[These are the prepared remarks written and delivered by Heather McMeekan at the press conference at city hall.]
Thank you all for being here today. My name is Heather McMeekan, and I’m the President of the Democratic Women of McDonough County. We are here today, first and foremost, to celebrate a true hero in our community who, despite the odds, managed to locate and bring home his developmentally-disabled brother, in spite of being turned away repeatedly by the Macomb Police, who had put the disabled man in harm’s way in the first place. This hero’s courage, determination, and love brought his brother home, and we wish to honor him. Tamar Walker, on behalf of the Democratic Women of McDonough County, I’d like to tell you THANK YOU for your actions. Without your efforts, as we all know, this situation could have ended in tragedy. You are to be commended.
Tamar’s efforts wouldn’t have been necessary, however, without the bizarre actions of the Macomb Police Department in their creation of this emergency, failure to respond, ever-shifting explanations, and truly abhorrent lack of any apparent regard for the safety and health of either of these community members.
We wish to state clearly that Tamar wanted to acknowledge the Macomb Police Officers who have treated him and his brother well over the years, and so do we. We understand that the failures of leadership in no way reflect the views of all the officers. We know we have good officers here. Our position is that they are just in need of good leadership and accountability for those in their department who don’t deserve to wear the mantle of authority and power given to them by the tax-paying citizens of this community.
I want to give a content warning at this time to warn our viewers today that the information we will be discussing is upsetting, and is likely to be re-traumatizing for many members of our Black community, those with loved ones with disabilities, those who have had negative experiences with police and public officials, and those with compassion and concern for human beings. Please take care when viewing this press conference.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations:
“Law enforcement officers and other officials like judges and prosecutors have been given tremendous power by local, state, and federal government agencies—authority they must have to enforce the law and ensure justice in our country. These powers include the authority to detain and arrest suspects, to search and seize property, to bring criminal charges, to make rulings in court, and to use deadly force in certain situations.
“Preventing abuse of this authority, however, is equally necessary to the health of our nation’s democracy. That’s why it’s a federal crime for anyone acting under “color of law” to willfully deprive or conspire to deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or U.S. law. “Color of law” simply means the person is using authority given to him or her by a local, state, or federal government agency.”
“Deprivation of medical care: Individuals in custody have a right to medical treatment for serious medical needs. An official acting under color of law who recognizes the serious medical need, but knowingly and willfully denies or prevents access to medical care may have committed a federal color of law violation.
“Failure to keep from harm: The public counts on its law enforcement officials to protect local communities. If it’s shown that an official willfully failed to keep an individual from harm, that official could be in violation of the color of law statute.”
- [Reading of the situation]
Because Mayor Inman refuses to work with us or our Racial Justice Coalition, it has become clear to us that our city leadership isn’t interested in taking actual actions to dismantle the many structural injustices in our local government, which permit racism and bigotry to harm our community members and threaten this town’s very economic survival. Indeed, Mayor Inman knew we were bringing this case to light when he called for that statement signing last week proclaiming his concern for diversity and inclusion.
We appreciate that several people who signed that statement are forthright and have good intentions, such as WIU President Abraham, Reverand Kelly Ingersoll, Executive Director Merritt, as have been demonstrated through their actions in the community.
Yet we have some questions.What members of the Black and Hispanic/Latino communities were invited to help write that statement? To sign it? To show up and witness the signing? If Mayor Inman is serious about these issues, why has he been silent on this case, waiting for journalists to come to him?
- [Reading of the Questions]
In the course of investigating this situation, we received many complaints about long-term harassment of Black people in this community by some Macomb Police Officers. One name that several white community members who are staffers in multiple agencies reported as being an officer that regularly tries to get Black people in trouble with their places of employment and housing is Officer Linsey May. The accounts are beyond troubling; we are prepared to put witnesses in contact with investigators to see if civil and human rights violations have occurred, and we believe there is good evidence that an investigation will yield very disturbing information about the behavior of some of our officers.
- [Reading of the Affidavits]
Because it has become clear to us that we cannot trust the Macomb Police Leadership to treat all members of our community with dignity, respect, and compassion, we are announcing the following actions we are taking as an organization to help the people in our community who feel unheard by those in City Hall and the Police Department.
- We will help any of our Black, Hispanic, Latino, Native American community members who wish to escape this community by helping them with their resumes, then using our network to help them connect with services in the community they wish to move to so they have support. A form will be placed on our website.
- We are holding a free 4 hour training for all community members who wish to learn about trauma and how to help each other heal from it.
- We are announcing a Town Hall on Racial Justice and Town Gown Relations on Thursday night, January 30, from 6-8 pm, in Macomb City Hall, where our members will begin discussing the various structures enabling racism and disparity in our community to remain unchecked and harmful to our marginalized community members.
- Because we have a growing body of compelling evidence that members of our community are threatened with retailiation should they wish to file complaints against the Macomb Police Department and several community leaders engaging in conduct which should be investigated, we are placing a form up on our website so that all community members may submit their complaints to us to help us plan our actions and to connect them to aid and supportive services as much as possible
Finally, we re-iterate our initial asks of the Mayor and our City Council:
- Open an investigation of the Macomb Police Department
- Issue a Proclamation declaring Macomb an open and welcoming city for all, AND
· condemning all acts of bigotry and intolerance, AND
· calling on ALL city and county boards, commissions, and committees to issue the same or sign on
- Encourage all City Council members to canvass their Wards at least annually so they are regularly directly informed about the conditions in the city by those they represent
- Provide at least two method(s) of outreach to communicate, educate, and inform. Some examples City Council members in other communities provide include hold Town Halls, Coffee Conversations, online reporting forms, newsletters, FB pages, letters to the editor of the paper, etc.
- Put an online reporting form for such concerns on the city website
- Solicit information from the public about other possible sightings/experiences, ensuring a transparent reporting process to help community members feel safe when making such reports
- Fix the broken link for the “complaint reporting form” on the Macomb Police Department website, which has remained broken for many months
- Annually solicit data about the public perception regarding the culture and functioning of the leadership and members of the Macomb Police Department
- Publish an annual report detailing how such information informs police department leadership, hiring, training, advancement, leadership, and functioning
- Place that information on the City Website, linked to a web form for solicitation of feedback from the community
· Update the city website listing for the “Police and Fire Commission” to include:
· Dates, times of meetings
· Contact info for all members
· A description of the purpose, scope, and function of the commission
· Links to all relevant governing documents and policies
· Creation of a web form for all to submit a complaint/concern to the commission’s members
· List the process for how to get on the agenda of the meeting