The Community Advisory Board for Law Enforcement (CABLE), an independent advisory group to the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, is collecting community input on a May 26 incident in the Appleridge neighborhood of Ypsilanti Township that involved a sheriff's deputy punching a Black woman, Sha'Teina Grady El, in the head.
A video of the incident caught the attention of the media and protesters, who marched outside the sheriff's office several times in recent weeks. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan also weighed in with a letter to the prosecutor’s office urging the office not to pursue charges against Grady El. Sheriff Jerry Clayton responded with a presentation on the incident, including body camera footage, on May 29.
Justin Hodge, chair of CABLE, says the advisory board's role includes reviewing policy and procedures, listening to presentations from the sheriff on topics like body cams and use of force so that the board's members have a sense of how the sheriff's office operates, and getting information out to the community. The board also gathers community input and communicates it to the sheriff's office.
"The board is hearing so much from people in the community, but there's no centralized way to get that feedback," Hodge says.
The survey's aim is to gather that feedback in one place. Hodge says he'll also compile feedback received via email and include that in a report to the sheriff.
CABLE board member Germaine Smith, who works at the nonprofit Dispute Resolution Center, says the survey is something new for the CABLE board, but it's important for community members' voices to be heard.
"In addition to being members of the CABLE board, we're also community members, and when one community member is affected, we're all affected," she says.
Smith notes that the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against police violence have created "multiple layers that are stressing people out."
"We need more reform and an alternative to the systems that have failed Black and Brown communities specifically, systems that fail people in poverty," she says. "CABLE provides that community voice that can bring a little more transparency and help community members think about what we can do to make those systems more fair and compassionate and treat people with human dignity."
Questions on the form ask what community members would consider "a fair and just outcome to this incident" and what measures should be taken to ensure transparency.
The survey is brief, containing just a few questions. Hodge says that was intentional.
"We wanted to keep it short so that when people take a look, they think, 'This is something I can complete in one sitting,'" he says.
Smith notes that the survey is "confidential and safe." While the form does ask for participants' names and the municipality where they live, that identifying information will not be shared with the sheriff's department.
"I hope people feel safe to share their opinion," Smith says.
Hodge invites the public to comment on future issues related to local law enforcement. He says it's "rare" for the CABLE board to get community engagement and that not many people come to the board's meetings, even though they are open to the public.
"What I want from this is for people to be aware we exist and to do what we can to make people feel more connected," Hodge says.
A short video explaining the reason for the survey is available here. The survey form is here.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Screenshot from sheriff's office briefing on May 26 incident.