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Grand Rapids Youth Employment Program is an insult to the community in the midst of calls for Defunding the GRPD

July 3, 2020

The current Black Lives Matter uprising that has been going on across the US, is also taking place in Grand Rapids. The May 30th protest in Grand Rapids, was a culmination of the collective rage and frustration of thousands in this community, but it also exposed how the City of Grand Rapids really deals with issues like equity and racial justice.

The City of Grand Rapids used overt force to suppress the May 30th uprising, then brought in the Michigan National Guard and instituted a curfew for two days. Since then, there have continued to be marches, protests and vigils, which have been trying to center the lives of Black people in this community, particularly around the Black community’s experience with policing.

In addition, there has been a major call for Defunding the GRPD and a Refunding of the Black community. The groups that have been calling for a Defunding of the GRPD are LINC, the NAACP, Urban Core Collective, The People’s Budget GR, Together We Are Safe, Movimiento Cosecha GR, GR Rapid Response to ICE and the Grand Rapids Pride Center. This collective effort has generated thousand of e-mails and calls to City officials, with an emphasis right now on reducing the police budget to the 32% 1995 City Charter mandate.

If the City of Grand Rapids would reduce the current GRPD budget to the 32% level, that would be about a $9 million reduction. The Defund the GRPD campaign has also been calling for a Refunding of the Black community, which would not only be a first step to promoting equity and racial justice in Grand Rapids, it would acknowledge the decades-long disinvestment in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of Black residents.

Instead, Grand Rapids officials have responded by calling for mild police reforms, increased police training and a youth employment program. It is as if City officials are actively ignoring the calls for Defunding the GRPD. In fact, they are actively ignoring these calls for Defunding the GRPD

Grand Rapids City officials are digging their heals in on the matter of policing, by calling for yet another Community Police Advisory Council, which is nothing more than a way to pacify people into thinking that resident input will be heard. However, what is most insulting is the City’s youth employment program, which has already closed their application process.

The City’s Youth Employment Program, also known as GROW 1000, is a, “Public-private partnership offers young people new skills, career exploration, professional connections.” When they say public-private partnership, they mean that the City will direct youth to the very businesses that make up much of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

• Amway Corp.

• Autocam Medical

• Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

• Brian Harris

• Cascade Engineering

• Crystal Flash

• CWD Real Estate Investment

• DeVos Foundation

• Feyen Zylstra

• Grand Valley State University

• Huntington Bank

• JD Loeks

• Jireh Metal Products

• Kent County

• Meijer

• Metro Health

• Mixed Staffing & Recruiting

• OST

• PNC Bank

• Rockford Construction

• SeyferthPR

• Steelcase

• Trillium Investments

• Warner Norcross + Judd

• Wege Foundation

• Windquest

• Wolverine Worldwide

This youth employment program is targeting 15 – 21 year olds who live in the City of Grand Rapids, for a 120-hour work experience, where youth will make $10 an hour. So, the City wants to channel youth, particularly Black youth, to do work for an insultingly low wage, at jobs with private entities that are deeply invested in maintaining business as usual politics in Grand Rapids.

Now, I’m all in favor of providing opportunities and jobs to youth, particularly Black youth in this city. However, if the City would actually listen to the calls for Defunding the GRPD and Refunding the Black community, there would be a whole different dynamic that the current youth employment program, which seems at best a form of tokenism.

If the City of Grand Rapids would heed the calls for Defunding the GRPD and Refunding the Black community, imagine how $9 million – which the City could Refund to the Black community this year, if they reduced the police budget to the 32% City Charter mandate – could impact the lives of Black residents.

What if $9 million was allocated for Black Youth employment? And I don’t mean through the Neo-Liberal Capitalist Public-Private partnership, but a youth employment program that the City could run to provide skill building opportunities for Black youth in Grand Rapids.

First of all they could pay Black youth $20 an hour and provide them with full employment. Second, the City would create employment opportunities that would pay Black youth to learn how to grow food in an urban setting, say on the dozens of vacant lots that the City currently owns throughout the city. This urban agricultural program would not only teach youth important life skills, but provide fresh produce to neighborhoods that are currently experiencing a form of food apartheid. Imagine what an urban agriculture program could do to impact the health of Black residents and provide an opportunity for Black youth to engage in work that would be life-affirming and potentially transformative.

