Dozens gathered for a virtual town hall forum on Thursday, June 18, to discuss racism and police reform in Ypsilanti.
Many provided their input concerning steps toward defunding the police and improving the department's overall relationship with the public. One attendee, Elena Lamping, asked whether the abolishment of the Ypsilanti Police Department was a possibility.
“Bring it on,” Mayor Beth Bashert said. “Say what you want to say. All ideas are on the table for right now, as far as we’re concerned.”
Mayor Bashert, Mayor Pro-tem Lois Richardson, members of the Ypsilanti Police Advisory Commission, and about 40 community members attended the Zoom meeting. Mayor Bashert and Pro-tem Richardson stressed that the event was intended to create a space for the community to speak directly with city leadership.
Chief of Police Tony DeGiusti commented on the city council’s decision to set aside funds for a social worker in the police department. A social worker, he said, would be better suited to answer some of the calls the department regularly receives. Some expressed concern over the plan, saying social workers should not be a part of the police force, but instead part of a separate organization.
Others raised concerns about the way in which police are held accountable for use of force. Andy Fanta, chair of the Police Advisory Commission, pointed out the monthly report the commission receives which details police activity.
“The tickets written, the calls for service, etcetera, etcetera,” Fanta said. “Everything the department has done is in a very easy to read format prepared by the chief. . .Very clearly marked is a section of the report that describes police activities where force was used.”
According to Fanta, between four and six uses of force are reported per month.
However, one attendee with the screen name “Gabby” pointed out the potential flaws of such a reporting system.
“You’re asking us to rely on the police self-reporting, accurately, uses of force,” Gabby said. “I don’t think we can just assume those are accurate numbers. We all know that there are things that happen that don’t go reported... I can’t, as a Black citizen who lives in Ypsi, believe that there are 70 use of force incidents that happen in this city during a year.”
Fanta thanked her for her statement before responding, “I understand the nature of your statement is expressing a sentiment instead of something empirical.”
At this point, Mayor Bashert cut in to tell Fanta “...It’s our job tonight to listen, and I think what Gabby had to say is important, because that points out a trust issue in the city, and I think it was important to hear her.”
Heather Freeling, a member of the Police Advisory Commission, voiced her support for defunding the police.
“What that really means is moving away from the stunted conception of what public safety looks like,” Freeling said. “Investing in mental health, housing services, and other community-based organizations, and not just law enforcement.”
Amid discussion about police reform were two explicit calls for Mayor Bashert’s resignation. Since Tuesday, Bashert has been facing backlash for a comment she made during a city council meeting.
“Since I will be crucified if I vote against any Black person on any commission, I'm going to vote yes," said Bashert during a vote concerning the reappointment of city human relations commissioner Ka’Ron Gaines
Other council members criticized her statement, and all members aside from Bashert voted no. Later in the meeting, Council Member Nicole Brown asked Bashert to apologize. Bashert brushed the discussion aside, saying, “Thank you, I will consider your comment.” She took to Facebook with an apology the following day.
Bashert alluded to the incident in commencing Thursday night’s forum.
“Due to recent events,” she said, “I’m going to take a backseat roll in this meeting.”
Community member and EMU graduate, Sam Jones-Darling would later comment on the incident and ask Bashert to resign.
“...I have seen the devaluing of Black lives under your administration as mayor of the city of Ypsilanti, and it’s not acceptable,” he said. “...It’s time that you held yourself accountable. Step up, understand that you are, indeed racist, and that step up can’t be a post on Facebook. You have to resign,“ Jones-Darling said.
“We are awaiting your prompt resignation,” another attendee said later in the evening. Bashert politely thanked both for their comments.
Mayor Bashert provided a Zoom meeting link to a Police Advisory Commission and City Council joint meeting set for Tuesday, June 23. Part of the meeting is reserved for public comment, where individuals will have three minutes each to present their statements.
A recording of the forum is available on Facebook.