In the last weeks, we have seen our neighbors across the country demonstrate against injustice and inequality in our criminal justice system. They are hurt. They are angry. They are exhausted.
It is a heartbreakingly familiar reality.
Time and time again, we have seen black and brown people brutalized and killed in entirely avoidable circumstances by those sworn to protect our communities. George Floyd was killed by an officer who knelt on his neck for nine minutes, ignoring Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe.” It was just six years ago when people took to the streets to speak out against the murder of Eric Garner, after he was killed by a police officer, with the exact same phrase – “I can’t breathe.”
It is no wonder, given the repetition of these atrocities with seemingly no progress or change, that people are in pain. It is the responsibility of those with privilege and power to demand accountability and change.
Just last month here in Michigan, armed protestors stormed the Statehouse in the middle of a pandemic. These individuals carried weapons as a means of intimidation, and many ignored public health recommendations. They were not met with riot gear or snipers. Those measures were reserved for the peaceful protesters we saw demonstrating on behalf of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others this past weekend. The disparity in the ways we address the actions of white people in contrast with the actions of people of color demonstrates how white privilege serves to protect some at the expense of others.
As someone who holds that privilege, I will not be complicit by being silent. We must do better.
The racism we see in our system is structural, and must be addressed as such. That means changing the laws, policies, and practices that prop up injustice and corruption in our criminal justice system. Measures will vary from changing our approach to policing by requiring implicit bias training for law enforcement to identify and unlearn unconscious biases that perpetuate injustice to supporting programs that disproportionately impact people of color. We must change policies so including our community’s voice in the justice system by forming a civilian review board to address police misconduct complaints is required, not optional.
Racial equity is a complex and wide-reaching goal with many different facets, including the need for comprehensive immigration reform, and my detailed platform can be read here. I understand that this platform is incomplete, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue about how to best address our country’s historical oppression of people of color, including House Bill 40.
Achieving racial equity won’t happen overnight, but the status quo is unacceptable. We must commit ourselves to the work of creating a just society on a daily basis, not simply when it’s convenient or popular. I will continue to listen to and stand with communities of color. I invite additional policy ideas as this platform continues to improve. I am calling on others to truly examine how they can contribute to a fairer world for all of us.
Jon’s priorities include:
Every individual has unconscious biases that affect our perceptions of our surroundings, but for law enforcement officers these biases can be fatal for the very people they are sworn to protect. Jon supports banning knee and chokeholds and the use of tear gas as well as requiring training in de-escalation and implicit bias training for police officers, with particular attention to appropriate responses in situations involving mental health, substance abuse, deaf/hard of hearing and developmentally disabled persons. When deploying to key incidents, Jon supports deploying trained mental health professionals alongside law enforcement. We must also create police training commissions that are charged with implementing the best, evidence-based training that addresses implicit bias and police socialization. Jon supports the requirement for officers to intervene when they observe excessive use of force to increase accountability.
In cities around the country, it is too easy for an officer with a misconduct record to simply seek employment with another department. It is essential that we create a central database to catalog officers with misconduct records to prevent them from gaining future employment in law enforcement, and end qualified immunity. Jon also supports a mandatory civilian review panel for misconduct allegations with independent collection and review of police data. Additionally, we must mandate the use of body cameras and police encounter receipts to promote transparency and accountability to the community.
Above all else, our approach to policing should be more community-based. Community-based policing includes focusing on hiring law enforcement from within the communities they serve and diversifying police forces to more accurately reflect their communities. We must also demilitarize the police by ending the use of military surplus equipment in police forces and requiring the Pentagon to reclaim all military hardware currently in police department hands and end abusive civil asset forfeiture practices.
As a State Representative, Jon has been supportive of significant criminal justice reform efforts and will continue to do so in Congress. Some examples of this work include efforts to reform blanket licensure denials based on previous convictions, increased expungement opportunities and automatic expungement for previous crimes that are no longer criminalized, civil asset forfeiture, medically frail parole, Raise the Age laws to prevent children from being tried as adults, funding for Indigent Defense expansion, and funding for specialty and diversion courts.
