On Tuesday, July 18, over 50 residents including city of Lansing officials and more than a dozen grassroots organizations came together for a press conference at what is now named David C. Hollister City Hall. The issue at hand was a hate-based incident that occurred two weeks prior, when a 47-year-old Hispanic man was physically assaulted; the man’s statement and surveillance of the scene immediately led to a hate crime investigation.
“We do not tolerate hate crimes here, in the city of Lansing, especially based on one’s race, gender, age, ethnicity [or] sexual orientation,” said Lansing Police Department (LPD) Chief Michael Yankowski at the presser. “And, we will utilize all available federal, state, county and local resources in our investigation.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) was contacted by the LPD to assist with the case, and a facial composite of one suspect was released. No suspect has been brought into custody yet, and the LPD is working with the victim during this ongoing investigation.
“As soon as a crime is reported to the Lansing Police Department, the case is immediately evaluated to determine what resources are needed to investigate the incident. As with this investigation, the highest priority was placed on it by the responding officers and command team,” said Robert Merritt, public information officer for the LPD. “The case was assigned to the LPD Investigations Division and became an immediate priority.”
The LPD’s investigation is being assisted by the FBI. Investigators remain diligent for due process of law, and organizations across Lansing galvanize to disable bigotries and equip community members with tools needed to “combat” hate at every turn; more so, many organizations have been busy well before this summer’s incident and will continue well after.
For example, Black Lives Matter Lansing (BLM Lansing) — the local chapter of the black liberation, anti-police brutality movement sparked by the extrajudicial shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 — held an anti-hate rally at the Capitol on Aug. 19, where hundreds gathered to disavow white supremacy and advocate for the equity of marginalized people across all spectrums of race, gender, sexual orientation and physical disability.
BLM Lansing has also formed Election 20XX, a response to the 2016 U.S. General Election that helps residents prioritize voting at local and state levels; this has included public teach-ins and the City Leadership Debate on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at the Gier Community Center, where candidates for mayor, city clerk and city council in the upcoming City General Election on Nov. 7 were invited to attend.
While Lansing stays proactive, a unique opportunity for community action has fallen on its doorstep. Tuesday, Sept. 12 marked the launch of Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) in Lansing, a process by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) that challenges citizens in only 14 multi-sector collaborations across the U.S. to unpack localized history and racialized inequalities with an honest eye.
“How do we become our better selves by uprooting the false belief in a racialized hierarchy of human value … do we change our hearts and minds in ways that allow us to examine policy and practices with a racial-equity lens?” asked Angela Waters Austin, co-founder of BLM Lansing. “How do we cultivate relationships with people that challenge us to strive for and reach new levels of compassion and humanity?”
In June 2017, WKKF committed approximately $24 million to implement the national TRHT framework; the Michigan Council of Foundations is the fiscal sponsor for TRHT in Michigan, which includes the cities of Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Flint.
With over 25 years of experience, Austin represented her 13-year strong nonprofit One Love Global Inc. to an invite-only, weeklong TRHT Summit hosted by WKKF in California at the end of 2016; Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero requested she coordinate Lansing’s part in the Michigan proposal after the Summit, and she was requested by Flint Mayor Karen Weaver as well.
“Taking the lead on developing the proposals was a dream manifested,” said Austin. “I had the pleasure of working with thoughtful and compassionate leaders to craft a vision for
Registration was free for the launch at the Lansing Center; guests were welcomed by dinner and opening remarks from key players, including Austin and Mayor Bernero. Guests also participated in “transformation teams” that emphasize TRHT’s pillars: racial healing and relationship building, narrative, law, economy and separation.
While TRHT finds its footing in Lansing, Austin offers that the first step Metro Lansing can take to combat hate is acknowledging its existence. That critical acknowledgement — no matter who, when or where — is a job
“Many will not challenge injustice and discrimination, experienced or witnessed, for fear of repercussions like losing a job, alienating friends and neighbors … [but] hate speech inspires some to believe falsehoods that undermine their emotional and spiritual stability,” said Austin. “Hate speech emboldens others to commit actions that, perhaps otherwise, they would not dare.”
“TRHT is unlike any other approach we’ve attempted in that it seeks to penetrate the source of hate, the false belief in a hierarchy of human value,” Austin said.
Given activity by police investigators and the community alike, one message is abundantly clear: Hate is not, nor will it ever represent, our Lansing. To learn more about Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation in Greater Lansing and beyond, visit healourcommunities.org.