Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Unveils Portrait of First African American State Legislator

LANSING – The Michigan Black Legislative Caucus (“MLBC”) recently unveiled the oil portrait of former State Representative William Webb Ferguson during its annual Black History Month Celebration, held on Wednesday, February 28, 2018 in the 1st floor Rotunda area of the State Capitol Building.

Rep. Ferguson was first African American to be elected to - and take a seat in - the Michigan House of Representatives. He served two consecutive terms, from 1893 to 1896, and was a member of the Detroit delegation elected from Wayne County. His portrait will hang outside the Senate Appropriations Room, which also once served as the chambers for the Michigan Supreme Court.

“This is historically significant,” said Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), MLBC chairman. “Rep. Ferguson was a plaintiff in ‘Michigan’s Great Civil Rights Case” (Ferguson vs. Gies), in which the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public places was not allowed under Michigan law. This preceded Brown vs. Board of Education by more than 64 years.”

More than 300 people attended, including Governor Rick Snyder, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Kurt Wilder and two members of the Ferguson family, Dr. Lorna Thomas, the great-great niece of Rep. Ferguson, and her son, former State Senator Samuel “Buzz” Thomas.

“This was long overdue,” said Sen. Vincent Gregory, MLBC 1st Vice Chair. “Rep. Ferguson was a trailblazer and staunch civil rights advocate. He was not only the first African American to serve in the House of Representatives, but also the first African American to enroll in the Detroit Public School.”

“He was quite accomplished,” added Rep. Leslie Love, MLBC 2nd Vice Chair. “In addition to his public service, Mr. Ferguson was also a lawyer, printer and real estate broker. In fact, his father, Dr. Joseph Ferguson, was Detroit’s first African American physician.”

MLBC is a coalition of 23 state legislators committed to ensuring that all Michigan citizens have equal opportunities. The Caucus includes members from both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

Pictured left to right:  State Sen. Vincent Gregory, MLBC 1st Vice Chair; State Rep. Leslie Love, MLBC 2nd Vice Chair; State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, MLBC Chairman; Dr. Lorna Thomas; Former State Sen. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas

Pictured left to right: State Sen. Vincent Gregory, MLBC 1st Vice Chair; State Rep. Leslie Love, MLBC 2nd Vice Chair; State Rep. Sheldon Neeley, MLBC Chairman; Dr. Lorna Thomas; Former State Sen. Samuel “Buzz” Thomas.

10 House D's Link Arms During Pledge To Protest Etue, Racial Injustices

Ten members of the House Democratic caucus linked arms on the House floor today as opposed to putting their hand over their heart for the Pledge of Allegiance as a way to draw attention to racial injustices, in general, and a recent Facebook reposting by Col. Kriste Kibbey ETUE, specifically.

Today's display marked the second straight day of the silent protest and it may continue next week, as well, according to participants. It depends, in part, what happens in the coming days if the Legislative Black Caucus meets with Gov. Rick SNYDER and/or Etue about the Michigan State Police director's repost as has been requested.

10 Michigan House Democrats link arms in protest to racial injstice

The apology Etue gave on Wednesday was "as hollow as the words that she put out there," according to Rep. Sheldon NEELEY (D-Flint), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, because it only came after public backlash.

"My colleagues and I are owed an explanation to talk about how we can move forward," Neeley said. "What we need to do is inspire confidence in all Michiganders that they won't be oppressed by any person in a top-level position."

Over the weekend, Etue reposted a meme that called professional athletes who didn't stand for the national anthem "rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates (See "Snyder Will Not Ask Etue To Resign After 'Degenerates' FB Post," 9/27/17). The practice of not standing for the anthem started with black football players upset over instances of law enforcement officers killing African Americans.

Today's action meant different things to different people. For Rep. Jewell JONES (D-Inkster), one of the leaders of the protest and who participated in the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps, said locking arms is a way to bring racial injustice into focus.

Rep. Yousef RABHI (D-Ann Arbor) said, "To me, this is part of a larger conversation we're having in this country about racism in America, about injustice, about different people not being treated as equal, unarmed black people being shot."

It also had to do with Etue, who Rabhi said, "Shouldn't be in that position anymore," which reflects a stance taken Wednesday by the Legislative Black Caucus.

Those who stood together linking arms were Neeley, Jones, Rabhi, Rep. Dave LAGRAND (D-Grand Rapids), Rep. Robert WITTENBERG (D-Oak Park), Rep. Abdullah HAMMOUD (D-Dearborn), Rep. Sherry GAY-DAGNOGO(D-Detroit), Rep. Fred DURHAL III (D-Detroit), Rep. LaTanya GARRETT (D-Detroit) and Rep. Stephanie CHANG (D-Detroit).

At least one other member told MIRS he would have joined them if he had known about the protest.

An audibly upset Rep. Tom BARRETT (R-Potterville), a member of the Army National Guard, said it's one thing for professional athletes to protest. It's quite another for someone who voluntarily took an oath of office to follow the constitution of the United States of America and the state of Michigan. The pledge is a reminder of that oath, he said.

"When you have members disrespecting that, I think it calls into question your suitability for office and if they aren't happy being here and they want to go protest something, perhaps they can do that somewhere else," Barrett said.

"We're creating laws here. This isn't a football game," said Barrett, who said he was going to talk to leadership about his feelings that to make a display of protest in this manner is "inappropriate on the House floor."

Speaker Pro Tem Gary GLENN (R-Midland) struck a similar tone: "I'm entirely open to any discussion about people being treated fairly in every aspect of our society. But I think it's inappropriate and disrespectful to demonstrate during something that's supposed to be a unifying exercise, and always has been, the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag for which men and women are willing to die to defend.

