GR leaders poised to vote on civil rights policy changes

Grand Rapids
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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids city commissioners are set to decide a series of measures created to protect the rights of Grand Rapids residents, months after they were first proposed.

Presented in April, the proposal expanded who is protected and how.

Grand Rapids has had an ordinance protecting civil rights since 1953, but the policies had vague definitions and were difficult to enforce.

Revisions to the policy, written after a public hearing in April, also improved guidelines for how the city handles a complaint.

Some issues like housing and job discrimination will be referred to partner agencies, like the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan or the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. For complaints including sexual orientation discrimination, Grand Rapids’ Diversity & Inclusion office will work with the city attorney’s office to determinate the appropriate process.

The new ordinance would also include penalties for rights violators, including a $100 ticket for those who dial 911 to try to use police to enforce their own bigotry. That part of the ordinance change is in response to the so-called “Barbecue Beckys” of the world.

Barbecue Becky was the name given to a California woman who called police on a black family picnicking in a park. The call went viral after it was captured by a cellphone video camera.

“We’ve experienced it, but I wouldn’t say it’s every day,” said Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. “But the biggest part of it is, hopefully this ordinance will help educate people and let them know that we want them calling whenever there’s crime being committed.”

The change comes despite concerns it may deter people from contacting police when an actual crime is being committed.

“This is for somebody who is doing it strictly where they’re looking to discriminate against a group. So if it’s criminal activity, we’re still encouraging people to call and we hope they do,” said Payne.

City commissioners will vote on the measure later this month.

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