Max Garbarino of Hamtramck is the first (and youngest) police chief in the history of the city to engage in a dialogue with the city’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. Bill Meyer, a member of the Hamtramck NAACP states that he cannot recall any preceding police chief taking such an initiative and commends Garbarino for his efforts.
The meeting occurred on the south end of the city in the People’s Community Services facility on Saturday afternoon. Upwards of 30 people attended the meeting including notable appearances by Michigan Congressman Hansen Clarke, and Juanita Sephers, Hamtramck NAACP President.
Juanita Sephers commenced the dialogue by voicing a number of objections to the current state of affairs for minorities in Hamtramck and the surrounding area. Her initial criticism was the marginalization that African-Americans have faced when seeking employment in the municipal sector; in other words, Sephers felt that for so long to be an African-American and work for the city, “You had to know someone” she stated. In support of her claim, there is currently only one African-American working in city hall. She continued to express that this marginalization of African-Americans pervades the public sector, from the police station, to the fire department as well as the educational system. Sephers noted that that there is not a single black firefighter, and that qualified blacks pursuing careers in education are intentionally disregarded as white educators and administrators only consider black applicants after they have already “hired all their [white] friends”.
Garbarino attributes these systemic injustices to “a lack of communication”, which he suggests may be remedied by presenting these serious issues to the largely unaware public. Garbarino agreed that there is currently a lack of diversity in his department, a predicament that as newly appointed chief of police he is both empowered and determined to change.
Congressman Hansen Clarke was next to weigh in on the issue of minorities being marginalized and underrepresented in the public scope. Born to an African-American mother and a Bangladeshi father, Clarke is no stranger to the mistreatment of minorities and multi-ethnic citizens. The focus of Clarke’s criticism was upon the United States’ overwhelming and unjustified tendency to profile people of color, specifically African-Americans. He asserted that this racial mistreatment is most evident in the excessive jailing of young blacks convicted of drug offenses while young whites convicted of comparable offenses are given much more lenient treatment; regardless, Clarke is convinced that we as a country are facing a “mass incarceration of our young people”.
Raphael Thurin, another attendant of the conference and a member of the Hamtramck Community Initiative stressed the importance and effectiveness of neighborhood watch groups, in which residents remain on the lookout for suspicious activity in their areas and correspond with law enforcement. Garbarino fully supported Thurin’s comments and claimed, “That helps us to patrol…and keep the city safer”.
Garbarino went on to express that he does not want himself or his officers to feel that they are operating apart from the community and population they are designated to protect and serve. Though this initial and precedent setting meeting is as Titus Walker (an African-American Hamtramck School Board Member) puts it, “a good start”, there is much more work to do, and much more progress to be made towards making the city of Hamtramck a deeply connected and harmonious union of the governed and the government.