"It's inappropriate, whether it's on a football field or the floor of the state House of Representative."

Speaker Tom LEONARD (R-DeWitt) was asked his opinion literally minutes after learning about the protest and said he feels honored and blessed to come into chamber and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, which reminds him what his duty is to the state.

As to the protest of the 10 House Democrats, "I can't get in and comment on what they just did. Every time I come into this chamber, I am proud to begin with a prayer, and I am proud to put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance."

Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Denounces Etue Facebook Posting and Apology

MLBC demands her immediate resignation or termination

LANSING — The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC) denounced the Facebook posting by Col. Kristie Kibbey Etue, director of the Michigan State Police, that disparaged National Football League (NFL) athletes who exercise their constitutional rights during the pre-game national anthem. The Caucus is further offended by Col. Etue’s failure to apologize for her out-of-touch and disparaging rhetoric, stating only that she thinks “it was a mistake to share this message on Facebook...”

The MLBC demands that she resign immediately or be terminated by Gov. Snyder.

“It is clear that Col. Etue does not understand the nature of the protests, nor respect the constitutional rights of citizens to peacefully protest,” said state Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint), MLBC chairman. “This calls into question her ability and objectivity to lead the men and women in her department who are charged with not just enforcing laws, but also protecting and serving all communities, regardless of race or ethnicity. I have an incredible amount of respect for our men and women in uniform who work hard to protect the people of our state, but such uninformed and disrespectful comments are inexcusable and erode the trust between law enforcement and those they are sworn to protect.”

Col. Etue’s posting stated that NFL players who take a knee during the playing of the national anthem, which is a symbolic protest against racial oppression and police brutality against African Americans, are “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans” and “a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates.” Her duty is to ensure the protection of and unite with the communities of this state, not to continue the divisive and politically charged rhetoric that does not serve to build a better country nor a better Michigan.

State Sen. Vincent Gregory (D-Southfield), a former law enforcement officer and MLBC 1st vice chair, said, “All police officers are held to a higher standard, when it comes to conduct. The director of the State Police is supposed to set that standard. Her posting speaks to how she feels about tax-paying citizens who are exercising their constitutional rights. With a belief such as this, how can we as residents of this great state — millionaire NFL players included — trust the director of the State Police to run the department without bias?”

The MLBC no longer trusts that Col. Etue will fulfill her duties in an objective and unbiased manner. Consequently, the Caucus demands that either Col. Etue resign, or be terminated by Gov. Snyder.

Summit Group May 26

Summit group on May 26 on the Capitol steps

Urban Policy Work Group

An "Urban Policy Work Group" has been formed to legislatively address issues affecting urban areas (e.g., quality education, insurance red-lining, economic development, etc.). Municipal leaders from around the state met on April 28, 2016 in Lansing to announce the group's formation and work plan. Kudos to State Representatives Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) and Brian Banks (D-Harper Woods) for their leadership!!

MLBC Resolutions of Support for House Bills 4167, 4206, 4406, 4407, 4419, 4420, 4466, 4691 and 4692

Resolution In Support of House Bills 4406 & 4407 To Expand Jury Pool Eligibility

Resolution In Support Of House Bill 4466 To Provide for Increased Police Transparency

Resolution In Support Of House Bill 4167 To Require Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave to Certain Employees

Resolution In Support Of House Bills 4206 and 4691 To Create Standards for Human Breast Milk Banks and Prohibit Its Sale on the Internet

Resolution In Support Of House Bill 4692 To Require Public Schools to Teach African American History

Resolution In Support of House Bills 4419 & 4420 to Revise the Penalty for a Felony Firearm First Offense

Senate Minority Leader Jim ANANICH (D-Flint) said he doesn't know why state officials are not aggressively pushing to hook Flint's municipal water supply back to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD), but it feels like the city's impoverished residents is a factor.

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus agrees, Sen. Ananich!! Gov Snyder.....let's restore clean, drinkable water for Flint residents!!

Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Calls For Action In Flint.

MLBC urges Gov. Snyder to act on water crisis in city

LANSING – The Michigan Legilsative Black Caucus (MLBC) today urged Gov. Rick Snyder to issue a State of Emergency for the city of Flint for health concerns dealing with increased lead levels in municipal water.

The MLBC action comes on the heels of similar warnings issued recently by both the city of Flint and Genesee County. Both the city and county have reacted to recent reports and studies that have indicated the presence of coliform bacteria, which suggests the presence of other disease-carrying pathogens. Blood samples of Genesee County children – taken before and after the city ended its contract with the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) and began using Flint River water – shows that the number of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels has jumped from 2.1 percent to 4 percent. Additional tests have also disclosed that the blood-lead levels of children living in the poorest Flint neighborhoods have jumped from 2.5 percent to 6.3 percent.

It has been scientifically proven that even low lead levels can affect many different parts of the body. Lead can especially affect a child’s mental development, behavior, ability to pay attention, hearing, IQ, kidneys and body growth.

State Rep. Sheldon Neeley (D-Flint) first vice chairman of the MLBC, is working with local, state and federal officials to find solutions and resources. A state-declared health emergency will allow the city to access federal funding.

“Issuing a health emergency is the most responsible thing to do,” Neely said. “This is a public health crisis, and our children are most at risk. We urge Gov. Snyder to issue the State of Emergency so the city of Flint can get immediate monetary relief.”

“Water is a basic human right,” state Re. LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit) said. “Many of our urban communities have succumb to various water issues. We have a due diligence to work tirelessly to provide relief to our citizens.”