KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A former Kalamazoo resident has filed a civil rights complaint alleging the city was specifically zoned so that a paper mill would be near primarily African American neighborhoods.
The complaint was filed in late 2020 with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights by Brandi Crawford-Johnson, who moved to the area next to Graphic Packaging. The plant manufactures paperboard and paper-based packaging for products related to the food, beverage, household, personal care, and pet product industries.
Crawford-Johnson is taking several different legal avenues against both the paper mill and the City of Kalamazoo. Previously, she filed a class-action lawsuit against Graphic Packaging. According to the lawsuit obtained by FOX 17, the strong odor emitting from the plant caused some residents to believe they have developed respiratory issues including asthma and COPD. Others describe burning eyes. More than one hundred residents joined the class action lawsuit immediately following its filing.
Prior to the lawsuit being filed, Graphic Packaging retained RK & Associates to complete an Odor Investigation Study. It ultimately concluded that GPI does not emit nuisance odors in the community. The company recently submitted an additional Nuisance Minimization plan in December that it believes will address any potential concerns with residents.
In this latest legal action with the civil rights complaint, Crawford-Johnson alleges the city of Kalamazoo "purposefully did not rezone our neighborhood due to the racial makeup of the community which is primarily African American."
In the paperwork, Crawford-Johnson also adds that the city is aware she is disabled while her husband is African American, leading them to believe "we are being subjected to other terms and conditions and discriminated against due to disability and race."
"No one had to have their lives sacrificed," said Crawford-Johnson. "It's not fair, and it's terrifying to trust people to be in charge of your health."
Crawford-Johnson added that she discovered a 1937 map of Kalamazoo, in which the area where Graphic Packaging was developed was described as 'hazardous' and primarily inhabited by African Americans. The map is a federal map that was created for a federal loan program by the Federal Government. FOX 17 learned following the story's broadcast that the maps led to the discriminatory practice of redlining and denying federal home loans to African American families in the 1930s. The maps were not created by the city of Kalamazoo for zoning purposes.
"This was purposely designed, and it has to change. It's not fair. No one should be treated differently because their income is less than someone else, and no one should be treated differently because their color of their skin is not white," said Crawford-Johnson, who has since moved from the area for her own peace of mind.
When asked about the civil rights complaint, the city of Kalamazoo responded that it does not comment on pending legal matters but says it has filed a response with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
Graphic Packaging, though not named in the civil rights complaint, also released a statement in response:
"Graphic Packaging does not comment on pending litigation or similar proceedings, including this filing with the State that has not been made available to Graphic Packaging."
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights says that it is currently in the investigative stages of this specific complaint. Based on any evidence they find or the lack of evidence, they could dismiss the complaint or choose to file a formal charge of discrimination. We did ask the department if they could provide any more information to the case, but they declined to do so while it is under investigation.
This article has been updated with changes since its original publication.