OPINION

Lansing mayoral candidates face off over felony firearms policy

Posted

By ANDY SCHOR

Schor,
Schor,

OPINION
(Andy Schor is seeking a second term as mayor of Lansing in the Nov. 2 general election.)

As the mayor of Lansing, I have taken a stand against gun violence. I have joined with Dion’trae Hayes (Lansing Township supervisor), Ron Styka (Meridian Township supervisor), John Hayhoe (Delhi Township supervisor) and almost all other chief executives of communities in Ingham County to ask the county prosecutor to reverse her police of not charging for felony firearm when guns are present during another crime. The signers are diverse and reflect Ingham County.

I signed this letter because I do not want the perception among criminals to be that guns can be brought to a crime without consequence.

There is certainly a racial disparity in those accused of gun violence. But minorities are also disproportionately victims of gun violence. And that is what the prosecutor is ignoring. I have spoken to parents and grandparents of victims of gun violence (mostly people of color). They expect justice, and they want to see fewer guns on the streets. These families are upset by the blanket policy that fails to take evidence and circumstance into account. I would hope that the prosecutor would listen to these voices within our community in addition to the national VERA report that she is citing and review charges case by case.

We do need changes in the Felony Firearm statute. I ensured that the letter I signed stressed the need for change at the state level, which the prosecutor and I agree on. The mandatory minimum sentence of two years for a first offense needs to change. And the consecutive sentencing requirement needs to change. Judges need to be able to decide the necessary punishment case by case, just as the prosecutors should have the ability to charge case by case. They need the ability to balance justice for the victims with the ability to rehabilitate and reform offenders instead of simply locking them away. That change comes from the state legislature. I join with Rep. Sarah Anthony and others who are willing to work on this.

Gun violence is real, and we are all seeing the impacts. People are afraid in Lansing and throughout the nation. Too many guns are on the streets, and there are too many gun shots and homicides. I have a plan to address this. I proposed and passed through City Council more police officers in Lansing to patrol the streets and respond to crimes, and we are actively hiring to fill those spots. We were fully staffed and actually overstaffed a few years ago, but recent proposals at City Council to cut the police by 50% have hampered hiring efforts. I will not cut the Police Department without a reduction in crime and calls (we get 85,000 per year), and we are actively recruiting police officers and sponsoring officers in the police academy. I also want to provide positive outlets for our youth. As the pandemic has lessened and vaccinations have become available, we reopened community centers and allocated $180,000 to community programs. We also allocated $240,000 to join with Ingham County to use street outreach to reform those who have gone down the wrong path before they land in prison or worse. And we have a Violent Crime Initiative that is actively taking hundreds of guns off the streets.

Our work toward public safety expands far beyond what’s mentioned here, and our plan is what’s needed to reverse the trend. As mayor, I will continue addressing crime head-on through a comprehensive approach that involves community input and putting plans into action.

I join with most of the other chief executive officials in Ingham County to ask the prosecutor to charge case-by-case based on the evidence, and to remember the victims families as well as those accused of the crimes, instead of having a blanket policy to not charge for felony firearm as a secondary offense.

 

By KATHIE DUNBAR

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar
Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar

OPINION
(Councilwoman Dunbar is a candidate for mayor of Lansing in the Nov. 2 general election. This column was updated to correct a distinction between a criminal charge and conviction. )

After a year-long publicity campaign of press conferences and committee reports that feign to address racial disparities in Lansing, Andy Schor denounced Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemen for adopting an evidence-based policy to reduce racial disparities. One more time for the people in the back: After making a consistently performative show of his efforts to reduce racial disparities, Schor denounced a policy designed to reduce racial disparities. 

 In Michigan, it is a crime to possess a firearm while committing or attempting to commit a felony. It doesn’t matter if the firearm is legally owned, properly licensed and stored, or played no role in the underlying offense (e.g. drug possession). Once you are convicted with felony firearm in Michigan, even if a judge grants probation on the original offense, you will still serve a minimum two-year sentence for felony firearm. 

 Prosecutor Siemon’s decision not to automatically add felony firearm charges on top of underlying offenses is based on decades of research that shows — contrary to its legislative intent — mandatory felony firearm sentencing has never been proven to deter gun violence. What it has done is create huge race disparities in sentencing, resulting in far more Black men incarcerated for longer periods. 

Truth be damned, Schor opted to perpetuate statistically disproven fear-mongering rhetoric that gun violence will increase if felony firearm charges aren’t automatically added to underlying offenses. There is great irony in his concern about rising gun violence given how little he has done to address the staggering amount of gun violence already affecting so many Lansing families. 

Schor’s cavalcade of committees includes a gun violence task force, composed almost exclusively of Cabinet-level staff, which has yet to provide a single substantive solution to address the record number of gun-related homicides in Lansing. Throwing one-time cash donations at local nonprofits with no cohesive long-term plan for sustainable change is not a substantive solution. It is, however, a great way to buy favor during an election season.

If interrupting gun violence was a priority, Schor would be pushing to operationalize Advance Peace, not secretly meeting with county officials to undermine the process because he has a personal vendetta against the organization put forward to receive the contract. 

After unanimous support by the scoring committee, which included senior staff in the Schor administration, the contract was forwarded to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners for approval. Then Schor met with county officials — and the contract was inexplicably pulled from the agenda. A week later, the organization unanimously put forward by the scoring committee received an email thanking them for participating, but the decision was made to reopen the bid process. 

We funded Advance Peace during this budget cycle. It needed to be operationalized yesterday. How many more lives will be lost before he’s capable of setting his ego aside for the betterment of those hurting most in Lansing?

There’s a reason Schor is named in eight federal discrimination lawsuits. There’s a reason no policies have changed in the city’s detention facility after the death of Anthony Hulon. So it should come as no surprise that Schor would jump in to defend flawed and discriminatory law enforcement policies that disproportionately affect our Black and brown residents. 

The mayor of a city as diverse as Lansing has a responsibility to uphold the rights and protect the safety of ALL of our residents. This policy shift within the Prosecutor’s Office seeks to ensure the protection and safety of ALL residents by eliminating commonly misused “companion charges,” which by no means allows criminals to “go free.”

Schor has shown, time and time again, that he is the mayor of people like him.  Lansing deserves better. We need a city government dedicated to the safety,  success and prosperity of all of our residents. When we make sure the least of our community is cared for, everyone rises.   

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