases, eliminated qualified immunity when officers use unreasonable force and prohibited the use of facial recognition technology.

Black House Dems unveil ‘Equal Justice for All’ policing package

The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee is scheduled to meet on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. to discuss some of the bills:

Senate Bill 473, sponsored by Sen. Roger Victory (R-Hudsonville), would require the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MCOLES) to develop guidelines for third-party investigations of officer-involved deaths. It would require each agency to develop a publicly available policy that meets those guidelines.

Senate Bill 474, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), would require use of force violations to be included in separation records maintained by MCOLES.

Senate Bill 475, sponsored by Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth), would allow MCOLES to revoke the license of an officer who used excessive force causing death or serious bodily harm.

Senate Bill 476, sponsored by Sen. Jim Ananich (D-Flint), would prohibit a person from knowingly disclosing information in a misconduct complaint against a law enforcement officer that personally identified the individual who filed the complaint, except under certain circumstances.

Senate Bill 477, sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), would exempt a police union from representing a member in a disciplinary action if it is determined by the union that the grievance is without merit.

Senate Bill 478, sponsored by Sen. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake), would ban the use of the chokehold as a restraint method except to save a life.

Senate Bill 479, sponsored by Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), would ban the use of “no-knock” warrants except in certain circumstances and better define “knock and enter” warrants. A “no-knock” warrant was executed in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, during a botched raid in 2020 in Louisville, Ky.

Senate Bill 480, sponsored by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), would establish an affirmative duty to intervene to prevent the excessive use of force by another officer and allow for disciplinary action for those who fail to do so.

Senate Bill 481, sponsored by Chang, would require use of force policies for all police agencies to include a verbal warning and exhaustion of alternatives before using deadly force.

Senate Bill 482, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), would require training standards regarding de-escalation, implicit bias, and behavioral health be developed by MCOLES and require continuing education for law enforcement officers.

Senate Bill 483, sponsored by Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Twp.), would direct MCOLES to commission a study on the recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers to discover barriers to attracting and retaining high quality individuals.

Senate Bill 484, sponsored by Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), would prohibit a person from knowingly or intentionally failing to activate a body-worn camera for law enforcement purposes to interfere with a present or future official proceeding or an internal law enforcement investigation. 

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.