civil rights

Retired Ford executive and former Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour says adopting LGBT protections in law will help the state attract and retain talent.
Rick Pluta / MPRN

A state House committee adjourned today without voting on legislation that would add LGBT protections to Michigan’s civil rights law, and it appears the effort has stalled as the Legislature grows close to wrapping up for the year.

LGBT flag.
Guillaume Paumier / Flickr

A coalition of business and civil rights leaders is expanding an effort to lobby Michigan's Legislature to make it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people.

The Michigan Competitive Workforce Coalition consists of representatives from over two dozen local and national companies, including Google, Dow Chemical Company, and Zingerman's, as well as various local associations and chambers of commerce.

By now everyone knows, or at least thinks they know, something about Michael Brown. He was, of course, the unarmed black teenager shot to death by a white police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson 10 days ago.

His death has reopened our eternal and eternally painful dialogue about equal rights and race. But what makes me sad is that a true civil rights movement giant died in Detroit two days ago, and almost nobody even noticed.

Fifty years ago this summer, a young black woman lawyer from Detroit named Claudia House Morcom arrived in Mississippi on a mission that really meant risking her life.

She was there to fight the system of institutionalized vicious racism that prevented black Americans from voting, and reduced them to subhuman status in virtually every way.

A mentally handicapped Dearborn man plans to sue the city for alleged police brutality.

28-year-old Ali Beydoun was stopped by police while riding his bike home from his job as a dishwasher in December.

A dashcam video shows that an officer approaches him, and asks a few questions.

But when the officer tries to pat him down for weapons, Beydoun resists. He’s then wrestled to the ground and kicked by officers.

Beydoun’s lawyers say that same video shows officers used excessive force.

Attorney Amir Makled says it also should have been obvious to officers that his client is mentally disabled.

Makled says the situation was complicated by the fact that Beydoun only speaks limited English. His family emigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon six years ago.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In the spring of 1973, Ray Robinson left his wife and three young children in Bogue Chitto, Alabama to support the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

He never came home.

We are one week, halfway through, the trial in federal court in Detroit centering on the challenge to Michigan’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The arguments are supposed to go on for another week, and then we’ll wait for the judge’s decision. But the case’s mere existence, the fact that it’s occurring, is having an effect on the political landscape in Michigan.

And, it should be noted that these hearings are not taking place within a vacuum. Just this week we saw two more gay marriage rulings. Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down and Kentucky was ordered to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

There is also another federal case underway here in Michigan that is challenging the state’s refusal to allow live-in partner benefits for public employees. It’s the mechanism that was created to allow same-sex couples to use their benefits to cover partners and children who would otherwise be denied coverage under Michigan’s marriage amendment, approved by voters in a statewide election 10 years ago.

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In 1963, Michigan voters approved a new state constitution which set up the first Civil Rights Commission in U.S. history.

The Commission works to ensure each citizen receives equal protection without discrimination

Today, fifty years after the creation of the Commission, Matt Wesaw runs the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. A former state trooper, Wesaw is the first Native American to lead the Civil Rights Department.

Wesaw met with us in the studio to discuss the future of civil rights in Michigan.

Listen to the full interview above.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights was created as part of the state constitution drafted in 1963. It’s charged with enforcing civil rights laws and preventing discrimination.

Leslee Fritz is the department’s interim director. She told a group in Grand Rapids Tuesday night the state has come a long way to ensure civil rights in the last five decades.

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Civil rights activists say they’re not done trying to get justice for Trayvon Martin.

They have actions planned in Detroit and around the country to push for federal intervention in the Florida teen’s case.

Neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman shot and killed Martin, a black, unarmed teenager, in 2012.

Zimmerman’s acquittal this past weekend has sparked national outrage—and questions about persistent racial inequities in the justice system.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Michigan’s state constitutional amendment barring racial preferences in university admissions and other public institutions might be the next major case dealing with affirmative action laws in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today not to decide a Texas affirmative action case where a white student challenged the University of Texas’s admission policy that includes race as one of its deciding factors. 

