Signs of change

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Livonia billboard raises awareness about local police practices

by Ben Bolstrum | Campus Life Editor
Photo courtesy of metrotimes.com

When driving down Telegraph Road, South of I-96, drivers are greeted by a grim billboard. The message reads: “Driving while black? Racial profiling just ahead. Welcome to Livonia.” Rumors have long been whispered of racial tension within the city. It holds the dark reputation of being a “sundown town” from the 1920s to the 1960s. Within this time period, black people were not welcomed into the city limits after nightfall under the threat of violence. With such a notorious past, this sign has swept the small city of Livonia up into a grisly controversy.

This story begins with a Facebook group known as Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives (LCCABL) that can be found here: facebook.com

Upset with the reputation Livonia has for pulling over black drivers disproportionately, organizers within the group raised $1,800 to set up the message. Redford Township was chosen as the location due to billboards being prohibited in Livonia itself. It went live Monday, July 6, and the coordinators aim to keep the billboard up for a minimum of two weeks.

Along with this, the local group asked the Livonia Police Department (LPD) to release traffic stop data to gauge the rate at which black drivers are pulled over versus their white counterparts. The group stated they had the right to receive these statistics due to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which was created in 1967 and allows for the public to request information from a federal agency.

The LPD gave the group an ultimatum, citing a $13,000 invoice charge if they wanted the information. This was most likely due to a clause in the FOIA that does not require an agency to create a new database to appease inquiring citizens. Currently, ways to reduce this charge are being discussed with the Mayor of Livonia, Maureen Brosnan.

Unfortunately, I believe this billboard message is totally counterproductive to our efforts to ensure Livonia is a welcoming place for all: a goal that this group and I share,” explains Brosnan in a statement regarding the sign in Hometownlife.com. “This billboard may advance division. It most certainly will not advance progress – something I am very committed to do.”

Livonia Police Chief Curtis Caid agreed with the mayor’s words in recent comments given to Hometownlife.com. “Livonia police officers do not target their enforcement actions to individuals based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, etc,” he stated. “Racial profiling is a serious allegation and is not tolerated.”

“Some people want to deny that it’s a problem that can’t be the way,” said Delisha Upshaw, co-founder of Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives gave in a statement to Hometownlife.com. “Livonia is not an all-white city anymore. We have to be a city that is welcoming for everyone.”

As a result, and likely in response to the recent allegations, the LPD released some information by creating a website to ease the current community tensions. The website released 

the 2019 traffic stop data and more which can be found here: livoniapd.com/pact/

In 2019, 1,223 white males were arrested compared to 1,810 black males. This means that 26 percent of the total arrests made were white males while 38.5 percent were black. 528 white females were arrested compared to 1,020 black females. This means that 11.2 percent of total arrests were white females while 21.7 percent were black.

Livonia is a predominantly white community with 90.62 percent to be exact according to worldpopulationreview.com. On the other hand, Livonia holds a minuscule black or African-American demographic of less than 5 percent. This statistic brings with it a wildly disproportionate ratio of arrests, compounded by the fact that 5 out of the 187 LPD members are not white according to the LPD’s new website. This has left concerned citizens answerless as they question the department’s practices.

A crowdfunding project for the billboard was started by LCCABL President, Delisha Upshaw, to keep the message up and that information can be found here: plumfund.com.

The Connection has reached out to the LPD, Mayor Brosnan and Delisha Upshaw. All were unavailable to comment at this time. Please check back for updates.