thoughtful comments submitted by Rev. Daniel Roels, New Hope Church
The strain in Lansing is evident.
It is difficult to know what to do when the raw racial nerve that runs through our whole country is exposed among us, here.
A recent Halloween display raises the specter of the racial lynchings that are part of our nation’s shame, but it turns out that early reactions didn’t take into account cultural differences and the need to teach.
Two summers ago, a teen was pinned and threatened by an off-duty police officer, and various sides rumble, for different reasons, that “If it had been a white kid, we wouldn’t be going through all this.”
If Lansing is going to embrace its diverse present and future, we need to develop a better shared understanding of racism. Modern American racism is not as often slurs and personal abuse as it is broader, institutional, and structural diminishing or exclusion of those who don’t fit in the dominant group. That kind of racism is harder to detect in individuals, but, for example, it shows up in our churches, which remain mostly homogeneous. It hits our schools, one of which didn’t adapt and isn’t in Lansing anymore. It erodes community trust in public institutions, like village government and our police department, both of which would benefit from a diversity closer to that of the community they serve.
If Lansing is going to embrace its diverse present and future, we will need our institutions to adapt.
That’s why I was part of the year-long process, in response to the summer 2017 incident, to develop a “memorandum of understanding” (“MOU”) among village leaders, the LPD, community leaders, and the U.S. Department of Justice. The MOU lists a few actions that the police department will take, with community help, to work to diversify their hiring pool, and a few additional actions for police to develop shared understanding with youth at TF South High School. So the MOU represents a small step forward for our village to adapt to our diverse reality. I give special credit to Village Director of Communications Ken Reynolds and Police Chief Dennis Murrin for being the Village professionals who seemed to invest the most time in discussions.
However, the MOU only scratches the surface of the kind of institutional change Lansing will need—and it could have been much more transformative. For example, why does the MOU not even begin to address more of the concerns raised at the community meeting in August 2017? What about police training? What about the processes of village appointments? What about giving the newly-formed Human Relations Commission some formal authority within village government as opposed to its bylaws making clear that its activities are directed at the community? Even for items that are in the MOU, there is no mechanism of accountability to make sure they are actually accomplished.
The MOU is a step, but it’s not the full journey of becoming the Lansing we must become if we want to be a healthy and safe community where all members can participate with confidence. Will we and our institutions respond in time to choose our future, or will we be forced by demographic change and therefore at a greater social cost? It’s up to us, the individuals who are part of the institutions and the structure we call a community.
Rev. Daniel Roels, New Hope Church
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