The controversial billboard garnered neck snaps, hand claps, eye rolls and headlines, but Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives says the real works starts now.
You saw the billboard, right? The one that was on Telegraph near Interstate 96 in Redford. The message was simple: DRIVING WHILE BLACK? RACIAL PROFILING AHEAD. WELCOME TO LIVONIA. A startling claim to some, but to others, it was an honest description of what to expect from Livonia Police Department officers. We know the sign and the message, but the group behind the bold act is the real story.
The Facebook group Livonia Citizens Caring About Black Lives was created in May as a direct response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd. It is proper journalistic etiquette to say that allegedly a Minneapolis Police Department officer knelt on Floyd’s neck until he lost consciousness and ultimately died – but we all saw the video. We all heard the restrained Floyd call out to his deceased mother and gasp for his last breath. We all witnessed it through our phones, computers and TVs. The word “allegedly” is patronizing.
Delisha Upshaw, LCCABL member and the mastermind behind the billboard says, “So, I am not an activist, I am not a protest organizer or any of those things – but I’m a mom. I have children who I educated here.” The Livonia resident was invited to the Facebook group in May and says she was inspired by the women behind the movement and their passion. She wondered, “How could I not help?”
Upshaw, along with other members of the group, organized a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7. “The march attracted a little over 2000 people: old, young, Black, white, in between, conservatives and liberals,” says Upshaw. “I think that showed us that people are ready to have conversations that we may not have been ready to have last year or definitely not five years ago.”
Upshaw says, prior to the march, the group took precautionary measures and forewarned city officials. “We reached out to the mayor and the chief of police just to initiate some conversation and to prep them for the fact that this was not just a protest-and-go situation, but that we have plans to remedy some of the effects of racism that we see,” she says. “It was also so they would support our right to peacefully assemble and not show up in riot gear and put snipers on the roof, which happened the weekend before.”
Upshaw says because the protest was a success and the group had the capability to organize, she created three areas of focus, which include public safety for all, public education, and community engagement, building and inclusion. “Public safety for all has become the most visible,” she says. “Because, initially, the group was concerned about the use of (police) force.”
Upshaw says she wants to move away from the billboard and focus on the group’s other initiatives, which includes banning chokeholds as well as gathering data on the Livonia Police Department’s use of the Law Enforce Information Network, a statewide computerized system that allows law enforcement agencies to access and/or modify stored information such as vehicle information and criminal history.
“We want to know every time someone is pulled over or their plate is run in the LEIN, and we want to know why,” says Upshaw. “Without that (information), it is very difficult to tell if they are using race as a reason for suspicion.” According to U.S. Census Bureau data, more than 93,000 people live in Livonia, and Black residents make up just over 4% of that total.
“Recently we were told, (Livonia) does not have LEIN logs,” says Upshaw. “And we are like, really? So, when the state audits them every year what do (they) show them?” In 2019, 4,700 people were arrested in Livonia, and Black individuals made up 60% of those, according to Livonia Police Department data.
Upshaw says in order to gather Livonia’s LEIN data, LCCABL members, including Sara Overwater, filed a Freedom of Information Act request. “The request that we had for the race demographic traffic stops, well that information absolutely does not exist, because we asked in every way possible,” says Overwater. “We even met with some city attorneys and the head of the records department about this main request of seeing five years of traffic stop data.”
Overwater says they quoted the group more than $13,000 to retrieve the data. “Whatever system they are using clearly is not up to par.” Overwater says the billboard did start a conversation, but she also plans to move forward with other initiatives.
“I have personally been working on this traffic stop prevention event,” says Overwater. “I am going to organize with local businesses, organizations and volunteers to have a day where people in the community can come and get these minor car issues looked over or registration help. If you have a cracked taillight, maybe we can put some tape on it, replace bulbs, things like that. We noticed in the data that these little things disproportionately affected the Black community, which could be fixed easily. We want to decrease these kinds of interactions.”