I’m not going to lie. When I hear the phrase “racial disparities,” I tend to cringe a little bit. It’s not that I don’t think they exist. Far from it, actually. The problem is that the term has been misused and abused to such a degree that it’s kind of hard not to cringe.
So, when I came across this story, I was ready to do just that.
However, then I saw how this DA was trying to address those disparities.
Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon said, when she was elected in 2016, one of her main goals was to reduce systemic racial bias and racial disparities from law enforcement, but not everyone supports the policies she’s put in place to do that.
“I was raised here in Lansing, in a diverse community,” Siemon said. “I’ve always had an interest in civil rights, all aspects of civil rights. As a woman, I’ve been a feminist all my life. LGBTQ Rights, racial disproportionality, immigrants rights. So, when I was elected as prosecutor, my goal was to try and create a more criminal and equitable legal system.”
In the past month, Siemon has pushed out two policies meant to decrease the number of Black people behind bars.
Currently, Black people make up 14 percent of Michigan’s population and 53 percent of the prisoners in the state.
Last week, she said she was changing the way her office deals with the felony firearm charge.
Michigan created the felony firearm charge in 1976 when there was a rise in the state’s gun violence.
“It was designed to say if you carry a gun you’re going to get two charges,” Siemon said. “That’s an additional two years in prison if convicted of a felony firearm, even if it’s a gun you’re legally able to have and if you don’t use the gun while committing the felony.”
Siemon said she’s only going to charge people for their actual behavior while committing a crime, not for a weapon that wasn’t used in the crime.
In 2020, the prosecutor’s office received 205 felony firearm charges, and a significant number of those suspects were Black.
“In Michigan, about 80 percent of people who are incarcerated on a felony firearm charge are Black, even though our statewide population for that race is only 14 percent,” Siemon said. “
Now, it sounds to me like Siemon isn’t exactly a pro-Second Amendment type, but on this one, I think she’s right.
Someone who doesn’t use a gun to commit a crime shouldn’t be prosecuted for having a gun. Especially if that gun played no factor in the criminal offense. For example, someone who has a DUI accident may face felony charges, but should a firearm in the trunk add yet another charge?
Not everyone supports what Siemon is doing, including the local sheriff. However, gun ownership isn’t a crime, and just having one on you shouldn’t be a crime either. Not if the gun plays no role in the actual crime.
Since prosecutors get discretion as to what they prosecute, there’s not much anyone can do about it except voting her out of office. They’re welcome to do just that if they disagree with her.
In the meantime, I’ll take my wins where I can find them.