However, what is most important in the Defunding the GRPD, Refunding Black communities effort that thousands of people are calling for in this city, is that the Black community would have total control over what to do with the funds that are taken from the GRPD budget. It would also be a radical departure from the insulting City Youth Employment Program, which is unimaginative and it just exposes Black youth to City businesses that are deeply committed to maintain structural racism in Grand Rapids.

Black Queer and Black Trans organizers push the Grand Rapids Pride Center to own its participation in White Supremacy

July 2, 2020

The Black Lives Matter Movement began years ago, but the recent police murders of Black Lives has re-energized the movement with sustained uprisings across the US since the death of George Floyd.

This movement has also produced a younger generation of freedom fighters that are no longer content with reformist agendas nor the politics of respectability. Many of these Black, Queer and Trans organizers are also rooted in an intersectional analysis, which makes their work more comprehensive and more dynamic.

Another thing that the current Black Lives Matter uprising has done, is the it has provided tremendous opportunities to push for more transformational politics, more collective liberation and more radical imagination.

One clear example of this practice of collective liberation is the action that several activist/organizers in Grand Rapids engaged in recently to challenge the Grand Rapids Pride Center to not perpetuate White Supremacy in the work they do.

Five activist/organizers – Samantha Przybylski, Nate Bentley, birdie duka-tutambe, Titus Hankins and Kyn (Chief) Ewing – sent the following letter to the Grand Rapids Pride Center:

The letter also included a powerful video action on the same day that the letter was sent.

After just a few days, the Grand Rapids Pride Center released their response and commitment to honor the demands included in the letter. You can read what actions the Grand Rapids Pride Center have already taken and future action plans, which are a direct response to the letter. 

Now some will say that the Grand Rapids Pride Center should be saluted for responding so quickly to the demands. We do affirm their willingness to make important changes, but it is also important for all of us and the organizations and movements we are part of,  to do this work without having to be told to do it. We can’t just stay in our silos doing the work we set out to do, we have to do the important, intersectional work that the Black Queer and Trans organizers have modeled for the rest of us.

Shortly after the Grand Rapids Pride Center began their process of making commitments to the demands listed above, the same activist/organizers sent a follow up letter to the Grand Rapids Pride Center, which we include here below. This is the power of Direct Action!!!

Dear Board of Directors and Staff of the Grand Rapids Pride Center,

On June 22nd, 2020 our group gathered to demand that the Grand Rapids Pride Center stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by committing to the requests of Black LGBTQ+ members of this community. In the letter, we made the following demands:

1. The GRPC will commit to no cops participating in Pride ever again.

2. The GRPC will make a public statement saying explicitly BLACK LIVES MATTER.

3. The GRPC will add at least one Black person to the board of directors in the next 90 days.

4. The GRPC will contact all Pride 2020 sponsors and request that they make a donation of at least $100 to The Okra Project or Trans Sistas of Color Project – Detroit.

• We also called for the Grand Rapids Pride Center to support the defunding of the Grand Rapids Police Department to its charter mandated 32% of the City of Grand Rapids’ budget.

The Grand Rapids Pride Center has responded to our demands via grpride.org/cap. We understand that you have seen and committed to our demands and have added your own. Specifically, for demand #3, we are able to provide a list of potential board members to contact in order to reach this goal within 90 days. Our group looks forward to seeing the completion of action steps specifically around the demands we made.

Do not forget that this work is being done due to the labor of Black Queer and Trans individuals in our community. These individuals deserve to be credited and compensated by the GRPC. This compensation can be sent via Cash App to $birdietutambe and will be shared among the organizers.

To our LGBTQ+ family and allies –

We have seen you view our Facebook Live over 1,000 times. We have seen you share our demand letter over 100 times. We have heard you express support of our letter to the board and staff and many of you have stood in solidarity with us by withholding donations of time and money. You have shown us that our community is committed to elevating Black queer and trans voices, but there is more to do.

Although we are a group that is committed to pushing the Grand Rapids Pride Center to be an agency that works for all of us, we are exhausted and we need you now. We need our community to continue to hold the Grand Rapids Pride Center to the commitments they have made – make sure to read their commitment letter and action item at grpride.org/cap.

Since our group has done the talking, it is now time for you all to do the walking.

Thank you,

Samantha Przybylski | Nate Bentley | birdie duka-tutambe | Titus Hankins | Kyn (Chief) Ewing”

What can we expect in West Michigan from the recent Supreme Court ruling that would force taxpayers to underwrite religious education?