Addressing the overwhelming racial disparities in convictions for marijuana-related crimes and legalizing marijuana at the federal level should be immediate priorities. Jon supports the immediate release of those incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes and the expungement of marijuana-related convictions from their records. Additionally, we must also ensure that federal marijuana legalization is accompanied by racial equity measures in licensing processes.
All too often, those who have paid their debt to society continue to face barriers to social and economic advancement. Jon supports “banning the box,” or removing questions about past felony convictions for those seeking employment or higher education, as well as a Second Chance Act that would allow people who have made mistakes in the past, and paid for them, to put those mistakes fully behind them and focus on their rehabilitated lifestyle. This should also include the expungement of convictions for charges that are no longer considered criminal under current criminal code.
Problems with our criminal justice system extend beyond racially disparate punishment for nonviolent offenses and post-carceral barriers to rehabilitation; we must also undertake systemic reform of our federal and state prison systems. Jon supports ending private prisons and eliminating mandatory minimum sentences entirely. These reforms should also include the elimination of cash bail, fines, and other penalties that prey upon low-income individuals and undermine the best interests of our communities. He is supportive of treatment and diversion programs as opposed to incarceration, and reducing our incarcerated population overall.
For individuals who are incarcerated, Jon supports banning the death penalty, the use of solitary confinement, and charges for things like phone calls and other basic needs. Additionally, Jon believes we need to end the use of prison labor that both dehumanizes individuals and hinders economic opportunity that is essential to access to re-enter society.
We must also address the inequality that formerly incarcerated individuals re-entering society face after having completed their sentence, Jon supports the restoration of voting rights and the creation of programs to help rehabilitated individuals find job placement, and opening their own businesses.
We must understand the important role that economic security and empowerment plays in ensuring that we have safe and healthy communities. To promote the well-being of each individual, Jon is fully supportive of mandating a living wage to ensure that every working person has the tools and resources to provide a stable home for themselves and their families. He recognizes the importance of prioritizing health and well-being, and supports paid family and medical leave for all.
To ensure access to stable housing, Jon supports expanding eviction diversion programs, which create specialized dockets for handling eviction cases in existing general courts. He also supports additional investments in a Housing Trust Fund to provide low-interest loans to provide housing, as well as aid to organizations serving those experiencing homelessness. We should encourage the development of more affordable housing while also supporting laws that reduce housing discrimination.
Under existing legislation, there are too many barriers put up preventing incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals from pursuing economic opportunities. Jon supports establishing a pilot program for small business development by formerly incarcerated individuals to encourage them to develop and launch their own small businesses. He additionally supports the removal of prohibitions preventing currently incarcerated individuals from receiving college-level credit.
Education plays a critical role in providing the necessary tools for people to pursue opportunity. Jon supports universal pre-kindergarten education to ensure that every child has the tools they need to jumpstart their education from an early age, as well as universal free school lunch and a weekend-backpack program to ensure that every child is fed regardless of socioeconomic background. Jon also believes it is essential that we end school-to-prison pipeline practices such as excessive discipline in schools, particularly suspension and expulsion, that cause serious problems. For individuals who are incarcerated, Jon supports investing in educational programs that allow people to gain the training and skills they need to re-enter society.
We know the current healthcare system in America produces disparate outcomes largely based on race. Recent COVID-19 statistics showing higher mortality rates for people of color are just the latest example. We have watched black and brown mothers and babies have higher infant mortality rates while people of color have a history of many doctors not even believing their symptoms of pain.
While you can read about Jon’s broader thoughts on healthcare here, Jon also supports efforts to reduce implicit bias in medical professional training, investment in programs that serve higher-risk mothers such as the Nurse-Family Partnership, better data collection recognizing the impact of race, among other factors, on health outcomes, efforts to take a more holistic review of health disparities modeled on the Racial Disparities Task Force recently formed by Gov. Whitmer and chaired by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist.
Thanks for reading Jon’s Racial Equity & Law Enforcement Accountability Agenda. We understand that this platform is incomplete, and we look forward to continuing the dialogue about how to best address our country’s historical oppression of people of color. Have feedback? Please let us know.