Dozens urge GR to OK new human rights ordinance

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was standing room only at the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting Tuesday night as dozens of people came out to voice their opinion on a proposed expansion of the city’s human rights ordinance.

One aspect of the proposal focuses on preventing people from using police to enforce their own bigotry — for example, calling 911 to report a black person walking down their street.

Of the dozens of people who spoke during more than an hour of public comment, the overwhelming majority were in favor of the proposal. They said it won’t solve racial inequity, but it is a step in the right direction.

These 911 calls are happening locally and nationally. In California, a woman nicknamed “BBQ Becky” by the internet called police on a black family using a charcoal grill in a public park. Locally, a 12-year old Grand Rapids girl was handcuffed after a neighbor falsely reported a shooting.

The ordinance aims to stop biased 911 calls like that by imposing a fine of up to $500.

“I am appalled that I live in a city that has to have an ordinance that tells people not to call the police on people because of the color of their skin,” West Side resident Lisa Wood said during the Tuesday meeting. “I have biracial grandchildren, and that’s why I had to be here tonight because I had to stand up. I refuse to let them grow up in that kind of world.”

Others wondered if an ordinance is the right answer.

“It is good that we as a community value leaving people alone and letting them live their lives without fear of discrimination, but we already have laws saying it’s illegal to discriminate based on their class, and to create additional redundant legislation does nothing,” a man who went only by Joshua said.

Grand Rapids already has a human rights ordinance that was created in the 1950s. But the team behind the new ordinance says there are no real teeth to the current rules. The new ordinance would make it clear that any violation is a misdemeanor.

The details of who would enforce it or how are still in the works.

The city commission will vote on the ordinance no sooner than May 14.

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