East Lansing City Council headed discussions around racial equity and the COVID-19 response at their Aug. 11 meeting, including an extension of the mayor’s order requiring masks be worn in all outdoor, public spaces in the downtown district.
Policy Resolution 2020-5, approved on Tuesday, states council concurs and consents to the terms of the Aug. 7 order requiring face masks to be worn in the DDA and extends the order to Sept. 30.
The passing of Ordinance 1488 at the June 30 meeting granted the mayor the power to limit public gatherings in the event of a state of emergency and imposed a $25 civil infraction for knowingly violating a rule or regulation. Under the extended order, signs have been installed at the entry points to the downtown area reminding visitors that masks are required.
“This isn’t something that is radical," Mayor Aaron Stephens said. "This isn’t something that is outlandish. This is just something that’s necessary. We need to keep people safe."
In proposing the order, Stephens said with MSU requiring masks on campus, having consistency in those rules in the downtown area is crucial.
During the meeting, City Manager George Lahanas gave a presentation on the city’s COVID-19 safe return and business support plans. In this, he underscored the importance of consistent messaging between campus and the city, highlighting their “Property Manager Marketing Toolkit” being given to landlords and property management companies, focused on the large-scale apartments in the city.
This tool kit outlines the “Together We Will Stay Safe to Stay Open” marketing campaign used in collaboration with MSU to encourage protective behaviors during the COVID-19 crisis. Among these, it outlines key “house rules” including washing hands often, maintaining physical distance, wearing a face covering, staying home when feeling sick and avoiding large social gatherings.
Additionally, Lahanas described other efforts being made in the city’s COVID-19 response including temporary art installations downtown promoting safe practices and the expansion of services to outdoor areas, including restaurants and retail services. This extended right-of-way use for retail operations to allow merchandise to be placed outdoors for those uncomfortable with shopping indoors.
Open-air dining services on Albert Avenue allowed for downtown restaurants to offer an expanded outdoor seating area for patrons. Effective on Wednesday, this area will be closed and reopened to traffic. Lahanas said the city is looking at facilitating a curbside pickup program at the Bailey lot to be used by restaurants downtown.
With students coming back in the fall, Lahanas said the city will be utilizing a Downtown Ambassador Program to encourage people to wear masks downtown and to provide them free masks when needed.
“At this point, our goal is not enforcement,” Lahanas said. “Our goal is encouraging, educating and informing people.”
To further support businesses, Lahanas said the goal is to implement measures to increase the safety and protection of human health. Further, he said they hope to assist businesses with occupancy restrictions and square footage limitations, adapting to new and/or enhanced consumer behaviors and to promote and encourage behaviors and practices that are protective of human health.
Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg said she has been sitting in on the Reopening Committee meetings with MSU, and while she can’t say her anxiety is fully alleviated, she has been impressed with the level of purposeful work that has been put in thus far.
Council Member Ron Bacon — along with Dana Watson — sat in his first City Council meeting last night and said when public health is considered in these issues, eventually, it becomes normalized to do the right or safe behavior.
“Freedom is always involved protecting the most vulnerable,” Bacon said. “… A great deal of this freedom that everyone’s talking about has to be about protecting the least (conscious) and when it comes to the students, sometimes they’re the least conscious and they’re the most thinking they’re invincible. … We’re not imposing on freedom. We’re imposing certain protections to protect the students.”
Among other discussions, council also approved an ordinance to prohibit biased crime reporting and weaponizing the police. The ordinance prohibits an individual from intentionally reporting a crime when such a report is not based on reasonable suspicion or fear of criminal activity, but rather based on the person’s status as a member of a protected class, their sexual orientation or identity.
Council Member Lisa Babcock said during the painful conversations that have been had over the past year, it has become evident that there have been situations where some in the community have called the police on people of color who were doing nothing other than living their lives.
“It is painful and shameful to acknowledge that this has happened in East Lansing, yet it has," Babcock said. "Hopefully, we will pass this ordinance and in 10 years people will say ‘why did they ever pass that?’ because it won’t have happened, it won’t have been necessary and it will be a thing of the past. Regardless, for the time being, I want to be sure that people are protected — that if you walk your dog in the neighborhood that people won’t call the police on you. That if you have a multi-racial family, police aren’t called because one of your children was riding his bicycle down the street.”
The proposed ordinance passed unanimously and creates penalties for someone knowingly calling the police or using the police as an intimidation factor against someone of a different skin color, ethnicity or religion, Babcock said.
Bacon said it is important to understand the nature of these types of weaponization, identifying it as the crux of what got people killed throughout history.
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“If you look at the start of any major racial lynchings, killings, things like that, it started with an accusation unfounded and often false,” Bacon said.
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