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Michigan State House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) could be opening the door to extending civil rights protections to gays and lesbians. That would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in areas such as employment and housing.

The state's civil rights act protects a variety of groups from discrimination. It includes protections for categories like race and age, but sexual orientation has yet to be included.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Cobo Hall Detroit, June 22, 1963.
50th Anniversary Freedom Walk Facebook Page

Just as his father did fifty years ago, Martin Luther King III will address an expected march of thousands in Detroit.

This year Detroit celebrates the 50th anniversary of the day Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before 25,000 people at Cobo Hall in Detroit and declared, "I have a dream this afternoon." This was just two months before the historic March on Washington.

If you were looking for a quintessential solidly middle-class Michigan suburb, Royal Oak, Michigan might be it. Its 57,000 people are mainly white and solidly middle-class.

The downtown became somewhat of a magnet for the young, and trendy a decade or so ago, and hip twenty-somethings still mingle there with motorcycle bikers and teenage skateboarders on warm summer evenings. But by and large, Royal Oak is average middle-sized suburban homes, built around the baby boom era.

via wikipedia

The Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network are the latest activists to jump behind the fight to Michigan’s emergency manager law.

Sharpton was in Detroit as opponents filed a federal lawsuit today.

Critics maintain that Michigan’s emergency manager law violates both state and federal law by stripping local voting rights in cities and school districts with emergency managers.

And they also argue it’s a racial issue, with black voters disproportionately affected.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Department of Education is now investigating the state of Michigan over alleged civil rights violations.

The department’s civil rights office was already investigating two civil rights cases against the Detroit Public Schools.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

An Arab American civil rights group says it’s hearing from a surge of people in southeast Michigan whose bank accounts were closed down without explanation.

The Arab American Civil Rights League says it’s received about a dozen complaints in the past month.

In each case, the bank notified the client that their account would be shut down. But they refused to provide an explanation.

A new draft report finds allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians hurts Michigan’s economy. The state’s Civil Rights Commission is reviewing the report and might take action.

In Michigan it’s legal to discriminate against people who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. Housing and job discrimination are a couple of the examples that are allowed by law.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Some students, parents, and education advocates from Detroit and Highland Park will testify at a federal hearing in Washington this week.

They are part of a nationwide group speaking out against changes in Detroit and other poor school districts.

The group alleges that some of the measures, particularly closing neighborhood schools, have “sabotaged and destabilized” education for many children.

Helen Moore is with the Detroit-based group Keep the Vote-No Takeover.

She said the group wasn’t getting far fighting these measures at the local level.

Royal Oak City Commissioners unanimously approved a measure to start drafting a human rights ordinance Monday.

Such an ordinance would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and other characteristics not covered under state or federal law. A number of Michigan cities have similar laws on the books.

Royal Oak voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed human rights ordinance in 2001.

But City Commissioner Jim Rasor is convinced public opinion on gay rights has shifted drastically since then.

isabellacounty.org

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit against Isabella County.

It says the county jail violates the constitutional rights of inmates with cells that are too crowded, and too few opportunities to exercise.

The federal lawsuit also says the jail discriminates against female inmates because they can’t participate in work assignments that could reduce their sentences.   

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta filed the lawsuit.

State Bar of Michigan

Michigan’s landmark civil rights law was celebrated today as a legal milestone in a ceremony at the state Capitol that re-united the two main sponsors of the legislation.

State Representative Daisy Elliott was a Democrat from Detroit. State Representative Mel Larsen was a Republican from Oakland County.

The 36-year-old Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act protects against discrimination based on race, religion, gender; national origin, or marital status.

Asian-American and civil rights activists commemorated the 30-year anniversary of Vincent Chin’s death this weekend.

Chin’s murder outside a Highland Park strip club in 1982—just days before his wedding--is widely credited with galvanizing a national Asian-American civil rights movement.

A Muslim civil rights group says federal agents are wrongly detaining and questioning Muslim-Americans coming into the U-S.

