Public Safety in Detroit Must Focus on Fighting Poverty

“Facial recognition technology is poised to bring more problems to our communities and will not have the positive impact on public safety that many want us to believe. We must lift our neighborhoods up with the resources they need to thrive and tackle poverty. Once we do that, we will increase public safety and the well-being for many around us.”

Editor’s Note: U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib  (D- Detroit) who represents Michigan’s 13thCongressional District is a member of the House Committee on Financial Services and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She is also a member of the Subcommittees on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, Housing, Community Development and Insurance, Oversight and Investigations, Economic and Consumer Policy and the Environment. In this column written for The PuLSE Institute, the anti-poverty think tank headquartered in Detroit, Tlaib, explains why the public safety apparatus in Detroit should concentrate its effort in tackling inequality instead of pushing a problematic facial recognition technology.  For submission inquiries contact the Institute editor-in-chief Bankole Thompson at info@thepulseinstitute.org

By Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib

The PuLSE Institute

Facial recognition technology has been in the news lately in the city of Detroit, as residents speak up for their civil liberties and demand that their voices be heard. This controversial surveillance program – which I oppose – is currently being used by the Detroit Police Department in conjunction with their Project Green Light program (which many also have concerns about), purportedly to reduce crime.

I believe that we need a comprehensive community conversation about what public safety means to residents in Detroit, the 13th Congressional District, and across the United States as we grapple with these new surveillance methods. A conversation that goes beyond policing, and seeks to address the everyday struggles of our neighbors and communities. A conversation about addressing poverty and the effect it has on community safety and well-being.

There is no question that we must reduce crime in the city of Detroit. Our residents deserve to be safe and to have thriving communities. However, in my view, mass surveillance and tools that not only have privacy and constitutionality concerns, but also disproportionality misidentify Black and Brown people, which can lead to false arrests and increased criminalization, are not the way to go.

According to the Michigan League for Public Policy, more than a third of children in Wayne County are living in poverty. And just recently, a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that half of African-American children in Michigan are living in poverty. We have a crisis on our hands when it comes to poverty and we should be using as many resources as we can to address it. It is important to focus in on poverty rates among children, because we know that poverty and wealth can be generational, and we must provide economic opportunity to young people. 

When education attainment rates go up, crime goes down. When poverty rates go down, crime goes down. In thinking about the need to tackle poverty, we need to push for resources to address unemployment and underemployment. We need to ensure all people have access to adequate mental and physical health care, no matter their income. We must ensure that folks also have adequate housing and transportation to get to work and school. Resources for our neighborhoods will be key to tackling poverty and increase public safety. 

The lack of resources being dedicated to these issues is concerning. I often talk about the millions of dollars that have been dedicated to facial recognition technology, not only in Detroit, but across the country, including with agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Taxpayer dollars are going to for-profit corporations for a broken, discriminatory technology. Why aren’t we spending these dollars on initiatives that we know work? We should be spending dollars on initiatives that would decrease poverty, decrease crime, and improve the quality of life for our neighbors.

I have introduced the Building Our Opportunities to Survive and Thrive (BOOST) Act on the federal level to give families earning less than $100,000 per year, a refundable tax credit of up to $6,000. These funds will help families get ahead. I am also aware and pushing for structural changes in our education and tax systems, along with our legal system to stop the over-criminalization of our communities and the shifting of public dollars away from the needs of our people.

Facial recognition technology is poised to bring more problems to our communities and will not have the positive impact on public safety that many want us to believe. We must lift our neighborhoods up with the resources they need to thrive and tackle poverty. Once we do that, we will increase public safety and the well-being for many around us.

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