July 1, 2020

On Tuesday, the US Supreme Court ruled in a 5 – 4 vote, that public tax money can be used for religious education, which as many organization have already noted makes a laughing stock of the separation between Church and State. 

The ruling was in regards to the case known as Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Last year, the ACLU framed this case with the following summary

At issue in Espinoza is a voucher-type program in Montana designed to divert millions in government dollars to private schools, the overwhelming majority of which are religiously affiliated. The program, enacted in 2015, allows taxpayers to receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations to Student Scholarship Organizations, which then award scholarships to students attending private elementary and secondary schools. In other words, if a taxpayer owes the state, say, $100 in taxes, she can decide instead to send that money directly to an SSO, which will then spend it on private-school scholarships. In practice, the tax-credit program has served its unmistakable goal of funneling government dollars to religious education: The only SSO operating in the state supports 13 private schools, 12 of which are religiously affiliated, and over 94 percent of program scholarships have gone to finance religious education.

The American Federal of Teachers weighed in on this decision, by saying: 

“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars.”

On the other end of the spectrum, the White House released a statement yesterday, a statement calling for a celebration.  Betsy DeVos, who has been one of the major architects of the privatization of education movement, joined the White House in celebrating this legal decision, with her own statement released on Tuesday:

“Today’s decision is a historic victory for America’s students and all those who believe in fundamental fairness and freedom. Each and every student needs the freedom to find their education fit, and today the Highest Court in the Land has protected that right by ensuring that families can use taxpayer funds to choose schools that match their values and educational goals, including faith-based schools. I applaud the Court’s decision to assign a manifestation of the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ to the dustbin of history where it belongs. Montana and other states should be very clear about this historic decision: your bigoted Blaine Amendments and other restrictions like them are unconstitutional, dead, and buried. Too many students have been discriminated against based on their faith and have been forced to stay in schools that don’t match their values. This decision represents a turning point in the sad and static history of American education, and it will spark a new beginning of education that focuses first on students and their needs. I’m calling on all states to now seize the extraordinary opportunity to expand all education options at all schools to every single student in America.”

For those who have been following the political agenda of the DeVos family would not be surprised by this decision and Betsy’s ringing endorsement, especially since the Prince and DeVos families have spent millions to support political candidates and organizations across the country that share the belief that the US should operate by the Ten Commandments and not any other legal, secular framework.

One of the organizations that the Prince and DeVos families have funded in West Michigan is the far right Think Tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which we have written about extensively. Earlier this year, the Acton Institute referred to the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case as an example of anti-Catholic bigotry. As of this writing, we have not seen a formal response to the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue from the Acton Institute, but it is only a matter of time until they do. 

Now, considering that West Michigan is deeply conservative, both politically and religiously, what impact do you think this will have on public education in the short term and the long term?

One of the largest Charter School Corporations already exists in West Michigan, the National Heritage Academies. The DeVos family and other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure have been working to influence how the Grand Rapids Public School functions. Plus, Public Schools are already struggling financially, and Betsy DeVos recently allowed COVID-19 relief funds to go to Charter and other private education institutions.

Lastly, the group that Betsy DeVos founded, the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), also weighed on the Supreme Court ruling, saying: 

“The ruling in Espinoza v. Montana means more students in those states will have access to additional school choices, empowering parents to select and students to attend the school that best meets their needs.  The ruling does not immediately or directly affect current Michigan law, but it signals to parents across the state the Supreme Court’s willingness to defend their constitutional rights, and their right to choose the schools that best meet the needs of their children.”

What GLEP had to say should tell us that Michigan is likely to face more legal challenges around school funding, especially from religious schools and the organization that support them. It is incumbent upon all of us to remain vigilant and see how this ruling by the US Supreme Court will impact education in the state and right here in West Michigan.

Local News Coverage of so-called unity rally in Grand Rapids makes it clear it was nothing more than a pro-police event

June 30, 2020

Yesterday, we posted an article that deconstructed a WOODTV8 story about a rally that was co-hosted by Voice of the Badge and GOP candidate Tom Norton. We made it clear in that post, that the rally had nothing to do with unity, and everything to do with presenting a pro-police narrative. 

Now that the rally has happened, we want to provide a deconstruction of the commercial news coverage from the rally that was held on June 29th at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids.

