Schor: prosecutor’s gun policy gives criminals ‘free pass’

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KYLE KAMINSKI

Amid a historically high spike in gun violence, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor urges Ingham County District Attorney Carol Siemon to rethink a recent ‘reckless’ policy change that he says only serves ‘to give people a “free pass” to bring a gun to a crime. .

“After speaking with many families of gun violence victims, I think it is not wise for the county attorney to have a general policy of not charging criminal firearms if there are also other crimes, “Schor said in an emailed statement this week. . “Crimes should be prosecuted on the basis of the evidence gathered and presented to the prosecutor. We are seeing an unprecedented amount of gun violence, and I, along with these other leaders in Ingham County, believe the prosecutor should not give criminals a free pass to bring a gun to a crime. “

This “free pass” refers to a seismic policy change announced by Siemon’s office last month. It dictates that those arrested for crimes involving firearms will no longer be charged with a separate count of possession of a firearm in the commission of the crime – except in “the most extreme circumstances” , depending on the wording of the policy.

A conviction for this particular felony charge carries a minimum prison sentence of two years and can only be imposed as a companion to other criminal offenses (often much more substantial) such as burglary or assault. Siemon called the charge “blatantly racist,” in large part because about 80% of those serving time for the crime in Ingham County are black.

Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth has been the loudest opponent in politics. He distributed a petition last week through the county’s “non-public alert system”, signed by 22 mayors, township overseers and village presidents of Ingham County, which called on Siemon to immediately “reconsider” these recent decisions. policies.

Schor wrote his name at the top of the list.

Lansing mayoral candidate and city councilor Kathie Dunbar said she was dismayed to see Schor’s name on the recent petition and called him a hypocrite for speaking out against the changes while simultaneously trying to alleviate the problems of racial discrimination in the city.

She also intends to present a city council resolution in support of Siemon’s latest reforms.

“The premise of the sheriff’s petition is based on fear, not fact,” Dunbar said.

She added: “Contrary to her original goal, studies show that mandatory gun convictions have not deterred gun violence. What he did was create huge racial disparities in convictions, which resulted in many more black men being incarcerated for longer periods of time. “

In a statement, Schor said he didn’t necessarily agree with the mandatory minimum sentences set out in state law, but he said he also didn’t think Siemon should use his power. discretionary to circumvent the punitive limits of the law. Moreover, it could send the wrong message to potential criminals.

“The mayor, like the 21 other elected officials who signed this document, supports the fight against discrimination while reducing armed crime. Black and brown communities are the hardest hit by gun violence, and their families must also be taken into account, ”said the spokesperson for Schor. “The mayor believes that the law must be amended to remove consecutive sentences and mandatory minimum sentences so that situations can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but the laws are changed by the legislature. Criminals have now been publicly advised by the prosecutor that they can bring a gun to commit an indictable offense, and that there will be no gun felony charge. “

Siemon, for his part, has not moved. And she has no intention of changing course.

“I have read this correspondence and appreciate these views,” she said. “At the same time, I have the responsibility of running the district attorney’s office and I have been chosen twice to do so by the people of Ingham County. The policies we developed were research-based and we will continue to incorporate current data into future policy development. We have developed a set of ongoing reforms – dealing with public safety, mass incarceration and racial equity. I can assure the public that we are not going to back down and make changes. “

Yet Wriggelsworth and the majority of Ingham County’s (mostly white) elected leaders believe the changes do not “hold people duly criminally responsible” and increase “the likelihood of further gun violence in the communities we are charged with governing. , to serve and to protect, ”the petition read.

The theory: Potential criminals in Lansing might feel empowered to bring guns to a felony, knowing they are likely to face fewer consequences in Ingham County than elsewhere in the state.

And as gun violence continues to increase locally, Schor has said he doesn’t want to take the risk.

Lansing, among other cities across the country, has seen an increase in gun violence and homicides over the past two years. The city recorded a record 21 homicides last year, the highest annual total in at least 30 years. Another 21 people have been killed so far this year, including a 17-year-old boy who was shot and later died of his injuries on Monday afternoon.

As these shootings continued this summer, Schor assembled a “Gun Violence Task Force” made up almost entirely of his own staff and members of his cabinet. A press release issued in June detailed plans to “work with community partners to tackle this violence.”

Siemon said she quickly reached out to Schor to offer “considerable gun violence expertise” and encouraged him to expand the group beyond city staff to include deputy prosecutors, activists, survivors armed violence and other community stakeholders. But that offer was left on the table.

“No one from my office has been invited to participate yet,” Siemon said on Monday.

A statement from Schor’s office on Tuesday, however, offered a different narrative.

“Prosecutor Siemon has expressed interest in participating in the task force and is certainly welcome. City staff have been in contact with their staff, ”Schor’s spokeswoman said.

Despite the retreat of elected officials, Siemon’s policy change is not a new concept either. Dozens of prosecutors have implemented similar measures to reduce racial disparities. Siemon said last month that fear-based misinformation about local cops just comes with the territory.

She added: “‘laissez-passer’ language is standard for responses from police associations and police unions across the country, but I have no idea how Mayor Schor has come to use it. the term. “

Miriam Krinsky, founder of the national nonprofit Fair & Just Prosecution, told City Pulse last month that cops in Greater Lansing would eventually “back down” and recognize the need for prosecution reforms. And if not, it won’t matter too much. Only the prosecutor decides whether those arrested for crimes will actually be charged in a courtroom.

“It may seem counterintuitive to curb any criminal charges involving a firearm. I get this emotional reaction for sure. But this is a matter of racial fairness and does not really involve public safety and the protection of people, ”Siemon said. “I just wish people would do their research on this.”

Siemon also stressed that underlying charges like theft or home invasion were not affected by the changes. Not focusing on the gun felony charges will allow prosecutors to focus on those more serious charges while reducing discrimination, she said.

“If this accusation hasn’t worked to deter them before, it probably won’t change anything,” Siemon said. “It’s not giving them a free pass. If someone carries a gun and commits a crime, we prosecute them anyway. Someone charged with assault – or any charge where we add the felony charge of a firearm – will always be charged with that larger predicate offense. “

Illegal carrying of a concealed weapon is also a separate criminal charge that will always be prosecuted, Siemon said. The main difference: Prosecutors do not plan to tackle another felony charge that carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence to run consecutively with the original crime.

“It’s openly racist. Maybe it wasn’t designed that way, but that’s the impact, ”Siemon explained. “We need to build trust so that people are ready to talk to the police and share information. If you don’t trust the police, you don’t talk to them. If the police policy has been to arrest large numbers of young black and brown men and search their vehicles, allegedly with their consent, then that does not help. The pity is that people do not see the police as ensuring their safety.

Meanwhile, Schor said officers from the Lansing Police Department will continue to investigate the crimes as usual, including sending out gun felony charges for Siemon’s inevitable denial. Wriggelsworth said his deputies will also continue to send these accusations to Siemon.

“I hope she will look at them by situation and make decisions based on the evidence,” Schor said in an emailed statement to City Pulse on Monday. “I expect the prosecutor to review the evidence and consider whether a crime has been committed, and charge accordingly.”

In addition to Schor, the petition signatures include the mayors and village presidents of Mason, Stockbridge, Leslie, Webberville and Williamston, as well as the supervisors of the townships of Lansing, Alaiedon, Aurelius, Bunker Hill, Delhi, Ingham, Leroy , Leslie, Locke, Meridian, Townships of Onondaga, Stockbridge, Vevay, Wheatfield and White Oak. East Lansing Mayor Jessy Gregg and Williamstown Township Supervisor Wanda Bloomquist did not sign the petition.

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