The group will work to advocate for legislation that targets different forms of hate.
On July 24, members of the Michigan Legislature announced the formation of the Black and Jewish Unity Caucus at the Michigan State Capitol.
The group was spearheaded by Jewish state Sen. Jeremy Moss, Jewish state Rep. Robert Wittenberg, state Sen. Marshall Bullock and state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo.
The group has partnered with the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, an initiative of the JCRC/AJC and the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, and will serve as the group’s “legislative arm,” according to Moss and Wittenberg.
“This group came about after a conversation I had with the Coalition,” Moss told the JN. “They were looking for a legislative arm to not only talk about what is needed, but actually implement those things into law to help combat hatred in Michigan.”
After the conversation, Moss reached out to Wittenberg and then to Bullock, chairman of the Black Caucus in the state legislature, and Gay-Dagnogo, chairwoman of the Detroit Caucus in the legislature, during the height of the recent Black Lives Matter protests in June. Immediately, all of them were on board. But Moss said a key moment for the caucus actually occurred earlier.
“The most defining moment in Michigan was April 30, the protest at the capitol where Nazi imagery and Confederate flags were displayed side-by-side,” Moss said. “This was the time to come together as two targeted communities to support one another and team up and build on our efforts to combat the type of rhetoric that leads to hateful actions.”
The next step for the caucus is to bring more representatives into the group, elect leadership and begin focusing on legislation they want to prioritize. Moss already has two different proposals in mind that he knows will be on the top of the list for the group.
“Representative Kyra Harris Bolden out of Southfield has a bill to ban Nazi imagery, the swastika and the Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds,” Moss said. “Senator Sylvia Santana has been very forceful in taking on the Confederate flag because one of our colleagues wore a Confederate flag mask on the Senate floor. So, I would envision that these would be among our first priorities, so we can really display to people who aren’t targeted by those images why they’re so damaging and why they’re so hateful.”
Wittenberg is optimistic that the group will implement legislation that will deter and minimize the impact and the number of incidents that occur. He also hopes that the partnership with the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity will “bring a lot of community engagement and education so that this is more than just a legislative caucus.”
“Education is also really important. There are a lot of people who may not understand the issue and the importance of what is going on with antisemitism and the racism that we are seeing,” Wittenberg said. “But we really want to get a lot of people in this movement. We want people to speak out when they hear and see things that are blatantly racist and antisemitic.”
The caucus will also serve as the state equivalent to the national Congressional Caucus for Black and Jewish Relations, which is co-chaired by U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield. Moss believes that Lawrence’s work is important on the national level, but that Michigan needs a narrow focus to take on hate in the local community.
“This group is important because hate crimes are on the rise. This is a problem that we can’t relax and think that these types of things happen in history textbooks. They’re happening right now,” Moss said. “The rhetoric is really heated against both of our communities and some people are turning that rhetoric into targeting action against us. It really calls on all of us to band together and to ensure that we are doing everything we can to stop the embers before they flame.”