There were three news outlets that reported on the pro-police rally, WZZM 13, WOODTV8 and MLive. There was mention of the rally on WOOD Radio, but it was essentially a like to the WOODTV8 story.

The WZZM 13 story, which was 1 minute and 38 seconds, began with a random white guy from out of town who came to show his support for the GRPD and then walked around with a sign, even after the rally was over.

Besides the guy from out of town, the other sources cited in the story were all speakers from the rally. The WZZM 13 did not have a dominant narrative, but it clearly demonstrated that the rally had nothing to do with unity and everything to do with defending the police.

The WOODTV8 coverage of the began with news readers stating clearly that the rally was to show support for the GRPD. The news readers then cut to reporter Leon Hendricks, who stated, “it was a rally to support law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line each day in service to the community.” By framing the news story this way, the channel 8 reporter already inserts the idea that the police are self-sacrificing, thus making the notion that any criticism of their policies and practices as wrong. 

The channel 8 story cited the Grand Rapids Police Chief, the mother of deceased officer Robert Kozminski, GOP candidate Tom Norton and a Latina mom of another police officer.

Chief Payne stated that he was hearing over and over again that the public supports the GRPD. While this may be true that he is receiving positive feedback from the community, we do know that there have been lots of calls to defund the GRPD at the policing town hall meetings that were held online, plus MLive reported on June 19 that: 

“Since May 31, a total 3,060 people have called and emailed Mayor Rosayln Bliss’ office advocating for some form of defunding or divestment from the police department, according to records obtained by MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Only four people in that time period explicitly communicated their opposition to some form of defunding.”

Such a disparity in numbers suggests that most people who have bothered to communicate with City officials favor defunding.

The Mother of deceased GRPD officer Robert Kozminski, also spoke at the rally about the loss of her son and against defunding the GRPD, on the grounds that she doesn’t want any other family to go through what her family went through. However, the death of her son has nothing to do with how much the GRPD gets from the City’s budget on an annual basis.

At one point, the reporter does acknowledge that there were few people of color in attendance, but that observation was followed by a comment from GOP candidate Tom Norton who contradicts the reporter and said, “there were more (people of color) so than people would expect at an event like this.” The comment from Norton speaks for itself, in that the organizers didn’t expect that many people of color would come, since it was clear that this event was a space for whiteness. When I say it was a space for whiteness, I mean that it was not a safe space for Black and Brown residents, unless they fully embraced the pro-police platform. This was affirmed by the fact that the story ended with a brief comment from a Latina woman who had a son in the GRPD.

The MLive article, which was headlined as, Rally to support police, oppose defunding, held in downtown Grand Rapids, also affirmed the fact that this was a pro-police rally and had absolutely nothing to do with unity.

The MLive article cited Mark Gurley and identified his as the founder of the Make Michigan Great Again group. Gurley has as his Facebook page cover photo a picture from the American Patriot Rally that was held in Grand Rapids on May 18th. Gurley is quoted in the MLive article stating:

“Most of what’s happening here is not about police. It’s about a new ideology, an old ideology called Marxism trying to remove things from a free America.”

Gurley is followed by a retired cop, who said:

“We do have to hold these city leaders accountable. Have to. I don’t wish any of them, especially our chief and our sheriff, to ever have to kneel again unless it’s in prayer for our officers,” Moreno said to resounding applause.

Chief Payne was also cited, making the same claim he did in the WOODTV8 story about hearing from lots of pro-police supporters and never acknowledging the thousands of communications calling for defunding.

MLive does acknowledge the DeFund the GRPD campaign and that two City Commissioners are considering it, but ends the article with a comment from a woman from Ionia who also came to show her support to the GRPD.

After viewing each of the stories about the pro-police rally, it was clear that it had nothing to do with building trust between the police and the community. In fact, the coverage demonstrated that the Voice of the Badge rally was nothing more than a pro-police rally that was in direct response to the ongoing protests since May 30, the Defund the GRPD campaign and the countless stories that Black community members have been sharing about their experience of harm and violence at the hands of the GRPD.

Taking money from Police Unions is a Bi-partisan affair across the country and in Michigan

June 30, 2020

Earlier in the month we posted an article about the politicians and candidates from West Michigan that have taken money from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association PAC. 

