Grand Rapids, MI – Grand Rapids city leaders are considering a proposed human rights ordinance that would make it a criminal offense for citizens to call police on people of color if it is determined they haven’t broken any laws.
The commission held a public hearing on the ordinance on April 23, to discuss “making it a criminal misdemeanor to racially profile people of color for participating in their lives,” according to a city press release.
The proposed human rights ordinance defined a plethora of protected classes that have allegedly been the subjects of “biased crime reporting.”
Under the proposed ordinance, citizens would be prohibited from “knowingly or recklessly” reporting crimes or potential crimes “if such report is based…on the individuals’ membership in a protected class and not on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in consideration of all available facts and the totality of the circumstances.”
Anyone determined to have violated the ordinance would face a potential $500 fine, according to WOOD.
Proponents of the ordinance claim that law enforcement officers have needlessly been dispatched to multiple scenes unnecessarily due to discrimination or implicit bias on the part of citizens reporting alleged crimes, MLive reported.
“Often times, the Grand Rapids Police Department ends up being caught in the middle of what is a bigger community problem,” LINC Up advocacy group director Jeremy DeRoo said.
“They look bad because they approach individuals who are people of color, and it appears the police department is biased when really they’re responding to phone calls made by the community and it appears that a number of those are motivated by people in a discriminatory way,” he explained.
Resident Lisa Wood told the commission that she is in favor of the ordinance because she is concerned about the welfare of her biracial grandchildren, WOOD reported.
“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,” Wood said. “I refuse to let them grow up in that kind of world.”
Grand Rapids Diversity and Inclusion Manager Patti Caudill said that the ordinance is not intended to discourage people from placing 911 calls, according to MLive.
“Call the police, but if you’re calling because your neighbors are having a barbecue and you’re calling because of some implicit bias because they’re people of color, we don’t want to see that,” Caudill said.
“If you’re in a park or see someone coming through the neighborhood who doesn’t look like you, check your bias before you call the police,” she added, according to The Washington Post.
Critics noted that the proposed ordinance would be difficult to enforce because the intent of the person calling police is not always known.
“How will investigators of the alleged bias determine what is truly a sinister and criminal motive from a simple misunderstanding?” one citizen asked the commission, according to The Washington Post.
Others expressed concerns that people would likely hesitate to report crimes to police out of fear of making a mistake and being criminally charged.
Law enforcement agencies generally encourage people to report suspicious behavior, even if they don't know a crime is being committed.
Citizens also noted that filing a false police report is already an illegal act, and argued that the new ordinance is redundant.
“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 protected class, and to create additional redundant legislation does nothing,” one resident said, according to WOOD.
The city commission is scheduled to vote on the ordinance sometime after May 14.