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White Fear is code for White Supremacy: Calling Cops on people of color

May 17, 2018

In recent weeks there have been numerous posts on social media about white people calling the police on people of color. There was the Starbucks incident, the student of color relaxing in the campus lounge, the black golfer and the black family that was grilling at a public park.

In each of these incidents, it was white people calling police, most often it was reported that these white people were “feeling unsafe,” because the people of color didn’t “belong there” or because people of color were not speaking English.

Each of these incidents are deplorable, they are a form of violence and it really underscores the very notion of how White Supremacy functions in the US.

However, it is important that we not single out certain white people for their decision to call cops on people of color. As I stated, these recent examples are deplorable and should be condemned by anyone who believes in racial justice. But it is highly problematic for white people who think they would never call cops on people of color, when in fact all white people pay taxes for local, state and federal law enforcement that is designed to primarily police communities of color.

Alex Vitale, in his important book, The End of Policingstates: 

Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.

This is the history of policing in the US, which grew out of organized white people policing runaway slaves. The function of policing that grew out of policing runaway slaves, then enforced Jim Crow laws, the policing of black people during the civil rights and anti-segregation movements, to the so-called War on Drugs campaign to the current backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement. White people have always dictated the practice of policing people of color, white people have always benefited from it and white people continue to perpetuate the reality of police departments policing communities of color.

Look at any police department in major cities and you will see that police patrols, in cruisers, on bikes or on foot, disproportionately spend their time and energy in neighborhoods of color. Again, this is by design.

Another example of how police departments are always wanting to present themselves as public servants as opposed to a tool of white supremacy, is the recent comments from the GRPD in regards to the Latino/Latinx community. 

Members of the GRPD were recently on a local Spanish language radio station, right after the May 1st immigrant justice march. This was clearly a public relations ploy to try to convince the Latino/Latinx community that the GRPD exists to help the immigrant community. The GRPD keeps saying that they are not interested in the immigration status of people, yet here is what one member of the GRPD said in the recent MLive article:

Local officers do not seek out immigrants who are in the country illegally, and they’re not actively passing names along to federal agencies. However, there are incidents when officers are obligated to assist ICE when asked.

In addition, last fall, the Grand Rapids City Commission adopted a resolution, referred to as the Equal Service Policy. This policy was originally designed to make it so that all city employees, including those within the GRPD, would not be allowed to ask people what their immigration status is. However, at the 11th hour, the city changed the language of the ordinance, which ended up excluding the GRPD from this city policy. 

If the GRPD was so committed to the idea of not asking people what their immigration status was, why would they lobby the city to exclude them from the Equal Service Policy and why would they collaborate with ICE agents when called upon? We must not be fooled by the GRPD’s attempt to convince us that they care about immigrants, African Americans or any other community of color, which they by design disproportionately target with their community policing practices. We have to see past this lie and recognize that community policing is just a form of domestic counter-insurgency.

White people have got to stop calling the police when they feel threatened by people of color. This only causes harm to communities of color, it promotes violence and it results in ore and more people of color ending up in the Prison Industrial Complex.

What white people need to do, is engage in some serious collective self-examination and how we are all beneficiaries of a system of White Supremacy. We need to come to terms with the assessment that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made about white people in 1966.

Grand Rapids Power Structure: The DeVos Family

May 17, 2018

On Monday, we began our revision of the current Grand Rapids Power Structure, with an overview of where Grand Rapids is right now in terms of who has power in this community. 

When we say who has power, it is important to note that we mean power over. A local power analysis is designed to investigate who has power over – who oppresses, exploits and engages in policy that benefits them to the exclusion of everyone else – the majority of people living in Grand Rapids.

As we noted in the previous post, we believe that private power – individuals and organizations – have the most power over people in this community, based on the hierarchy of power chart. Private power primarily relies on economic and political power and the family that has the most of that kind of power is the DeVos Family.

In terms of the DeVos Family, we have to start with the patriarch, Richard (Rich) DeVos. Rich is one of the co-founders of the pyramid scheme known as Amway. For the past 45 years, Rich DeVos has been using his wealth to influence economic, social and political realities in this community.

Rich DeVos and his now deceased wife Helen, have contributed more to the Republican Party than any other person in Michigan in the last several decades. The millions of dollars that Rich DeVos has contributed to the national and state GOP has had a tremendous influence in shifting politics to the right on numerous issues. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos Family as a whole have contributed $82 million since 1999

This amount of money injected into State politics buys a tremendous amount of influence and there are clear examples of how the DeVos Family has influenced policy. (see our examples from 2016

The most powerful family in Grand Rapids also has financed Kent County Commissioners and candidates running for office in Grand Rapids. You can find out which candidates by going to the County Clerk’s Campaign Finance link

The mechanisms that the DeVos Family uses the most to influence public policy, besides money, is their role in the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and the West Michigan Policy Forum. Both of these entities have been promoting economic policies that benefit the wealthy, attacks unions, promotes privatization and supports patriarchal, homophobic and white supremacist values.

In Grand Rapids, the DeVos Family has used their wealth and influence to promote the development in downtown Grand Rapids. This process began when they purchased the old Pantlind Hotel and changed its name to the Amway Grand Plaza. Since that time the family has purchased and developed land in downtown Grand Rapids, now owning numerous hotels and office space for their various projects, including the Windquest Group, RDV Corp and ArtPrize.