One observation from the data we found for candidates in the Greater Grand Rapids area, was that there were certainly candidates who ran as Republicans and Democrats that accepted money from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association PAC. This dynamic of police unions contributing to both parties seems to be fairly consistent throughout the US, although at a national level, the Democrats have been getting more money from the Fraternal Order of Police, as you can see from this link on OpenSecrets.org

In our initial article on police union funding, we also posted a link to a statewide campaign No More Cop Money, which provides data and research capabilities on which politicians in Michigan have been on the receiving end of contributions from police unions. 

On the No More Cop Money site, they have a map of the US, which shows which states have more police union money going to it. The dollar amounts that accompany the map, also shows that Democrats have received a much larger portion of funds from police union than Republicans have, with Democrats getting $10,096,356 and Republicans getting $4,514,754

In Michigan, since 2015, GOP candidates are slightly ahead of Democrats on the receiving end of money from police unions, as can be seen in the graphic above. In addition, No More Cop Money also has a graphic showing which politicians in the state have received the most money since 2015 from the police unions, seen here below.

So whether we are talking about national, state or local politicians, it seems pretty clear that in the US, taking contributions from police unions is a bi-partisan affair.

Unity event is really a pro-police, All Lives Matter Rally in Grand Rapids

June 29, 2020

A group known as Voice of the Badge, which has come to Grand Rapids City Commission meetings over the past 18 months, for the purpose of praising the GRPD and condemning those who have criticized the Grand Rapids Police Department. The most visible member of Voice of the Badge is Johnny Brann Sr., of Brann’s restaurants.

Now, Voice of the Badge is hosting a rally on Calder Plaza to show “support for law enforcement,” according to the Facebook event page.  However, for those who saw the story that WOODTV8 aired on Sunday, people would think the event was a unity rally. 

The channel 8 story is so awful on so many levels. The news reporter says early on that this unity rally is meant for “both sides to find common ground,” meaning those that want to hold the GRPD accountable and those that praise the police. The reality is that people who have been protesting in recent weeks will not be attending this event, since there is no space for them to do so and feel safe.

All one has to do is look at the Facebook event pages to see that this event has nothing to do with unity and everything to do with those who are pro-police, whether it is the page hosted by Tom Norton for Congress  or the Voice of the Badge Unity Event Page.

In fact, the text for the event was crafted by a candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, Tom Norton. The description for this event disparages those involved in Defund the GRPD. Here is a sample of what the Voice for the Badge event says:

While protesters swear at them, threaten them, and insult them, officers stand and protect their right to do so. And while some of the protesters turn into rioters and burn and loot cities, these officers are the ones attempting to protect the public.

The rest of the description is filled with falsehoods and pro-police propaganda.

Then there is the fact that the Facebook event is being hosted by Tom Norton for Congress. The WOODTV8 story said that the “unity rally” was not an event for candidate Tom Norton, but the Facebook event language says otherwise. The contact information for the Facebook event says Norton for Congress, with Norton’s phone number and his e-mail address.

Tom Norton is a zealous Trump supporter and embraces the same far right agenda that that Trump does. Norton’s Facebook page has a picture of him with Vice President Mike Pence and the content is nothing but slamming all things leftists. In one video, Norton appropriates the death of George Floyd and turns it into an opportunity to push an All Lives Matter message.

Don’t be fooled by the Voice of the Badge or their so-called unity rally. This event is nothing more than White Supremacy rally to push their pro-police, All Lives Matter propaganda. And shame on WOODTV8 for not only giving them free advertising, but for misinforming the West Michigan Community.

The Power of Social Movements and Organized Resistance: Part I – GRPS back tracks on School Budget cuts in the face of community opposition

June 29, 2020

“Public education is not broken. It is not failing or declining. The diagnosis is wrong, and the solutions of the corporate reformers are wrong. Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation. But public education is not ‘broken.’ Public education is in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”    Diane Ravitch

For weeks that Grand Rapids Public Schools have made it known that they were planning on making major cuts to their budget, in light of the COVID-19 crisis and reduced State funding.

The initial proposed cuts were to close three schools in the district and to make changes to the Montessori programs. Upon hearing this news, many members of the community communicated with the school district, expressing their opposition to the proposed cuts. In addition to individual responses, there were at least two community-based groups that also opposed the proposed GRPS budget cuts, Grand Rapids for Education Justice and the Urban Core Collective.

