Monday, June 8, 2015

A letter to the Court of Appeals

This is an open letter to the Honorable Michael J. Riordan, the Honorable Pat M. Donofrio, and the Honorable Jane M. Beckering, judges in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

Dear Judges Riordan, Donofrio and Beckering,

Did you see us all there last Wednesday?  Did you see all the people in the courtroom for your first one-hour case of the day?  I just wanted you to know that we were not there to support the man from the Michigan Attorney General’s Office…the one who argued that Michigan’s Civil Rights Act’s protection and prohibition of sexual harassment and abuse do not apply to prisoners.  Or, for that matter, to anyone detained in a county jail or on parole.  I heard him inform you that these were the “most dangerous” people in the State of Michigan.

I was the old, gray-haired man sitting in the front row, “over the hill,” some might claim, but feeling that my hundreds of friends behind bars deserved to be represented in that courtroom.  I don’t take my marching orders from someone in an official position like the Attorney General…mine come from an itinerant preacher whose brief ministry on this earth was cut short by a violation of his civil rights. And he didn’t call inmates “dangerous people,” but instead referred to them as “the least of these brothers of mine.”

If you looked out, you certainly would have noticed that I was surrounded by people of all ages, men and women, black and white…a true cross-section of society.  Some had driven rather long distances to Lansing, knowing they would not have an opportunity to speak, but feeling that their presence was important…important because the rights that you were discussing touched the lives of close friends and/or family members.

I am proud to say that HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS was just one of many agencies and organizations serving and advocating for prisoners in the State of Michigan that were represented in that audience.   We wanted you to know that we were united behind attorney Deborah La Belle as she eloquently argued that the state’s Civil Rights Act and our constitution are for the protection of ALL persons in the state.

I happen to know there was an African American woman there who believes that the civil rights of her daughter, currently incarcerated by the State of Michigan, are being violated.

I happen to know that a mother was there whose mentally-challenged teenager was seriously abused by Michigan prison staff members who obviously believed that people in detention had no civil rights…that these “dangerous” people had forfeited any coverage by the Civil Rights Act and the constitution when they allegedly violated the law.  Her story made the newspapers.  One wonders how the Attorney General might have reacted at these rights been taken away from a member of his family.

We just want you to know our opinion on this matter, that if correctional staff and the Michigan Department of Corrections are free to discriminate people for whom they are responsible---regardless of race, religion, gender, handicap or age---we believe that’s just plain wrong.  We believe in fairness and human rights for ALL Michigan citizens.

From all that I could determine, both in the courtroom and in the animated conversation outside the doors following the session, this group of people was saying with one voice that the opinion of the Michigan Attorney General, Governor Rick Snyder and the Michigan Department of corrections, did NOT represent our thoughts.

We hope you noticed this quiet demonstration of solidarity.

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