by Cynthia Price
The purpose of the Michigan Allies Project is to collect data and report on “hate” incidents and crimes throughout the state of Michigan.
A project of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights and Wayne State University Law School, the project has moved forward under the leadership of Wayne State Law Professor Jocelyn Benson, who is also the associate director of the Keith Center.
The project’s focus will be on hate incidents that target individuals based on their race, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. Utilizing partners around the state as well as Wayne State Law School students, the project will track and report on such incidents and place them on a web-based map. Benson also intends it to help launch lawsuits and advocacy to seek justice for victims. Finally, when fully developed, the project will provide media, scholars, educators, non-profit organizations and law enforcement agents with resources and support to help targeted communities and individuals.
“The project aims to raise awareness about bias incidents that negatively target Michigan residents based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or religion, particularly in the educational setting,” said Benson, who serves as founder/CEO of Michigan Center for Election Law and ran as the 2010 Democratic nominee for Michigan Secretary of State. “The idea emerged as I spoke with citizens across Michigan during my campaign.”
She added, “Our true Michigan spirit of working to overcome obstacles is threatened when we have bullying in our schools or intimidation in our neighborhoods.”
Benson started her career at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and says, “I was indeed inspired by their work to create this version of what they seek to do, albeit on a smaller scale. “
The project’s advisory board includes notable attorneys, civil rights leaders and non-profit organization staff. State Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Harvey Santana are on the board. Melanie McElroy will serve as deputy director.
The project’s web site is http://alliesproject.law.wayne.edu/Michigan_Allies_Project/Home.
html. The incident map featured there is still under development.
The site already highlights one of many incidents around the state that have necessitated such a project.
According to the Detroit Free Press, in late March Port Huron High School officials found a “hit list” on one of its bathroom facility walls that targeted black students. Despite school district officials’ efforts to counteract the problem in the meantime, the hate incident reflects a similar problem which occurred about five years ago.
“The Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights aspires to be a hub for projects that develop creative methods to further the ongoing pursuit of equal justice under the law,” said Peter Hammer, Keith Center director. “The Michigan Allies Project is yet another opportunity for students to work with faculty and community members to raise awareness about important civil rights issues and advance new strategies to address them. I commend Professor Benson and look forward to the project’s growth and development in the years ahead.”
Anyone interested in getting involved may also email firstname.lastname@example.org.