In fact, there was so much public opposition to the initial GRPS budget cut proposal, that the GRPS backtracked on virtually every aspect of the initial proposal. The GRPS released a statement saying that there will be no school closings and no changes to the Montessori programs. In fact, the public response got the GRPS to make budget cuts exactly where the organized opposition suggested. The GRPS statement said the cuts would be with, “additional staff and budget reductions at the cabinet and central office levels in order to limit potential reduction of teaching positions.”

We spoke with organizers with Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) and the Urban Core Collective about the importance of organized resistance to the initial proposed GRPD budget cuts and the power that social movements can have.

Jack Prince, a volunteer organizer with GREJ, had to say:

“The GREJ is encouraged to see the GRPS district responding to long persisted concerns and objectives which have been espoused by the group for months. Members were buoyed today to hear that the district would indeed halt the closing of 3 targeted schools and would replace lost funding to  ensure their continuance by reducing administration pay. This is especially rewarding as the GREJ through consistent and organized protest had stressed that the exceedingly high administrative pay could be better used to further the education of students here. Many postings and presentations to the board highlighted the sheer and empirical data exposing outrageous pay comparison to other local districts. It has become clear today how important to us to continue with facts and stay true to our objectives of fairness. We want to push on with such objectives as seeing the closing of theme schools and the enrichment and restoration of the local neighborhood schools. We will continue to push for the cessation of privatization and the increase of compensation for the hard working teachers. We have now seen progress in some dismantling of the two tier system and will not rest until all our objectives are realized.”

The Urban Core Collective has also been organizing around GRPS policies over the last year. They hosted an event, where they interviewed two representatives with the GRPS to discuss the proposed budget cuts and to invite community members to call in and ask additional questions. This input also had a tremendous impact on the decision by the GRPS to drastically alter their original budget cut plan.

GRIID spoke with Kyle Lim, who is a member of the Urban Core Collective, to get his take on the importance of organized opposition to the original GRPS budget cut proposal.

These changes to GRPS policy decisions are a direct result of our community getting organized and speaking up for what is important. Budgets are moral documents, and it is critical that we demand institutions to live up to our values of justice and equity. But we are entering into a season of decision-making… so it is critical that we stay attentive, but it is most important that we stay organized and committed to our values.”

It is important to note that both the Urban Core Collective and Grand Rapids for Education Justice have only been organizing around public education policy and the GRPS in the past 9 months. Despite being relatively new in the fight for public education, both groups have had a significant impact on the GRPS budget and both groups have acknowledged that there are numerous other policy changes they seek to change in the coming school year.

Local news reports Cop exonerated from shooting civilian with 40mm chemical round during the May 30 uprising in Grand Rapids, but fails to discuss the Riot-Control Industrial Complex

June 28, 2020

On Friday, the local commercial news media reported that the Grand Rapids Police officer who shot a 40mm chemical round, also known as “spede heat”, has been cleared of any criminal charges, according to Kent County prosecutor Chris Becker.

Unfortunately, the local news media does not explore a couple of critical aspects of this case, which occurred during the May 30 uprising in Grand Rapids, an uprising that was sparked by the police murder of Black people across the US.

One major issue is how the Kent County Prosecutor interpreted the law in this case. WOODTV8 does provide a link to the document, which contains the legal decision made by the Kent County Prosector. People should read this document, since it provides a window into how so many laws that are adopted favor the police and limit the ability of the public to dissent.

On page two of this document, one can read the legal language about why a riot is considered a crime. The language is very vague and as always allows the state a great deal of power to interpret what “causing public terror or alarm” actually means.

The Kent County Prosecutor then weights in on the cop who shot a civilian with the 40mm chemical round during the May 30 uprising. Again, the language of the law protects police behavior, even if that behavior does harm.

I also found the comment from the munitions instructor with the GRPD rather revealing above.

The last paragraph of the document is maybe the most revealing, in that it provides language which essentially absolves the cops of any harm they inflict on people during “an unlawful assembly or riot.”

None of these issues were really discussed in the local new reporting on this legal decision to not charge the GRPD cop with a crime for shooting a 40mm chemical round at a civilian.

One additional issue, which the local news media failed to discussed, is why does the police department even have such weapons and where are they purchasing these weapons from?

Again, the Kent County Prosecutor provides an image of what the weapons used look like, as seen here in the photo below.

The top weapon, the spede heat, was what the cop fired at the civilian, and the bottom image is what the cop thought they loaded into their weapon.

