The Detroit News

Senate Dems prep for $1.9T relief bill

Grosse Pointe Park case ‘despicable’ but ‘not a crime,’ prosecutor says

- BY ALAN FRAM

Washington — Democrats sorted through lingering disagreeme­nts over emergency jobless benefits and other issues Tuesday and prepared to commence Senate debate on a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan that would deliver a major victory to President Joe Biden.

With Democrats having no margin for error in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, Biden was expected to urge them on by conference call. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he planned to bring the sweeping bill to the floor as early as Wednesday, teeing up first votes on a bill aimed at energizing the nation’s battle against the pandemic and its wounded economy.

“That’s what the American people sent us here to do,” said Schumer, D-N.Y., “That’s what our government is for. Not to sit back and wait for problems to fix themselves.”

The huge package is a too-big-tofail moment for the fledging president, who would be politicall­y staggered if Congress – controlled narrowly by Democrats but controlled nonetheles­s – failed to deliver. Conquering the virus that’s killed half a million Americans and thrown the economy and countless lives into tailspins is Biden’s top initial priority.

But Republican­s are following the template they set in former President Barack Obama’s presidency. GOP senators seemed on track to oppose the relief bill solidly, perhaps with the unanimous “no” vote their House counterpar­ts cast early Saturday when that chamber approved its similar version of the measure.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of ignoring signs that the economy and the deadly virus’ rampage through the U.S. were beginning to turn around. He also accused Democrats of loading the bill with spending for favored constituen­cies, saying they were “taking advantage of the crisis to check off unrelated liberal policies.”

The Senate bill was expected to largely mirror the House-approved package. Democrats want Congress to send Biden a final version for him to sign by March 14.

The legislatio­n would provide $1,400 payments to individual­s plus hundreds of billions of dollars for schools and colleges, COVID-19 vaccines and testing, mass transit systems, renters and small businesses. It also has money for child care, tax breaks for families with children and assistance for states willing to expand Medicaid coverage.

No charges will be filed against a White Grosse Pointe Park man accused of hanging a KKK flag at his home that directly faced the home of a Black neighbor, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Tuesday.

The man, whose name has not been released, hung the flag in a window at his home on Wayburn Street. The flag faced the dining window of JeDonna Dinges, who had installed a security camera facing the man’s house following an incident Jan. 20 when Dinges discovered a full gas can inside her garbage container and was concerned for the safety of herself and her family.

The man’s flag was hung across the window from Dinges’ security cameras. The incident sparked widespread outrage, culminatin­g in a “Hate Has No Home Here” rally attended by several hundred people Feb. 21 in Grosse Pointe Park.

Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidati­on Statue requires that “there must be physical contact, damage, destructio­n, defacement of property, or threats to do so.”

“After a thorough review of the facts and evidence in this case it has been determined that there is insufficie­nt evidence to charge Ethnic Intimidati­on or any other charge,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

“There is absolutely no question that what happened to Ms. Dinges was despicable, traumatizi­ng, and completely unacceptab­le,” Worthy said. “But, very unfortunat­ely in my view, not a crime. The KKK flag, while intending to be visible to Ms. Dinges, was hanging inside of her

neighbor’s house. We could not even begin to charge Ethnic Intimidati­on under current Michigan law.

“I strongly encourage the Michigan Legislatur­e to look, revise, and create laws to protect citizens from this kind of horrible conduct.”

Dinges said she talked to the prosecutor about the case and the

decision.

“Although I appreciate the prosecutor’s office and how effectivel­y they went through every aspect of this case, I’m disappoint­ed in the outcome,” she said.

Dinges said she supports Worthy’s call for legislatio­n to make incidents such as this illegal.

“I think she hit the nail on the head,” Dinges said. “This was an act of intimidati­on, an act of aggression, an act designed to elicit fear in myself and my Black daughter . ... I appreciate that Prosecutor Worthy says the law

needs to be improved. I hope the lawmakers are listening.”

Dinges added: “I’m a decent person. This person is a racist. Someone putting a Klan flag is an act of hatred. It is a threat. The prosecutor saying it doesn’t meet the level of a hate crime does not mean it’s not a threat. I feel threatened. The average person would not own a Klan flag, which is a true symbol of hatred.”

Cynthia M. Douglas, the president of the Grosse Pointe Park & Harper Woods NAACP, said Tuesday said she is “not surprised”

that criminal charges were not issued. Because of the way the law is written, the man who flew the flag can’t be prosecuted because it was inside his house.

“Clearly he knew what he was doing and clearly ... it was meant as an intimidati­on and especially for Ms. Dinges and her family being of African American descent and just this history of the Ku Klux Klan flag ... clearly that was his intent,” she said.

Douglas said the NAACP will continue to engage the community to fight racism, insisting that

Grosse Pointe police department­s hire more racial minorities and urging state lawmakers to come up with a more “stringent” ethnic intimidati­on law.

Dinges, the owner of a clothing boutique in Oakland County, said she deeply appreciate­d the support from the hundreds who came out for the Feb. 21 rally.

“It really touched my heart ... the support they showed for me and my family,” she said.

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