An estimated 700 people staked out their own Black Lives Matter protest in Huntington Woods, a city of around 6,000 residents, late in the afternoon on Friday, June 5.
An estimated 700 people staked out their own Black Lives Matter protest in Huntington Woods, a city of around 6,000 residents, late in the afternoon on Friday, June 5. (Photo: Andrew Lapin/Jewish News)

Suburb seeks to combat institutionalized prejudice.

The City of Huntington Woods recently approved an “Anti-Racism Plan” as part of efforts to expand its commitment to build equity and tackle institutionalized prejudice on a local level.

The plan, approved by the city commission on Oct. 14, comes after a statement issued by the heavily Jewish Detroit suburb June 2 condemning acts of racial injustice in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others. Its goal, according to Mayor Robert Paul and city commissioners, is to identify “specific and attainable action items.”

“It is not enough to simply claim we are not racist,” Paul said in a press release. “We must work toward eradicating fear and turmoil and ensure that Huntington Woods is a warm and welcoming city for all.”

“We’re going to start by focusing on the city of Huntington Woods’ practices, educating our staff as well as changing our hiring policies, and we’re also going to try to bring some education points to the community at the same time,” Paul told the JN. 

Paul believes that the plan is fluid and will change over time, with expectation it will look different as the years go by.  

Black Lives Matter protest in Huntington Woods
Black Lives Matter protest in Huntington Woods Andrew Lapin/Jewish News

“Hopefully it’s a much more robust plan in the next year or two, with specific plans on what to do and how to do it, and I think a lot of that is going to come through the education process as we develop and roll that out to learn more,” Paul said. 

Huntington Woods has a population of just over 6,000 people, and 95% of its residents are white, with the median household income as of 2018 being over $130,000. Commissioner Michelle Elder said those demographics played a large role in her decision to help spearhead and back the anti-racism plan.

“If we are going to aspire for diversity and inclusion, we have to think about a sustainable future in how we make people of color feel when they’re residents or visiting or hear about Huntington Woods,” Elder said.

Elder refers to the plan as a “framework,” and an ongoing commitment to continuous learning and self-examination.

“When we learn about these things and identify implementation or action items that we can do or adjust public policies, we’ll identify those opportunities for change as we learn about it,” Elder said. “This is a learning process, and everyone is in their own phase of understanding systemic racism and its impact on different levels.”

The plan advocates for “reviewing and revising existing policies to make them more equitable and creating new policies and programs to promote an anti-racist perspective and expand opportunities to end institutional oppression,” according to the release.

The plan has three main goals: Learning & Recognition, Community Relations and Public Policy. It contains programs and initiatives to be carried out at City Hall, the public library, and in the Parks & Recreation and Public Safety departments.

Anti-Racism Training

Possible “action items” outlined in the plan may include curating lists of anti-racist reading materials at the public library; implementing ongoing anti-racism training for both the city’s police department and city administration; publishing police department policies on use of force; and advocating for legislation that eliminates excessive fees and fines that disproportionately impact lower-income individuals.

Rebecca Driker-Ohren, an IfNotNow Detroit member who was involved in a Black Lives Matter march in Huntington Woods in June, believes the plan is a positive step to take, but would like the plans to be more specific and well-rounded. 

Driker-Ohren and Zak Witus, another IfNotNow Detroit member involved in the June march, both raise questions about the plan not decreasing funding for the police, a major call from Black leaders during this year. 

“I’m kind of wondering if Huntington Woods is following the Black Lives Matter movement, or if they’re taking their own lead and if that’s the best way of doing things,” Driker-Ohren said. 

Witus believes there’s some good things in the plan, and appreciates the framing that it’s not enough to “not be racist” and that people have to combat all of its forms and be anti-racist. 

Witus is also the coordinator for the core organizing team of the new Huntington Woods for Black Lives group, which recently started a letter-writing campaign seeking a “moral city budget”. 

“It is fundamentally wrong for Huntington Woods to spend millions of dollars on policing — a full 40% of the budget — while our neighbors in nearby cities struggle to find adequate food, housing, and education for their kids,” Witus said. 

The city’s plan is currently wrapping Phase I, which includes benchmarking as well as staff education and training. Phase II of the plan is set to begin in January and will include an unveiling of a full Master Plan along with space for community collaboration.

In Phase III, set to take place in July 2021, programs are set to be implemented at the library, recreation center and public safety areas, and the city will measure and evaluate what they’ve learned in the past year.

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  1. I wonder what this phrase means “fines that disproportionately impact lower-income individuals” in a town with a median income of >$130K.

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