The weapons pictured above are manufactured by a company called Defense Technology, which is a subsidiary of Safariland Group. Safariland Group is part of what could be called the Riot-Control Industrial Complex.

The Riot-Control Industrial Complex is a small group of weapons manufacturers, which control the market for weapons like pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and the 40mm chemical round used by the GRPD.

Safariland Group is owned by Warren Sanders, who has built an empire is what is euphemistically referred to as non-lethal weaponry. Sanders has been coming under a great deal of fire in recent years, especially after US Border & Customs agents tear gassed immigrants seeking asylum at the southern US border in 2018

The growth of Safariland Group and other companies in the Riot-Control Industrial Complex, can clearly be attributed to the laws passed in the US after 9/11. According to Anna Feigenbaum’s book Tear Gas, Safariland Group’s CEO, Warren Sanders, joined the board of the Federal Enforcement Homeland Security Foundation FEHSF), which is “a private-public partnership between concerned business leaders and current and former high-ranking federal enforcement officials…..Functioning as a nonprofit, FEHSF gives out financial aid to assist in creating synergy between federal departments for homeland security purposes.”

Law Enforcement agencies, like the GRPD, have become more militarized since 9/11, which allows them to use the kinds of weapons we saw on May 30. Those working on the Defund the GRPD campaign might consider also demanding that the GRPD provide  a complete listing of all the weapons in their arsenal, thus allowing the entire community to see what kind and how much weaponry they have, weaponry they can use against any of us.

Defund the GRPD campaign makes clear demands on the City of Grand Rapids during Press Conference

June 26, 2020

Last night, a coalition of groups working on defunding the GRPD, held a Press Conference in front of City Hall. The coalition consists of the following groups Together We Are Safe, the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, The People’s Budget GR, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. Also involved here several Black organizers who have been instrumental in many of the recent marches and protests centered around police violence against the Black community. 

Five different people spoke during the Press Conference. Danah Montgomery began the Press Conference and provided numerous examples of how the GRPD has terrorized Black residents of Grand Rapids, making the point that this kind of violence doesn’t just happen in other cities.

Another speaker, Samantha Przybylski, spoke about their own lived experience with the GRPD, having been stopped and harassed by them on several occasions in recent years. In addition to each presenter’s own personal experience with the GRPD, the speakers presented a list of clear demands from the Defund the GRPD coalition.

  1. The GRPD has a long history of intimidation, harassment and violence against the Black community in Grand Rapids. Those of us who are part of this coalition have experienced this harm and have heard from countless others who have been victimized by the GRPD. There have been numerous efforts to reform the GRPD, but we know it is now time to DeFund the GRPD.
  2. We are demanding that the City of Grand Rapids hold an emergency meeting by June 30 to adopt a Defunding the GRPD position, wherein the police budget will be reduced to the 32% City Charter mandated level for the upcoming fiscal year.
  3. We are also demanding that the money from this budget cut should be refunded to the Black community and the Black community should have complete control over how this money will be used.
  4. DeFunding the GRPD and Refunding Black Communities must happen if there is to be any trust built with the Black community.  It is one of the few things that will work to actively promote equity in the Black community, which is so desperately needed.
  5. The DeFund the GRPD Campaign Coalition believes that there are better ways to practice community safety and that Grand Rapids needs to begin the process of having deep conversation about how to practice community safety that does not rely on policing.

Therefore the city must draft a plan by July 31 to have open conversations with and among several sectors of the Black community, including Black women, Black trans women and other Black queer and trans folks, disabled Black folks with a disability justice framework, Black folks who are currently or formerly incarcerated, and others that are most affected by and vulnerable to the violence of policing.

Local news Coverage of the Press Conference

There were several local news agencies that came to the Defund the GRPD Press Conference, including MLive, WZZM 13 and WOODTV8. The MLive article presented comments from a few of the speakers, but chose to focus their story on Demand #2, cutting the GRPD budget down to the 32% City Charter requirement. The MLive reporter did reference a comment from Police Chief Eric Payne, primarily as a means to elicit a response from those who spoke at the Press Conference.

The WZZM 13 story also focused a great deal on the City’s budget deadline, but also addressed four of the five demands presented by the coalition. The channel 13 story ended with the reporter addressing the need for the City to have a July 31st plan in place to have a serious conversation with the Black community on the future of policing.