The Michigan Council on American-Islamic Relations lays out those accusations in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

They’re suing on behalf of four Muslim U-S citizens. All say they were subject to “invasive religious questioning” when they tried to re-enter the country from Canada.

Shareef Akeel is a lawyer for the plaintiffs. He says Muslims are clearly being singled out for this type of "persecution," and that’s illegal.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

A battle over gay and lesbian legal protections is heating up.

Sixty-five local elected officials have signed a letter supporting a bill that would add sexual orientation to the state civil rights act.

Derek Dobies is a city councilman in Jackson. He says this is an economic issue for Michigan.

“Given Michigan’s brain drain," says Dobies, "we need to do everything that we can…both at the local level and at the state level that’s within our power…to put a welcome sign on Michigan.” 

Jon Hoadley is the director of the Unity Michigan Coalition. He says its important to have the support of local leaders in this statewide fight.

“We have elected officials in Grand Rapids…Kalamazoo and Jackson," says Hoadley, "cities big and small across the state saying ‘we think that non-discrimination protections are good for us and they’re good for Michigan’.” 

Eighteen cities in Michigan have local ordinances against discrimination against gays and lesbians.

There is a bill in the state House to nullify those local ordinances.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Nearly 50,000 state workers are getting refunds on the 3 percent they've been paying for a year toward retiree health care costs.

State budget director John Nixon estimates a worker making $50,000 a year will get back about $1,500.

Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills last month agreeing to refund the money after courts ruled the fee unconstitutional. The money was being returned Thursday.

Workers can choose to receive the refunds in their paychecks or as a deposit into their 401(k) or 457 retirement accounts.

A similar 3 percent contribution being paid by teachers toward their retiree health care costs is not being refunded.

State employee unions had contested the fee, saying only the Civil Service Commission could impose it. Unionized and nonunionized workers will receive the refund.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Hundreds of people descended on Detroit’s Martin Luther King, Junior high school Monday morning for a march honoring the civil rights leader.

It was just one of many events honoring Dr. King that took place around Metro Detroit.

Hundreds of people came out for the third annual Detroit Public Schools-sponsored march, many of them students. But some adults, like Alicia Gassiamo, came to honor a figure whose sacrifices they say made a real difference in their lives.

user mconnors / morgueFile

The head of the American Family Association of Michigan is appealing a court ruling that upheld a federal hate crime law.

The law, called the Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, was expanded in 2009 to protect people victimized because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

Gary Glenn claims the law is unconstitutional because of the threat it poses to free speech:

Daniel Krichbaum is head of the only department of state government explicitly authorized by the Michigan Constitution.

He is also executive director of the smallest department of state government, one that few people even know exists. If you haven‘t guessed, it is the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.

And if your response is, “huh? Civil Rights? That’s so 1960s. Isn’t that over?” he won’t be surprised. He hears that all the time.

Krichbaum, in fact, has been around for long enough to have had a number of stellar careers. He has a PhD in education and is an ordained Methodist minister. But he’s devoted most of his career to public service, most notably as head of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity. Before that, he spent seventeen years as parks and recreation director for the City of Detroit.

Police say longtime Flint civil rights activist and attorney C. Frederick Robinson has been fatally shot. The Flint Journal reports Robinson was killed late last night in Flint at his home. There are no suspects in the case.

Robinson was dedicated to equal rights. In addition to organizing rallies and generating support for the civil rights movement, Robinson was instrumental in the 1968 passage of the fair housing ordinance. Its approval made Flint among the first cities to pass an open-housing referendum by popular vote.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Gender identity and sexual orientation are a hot topic right now in the city of Holland. That’s because Holland city council is considering adding local laws that protect people against discrimination for being gay or transgender. The ordinance would give them protection from discrimination by employers and landlords. The issue is extremely divisive in the generally conservative city.

Reverend Ralph Houston reads passages from the bible to city council at an informal meeting last night. He says passing the ordinance would lead to moral chaos.

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