By Tom Travis
“We have an opportunity to change the course of history. This is for everyone that believes in the heart of humanity that wants to see change,” Black Lives Matter Flint leader DeWaun Robinson told East Village Magazine (EVM) in a recent phone interview.
“We’re not talking about changes just for appeal change like you see at election time,” he said. “We’re talking about real, transformational change. Our goal will be to implement policy change locally and in the legislature.”
President of the Black Lives Matter Flint chapter, Robinson, 33, said the chapter plans to establish a Police Oversight Commission, and that it is “still in the beginning stages of planning.”
The oversight commission will be involved in the “evaluation of officers that are protecting our streets addressing the policies between the police and the police union,” he said.
A Flint Central High School graduate, Robinson is owner and CEO of a video production company, Artistic Visions Enterprise. He has two children–who have sometimes joined him on the protests of recent weeks.
EVM spoke with Robinson earlier in June at ‘peaceful protest’ following the murder of George Floyd. That night Robinson recounted, he and Genesee County Sheriff, Chris Swanson had a “heart to heart” conversation, exchanged numbers and planned to continue talking.
Robinson told EVM that night, ““Ultimately it’s going to take the police force to do it [to end police brutality]. We’re putting pressure on the outside from the community. But internally the police department has to take their blinders off and make some transformational change: how they train the police officers. How they view soft and hard criminals. We want to make sure we look at this totally different. Make us feel like we’re part of the community and to cultivate better relationships. You’ll see less crime and less negative perception.”
“We’re trying to get on the front end of this problem in providing opportunities for training and education,” he said. “Then we can minimize criminal activity.”
Robinson noted issues within the county jail too will be addressed by the oversight commission.
He said the oversight commission will address issues in the jail he called “residential transitions.” Robinson said the commission aims to advocate for those who are locked down and to look at complaints against law enforcement officers that occur within the jail.
Asked if this new Police Oversight Commission is what Black Lives Matter Flint is seeing as part of that “transformational change” Robinson replied, “Absolutely.”
P0lice oversight organizations around the nation and Detroit
Robinson said that Flint’s Police Oversight Commission will likely eventually be a part of a national organization like The National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE). Their website explains, “NACOLE is dedicated to promoting greater police accountability through the establishment or improvement of citizen oversight.” The closest city to Flint that has police oversight is Detroit. Since 1974 Detroit has had what they call The Detroit Police Board of Commissioners, a civilian oversight organization made up of 11 members of the Detroit Police.
Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton says the Oversight Commission will be a “more formalized approach”
EVM interviewed Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton about the oversight commission.
Leyton said, “the Detroit oversight commission is more police centered. Leyton explained that Genesee County’s oversight commission would involve the entire criminal justice system: prosecutor, sheriff, police chiefs, and the courts. Leyton said, “that way it’s going to allow individuals to have input into the entire system as opposed to just police oversight.”
Asked how “the process of oversight” would be carried out. Leyton responded “it’s still in the formation stage.” But he added, “we would meet periodically and we would have discussions about current and upcoming cases. We would discuss the types of investigative techniques that are being used.”
Leyton said about the Genesee County oversight commission, “We’re looking to reach out and involve the community as we move forward in making policy in the criminal justice community. I think that it’s important that folks from every corner of the community be involved, have input and be able to communicate with the policy makers.”
Leyton said the oversight commission gives the community input into the criminal justice system. We have tried to involve the community before but this would be a more formalized approach.
Police Oversight Commission will be made up of law enforcement and residents
The Genesee County Police Oversight Commission will be made up of members of law enforcement including local Michigan State Police lieutenant Yvonne Brantly, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, Flint Police Chief Phil Hart, members of the Flint Township Police Department and the Genesee County Prosecutor’s office. In addition, there will be nine members of the public from each of Flint’s nine wards.
Robinson said Black Lives Matter Flint is going to take the next three to four weeks off so they can plan more extensively for the oversight commission. When they reconvene they expect to establish an application process for members of the public to apply for a place on the commission. The regular meetings of the oversight commission will be open to the public.
Police brutality cases in Genesee County
EVM asked Prosecutor Leyton about the number of police brutality cases in Genesee County. Leyton responded he doesn’t believe there have been many cases in Genesee County.
“Over the years we haven’t had very many at all,” he said. “We have had some incidents and there have been somethings in the jail that have occurred as well.”
Leyton continued, “I think over the years we’ve had very good relationships with the various groups in the community. We’ve had very good communication. Whenever we have had an issue, we’ve reached out to the pastors in the community. But this approach [a Police Oversight Commission] would formalize it a little bit. So we would have regular meetings rather than just meet when there’s an issue. This way we’ll be having meetings even when there isn’t an issue.”
Black Lives Matter Flint chapter led by Robinson separate and different than Black Lives Matter Advisory Council formed by Mayor Neeley
At the beginning of June, Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley established a Black Lives Matter Advisory Council to the Flint Police Department. Robinson clarified that the Black Lives Matter Flint Chapter that he is the president of “is in no way, shape or form connected with” Mayor Neeley’s Black Lives Matter group.
EVM assistant editor and reporter Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.