The WOODTV8 story was the most problematic of the three local news stories. The reporter begins by saying that time is running out on defunding the GRPD, which is not really true. Yes, there is an urgency surrounding the City’s budget deadline, but even if the City does not make a decision before June 30th, the Defund the GRPD coalition can still pressure City officials to reduce funding for the police department. However, the most problematic aspect of this story was the fact that they used 20 seconds of time to the Grand Rapids police union, using footage of the press conference that group held last week, along with parts of a statement that was presented.

Lastly, the channel 8 reporter said that the Grand Rapids police union was sticking with the statement they made last week, which means WOODTV8 reached out to the police union and did they story live from in front of the GRPD headquarters. The reason why this is so problematic is that rarely do local news groups solicit responses from the community when the GRPD or the police union holds a press conference or releases a statement. It was also problematic to end the channel 8 story in front of the GRPD headquarters and citing the police union, which essentially undermines and minimizes the voices of those who spoke at the Defund the GRPD Press Conference.

 

 

The dominant narrative of Grand Rapids is Whiteness: A deconstruction of the We Are GRStrong video

June 25, 2020

When we have finally overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, many will reflect back on what happened and how Grand Rapids responded to this crisis. However, as with any aspect of our collective history, those who often control the narrative are those with the most power.

This kind of dominant narrative, a narrative created by those with power, can be seen in the most recent video created by SALT and Cre8gency, entitled, WE Are GRStrong.

The video tells a narrative that primarily centers what businesses did to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. We learned from the video that these businesses “innovated” and “created” new opportunities and collaborations that put the well-being of people before profits. The person who says that businesses put the well being before profits was an Amway executive, who was standing in front of the Amway headquarters in Ada. If fact, Amway also has another cameo in the video, where we see one of their vans delivering supplies in boxes, conveniently label with the company name.

There were numerous companies and business associations involved in this video project, which are listed in the graphic below. However, what I found most offensive about this video was the not just the narrative it sought to communicate, but more importantly the narrative that was omitted.

The video presents a feel-good, people coming together kind of vibe, with lots of white saviors coming to the rescue. One of the white people interviewed even said that this was a time of heroes, which was overwhelmingly represented by white people in the video. I counted 19 times where a white person was speaking on camera and only two times where the person speaking was a person of color. Whiteness is the dominant narrative of Grand Rapids, where white saviors come to the rescue, particularly white Christian, business owners.

When I say whiteness, I am not just talking about white people, I am talking about a way of being in the world, one that centers and privileges white reality and white values. Now ask yourself who has economic and political power in this city? Who has power to impose their will on other people or whole communities? What entities spend a great deal of time celebrating Grand Rapids and all of the lists that the city has been included in recent years? Who in this city makes it a point to say that Grand Rapids is a great place to raise a family? The answer is always white people. Whether we are talking about the DeVos family, the Meijer family, Secchia, Jandernoa, Rockford Construction, the Right Place Inc., the Art Museum, the Christian Reformed Church, the commercial news media, Experience GR, Mel Trotter Ministries or ArtPrize, all of these people and entities ooze whiteness.

However, there is another narrative that we need to tell. We need to tell a narrative that is insurgent and a narrative that disrupts whiteness. We need to tell a narrative that provides context and critiques power. We need to tell a narrative that doesn’t reflect business as usual and centers those most affected by whiteness.

This insurgent, radical narrative would honestly reflect on how the very centers of power would benefit from the COVID-19 crisis, despite their efforts to presents themselves as saviors. A radically insurgent narrative would make clear how the systems of White Supremacy and Capitalism were exposed during the COVID-19 crisis. This narrative would talk about all of the Mutual Aid that people engaged in throughout the community, whether we are talking about the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, La Lucha Fund or the other ways that people looked out for each other.

We could talk about how the data shows that those disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus were Black residents. We could talk about how a Black-led resistance movement was born during the Covid-19 crisis and that this Black-led resistance movement pulled back the curtain on Grand Rapids and allowed us to see what those in power are really all about. We learned that that property is more valuable than Black lives. We learned that so-called progressive leaders brought in the National Guard to assist the GRPD in their attempts to suppress an uprising, and this Black-led resistance movement provided an opportunity to demand more than weak reformist platforms.

We must call the We Are GRStrong video what it is, a narrative that whitewashes systemic oppression. According to those who produced the 4 minute video, they are going to produce a feature documentary that will further solidify the Whiteness of Grand Rapids. Who wants to work on creating a counter narrative?