By Justin P. Hicks
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Grand Rapids has adopted a human rights ordinance in an effort to protect members of various protected classes from being discriminated against across avenues including housing, employment, public services and crime reporting.
The ordinance, which was first introduced in April and has since been updated, passed unanimously Tuesday, Aug. 27, during the evening city commission meeting at City Hall.
Its passing was followed by cheers and clapping throughout the city commission chambers.
Under the new policy, it’ll be contrary to city policy for any person to deny any individual the enjoyment of civil rights because of actual or perceived color, sexual orientation or any other protected class.
The policy includes making bias crime reporting a civil infraction, meaning it would be against city policy to call police and racially profile people of color for non-criminal matters, where the call is made solely as an act of discrimination. If someone is found in violation of the ordinance, they could face a civil infraction of up to $500.
Community members raised concerns about the language in the proposal during an April 23 public hearing. They said the law might deter people from calling the police to report suspicious and potentially criminal behavior.
Police Chief Eric Payne has said he expects that the updates to the ordinance, along with an educational awareness campaign, will ease those resident concerns.
Payne said the language before might have been a little vague, but expects the educational component will be the biggest takeaway to the newest draft.
“This is not a deterrent for people to call the police department when they see actual crimes being committed,” he said. “We’ve always encouraged that … This will hopefully impact those who have hate in their hearts for whatever groups out there that solely call us to intervene in something that’s not criminal in nature.”
In July 2018, the Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission started discussing amendments to the civil rights/human rights ordinance, which was adopted by the city commission in 1953. The ordinance has gone through various changes over the last half-century, including protections for LGBTQ residents.
Protected classes under the ordinance include actual or perceived color, race, religion or creed, sex, gender, identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genotype, age, marital status, medical condition, disability, height, weight or source of lawful income.
The ordinance will go into effect later this year.
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Learn more about ways cities can address bias in our previous coverage: