Lansing City Council write-in Ross uses criminal history to highlight reform


Lansing City Council hopeful Dan Ross said he knew his criminal background as a teenager would come out if he ran for public office. He said that was a reason he launched his long-shot write-in bid for an at-large position.

“I come from an area where we didn’t have a lot of hope,” said Ross, 41, who hustles work driving for Uber and Lyft. “I think people are never really given a second chance at life.”

He has been active in police protests in Lansing, including recent ones over the cops’ handling of a black teenage girl who resisted arrest. He wants better community policing and a more progressive approach to youth who violate the law.

Ross is one of six candidates for two at-large positions on City Council currently held by Carol Wood and Patricia Spiztley. The top four finishers in the Aug. 6 primary election will enter the General Election runoff.

Ross was convicted of a series of credit card charges and passing bad checks in his late teen years. The worst was when he was 17, for felony fraudulent use of a J.C. Penney store credit card. He said he never fully understood the charges and was given an incompetent public defender. Tried as an adult, he spent a year in the men’s quarters at the Eaton County Jail, where he earned his GED.

Criminal justice reform has been a hot topic nationally, bringing together a strange coalition of old-guard liberals, African-American leaders and the libertarian billionaire Koch Brothers, who are more known for crushing labor unions and other right-wing causes. 

The Kochs see mass incarceration and the “Tough on Crime” laws of the late 20th Century as a gross waste of taxpayer money and government overreach, just as others see the system as infringing on civil liberties or disproportionately harming black and brown families.

One area of focus has been juvenile justice reform, and rolling back laws that send teenagers like Ross into the adult system and back into juvenile courts, where advocates believe they have a better chance of reform. States such as Connecticut have seen a sharp drop in juvenile crime rates and incarceration costs after they barred adult trials for juveniles charged with all but the most serious crimes. Connecticut and Illinois are considering extending juvenile prosecution to people under 21.

The adult felony charges Ross earned as a juvenile have followed him all his life, making supporting himself difficult. He earned an associate degree in medical office administration from the for-profit Career Quest Learning Center in Lansing but has never found anyone who would hire him to work around patients with his felony record. Instead, he has made his money driving long-haul trucks and more recently, scrambling for Uber.

Ross hasn’t fully paid up his debt to society. Court records show he still owes $14,053.78 in court fees and restitution for two of his cases and has only paid $100. He said he was unaware he still owed. He also admitted to City Pulse he owes child support. Ross has three children with different women.


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The story was a decent one literally up until that last sentence. His court frees and restitution are fair game to bring up, and in fact newsworthy. Same with the back child support. But just tossing in that last sentence was gratuitous, and borderline dog-whistling a hurtful trope. It was not newsworthy of relevant to anything about his run for city council. And disclaimer: I didn't even vote for the guy.

Don't do this. Do better.

Friday, July 19, 2019

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