The DeVos Family also used the group Grand Action to dictate downtown development and re-direct millions of public dollars to finance the Van Andel Arena, the downtown convention center, the downtown market and the restoration of the Civic Theater.

Another major area of influence is the various family foundations. These foundations support far right groups around the country and in Michigan, like the Acton Institute and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, but they also use their foundation money to finance non-profits. DeVos Family funding of non-profits in Grand Rapids, has numerous benefits for the most powerful family in the city.

First, the foundations fund most of the major educational institutions in the area – GVSU, Calvin College, GRCC, Davenport University, Christian Schools and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. This funding of the major education centers in Grand Rapids allows the DeVos Family to have influence in the direction of each of these entities, such as GVSU’s failure to provide domestic partner benefits in the 1990s to the pro-charter, privatization policies that even the GRPS has adopted.

Second, the DeVos Family Foundations have contributed to numerous liberal entities that provide social services in the community. The financing of these entities serves to have a say in managing social policy, which puts the focus on individual behavior, rather then on a systems analysis of social problems. In addition, funding local non-profits guarantees that these non-profits will NOT ever take a public position against the economic and political actions of the DeVos Family, which contributes to poverty, gentrification and white supremacy in the community. Lastly, funding local non-profits has a PR benefit, since many people in this community will take the position that, “where would Grand Rapids be without the DeVos Family.

One additional way that the DeVos Family influences economic, social and political realities in Grand Rapids, is by sitting on Boards or having their people occupy those positions, thus providing an additional mechanism of influence and control of area policy. Some of the more notable entitles that the DeVos Family has people placed on local boards or act as partners are: Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, West MI Policy Forum, The Right Place Inc., Talent 2025, First Steps Kent, GVSU Foundation, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Experience GR, etc.

For a more full account of the history of the DeVos Family and their influence of the political, economic, social and cultural realities of Grand Rapids, check out our DeVos Family Reader

Members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure have contributed to some of the largest Political Action Committees in the current election cycle

May 15, 2018

A few weeks ago, the Lansing-based organization, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, posted an article about the largest Political Action Committees (PACs) in the 2018 election cycle

According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network research, PACs have raised $34.5 million so far for the 2018 Election. This is the most ever raised by PACs in Michigan at this date just before a state election. You can see from the graphic below, which PACs are the largest, four of which are part of the GOP and the other three with the Democrats.

There are a few members of the Grand Rapids power structure that have contributed significantly to the top PACs in the state, specifically members of the DeVos family and AutoCam CEO John Kennedy.

For the PAC known as Calley Continues Comeback Inc., DP Fox Ventures President and CEO Daniel DeVos, gave $200,000. Daniel DeVos also gave $250,000 in February to MIPAC, which is another PAC supporting Brian Calley in the Michigan Governor’s race.

Compete Michigan, which is a PAC behind Republican State Sen. Mike Shirkey, has also received funding from members of the Grand Rapids power structure. Members of the DeVos family, combined to give $50,000 to Compete Michigan and Autocam CEO John Kennedy, gave $40,000.

Lastly, State Rep. Lee Chatfield, who has two separate PACs, has received $30,000 from AutoCam CEO John Kennedy.

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network provides a list of the top 150 PACs in the current election cycle. There are several from West Michigan, including: 

  • The Progressive Women’s Alliance of West Michigan
  • Friends of Spectrum Health
  • Friends of West Michigan Business

A Grand Rapids Power Analysis revisited

May 14, 2018

Six years ago, we posted an article that provided a power analysis of Grand Rapids, looking at economic power, political power, state power, media power and NGO/social service power – as seen in the graphic below. 

While much of the analysis for 2012 remains the same, there have been many changes in Grand Rapids, with a noticeable increase in the gap between those with power and those without. Another way of looking at this growing power gap is that there is greater concentration of power from the capitalist class.

This concentration of power can be seen in the significant levels of gentrification in Grand Rapids, with the skyrocketing cost of housing, both in the price of buying a home and the cost of rent.

Another area of concentrated power can be seen by looking at Grand Rapids through a racial lens. The wealth gap has been increasing between the white community and the black and latino communities. This is evident in the growing income gap, the further marginalization of communities of color in housing, growth of unemployment and underemployment, educational opportunities and who runs the city. When I say runs the city, I don’t mean the city commission, I mean the concentrated private power which wields are deal deal more power that local government.

What we plan to do over the next several weeks is to provide an analysis of the power structure in Grand Rapids, investigating individuals/families with tremendous economic power, the organizations that have tremendous influence over the electoral and policy outcomes, how local government tends to be beholden to these private sectors of power, the role that commercial news media plays in shaping the opinions and perspectives of so many in Grand Rapids and the function of the NGO/social service sector, which more often than not acts as a buffer for those in power, redirecting a critique of systems of power and oppression to a focus on individual behavior and individual problems. As a friend once said to me, Grand Rapids does charity real well, we just don’t do justice for shit!

Grand Rapids loves to present itself as this deeply progressive community, yet all the major indicators around concentration of wealth, growing levels of poverty, racial disparities, environmental racism, food insecurity, gentrification, religious oppression, police violence and the push towards greater privatization all makes it clear that Grand Rapids is anything but progressive. The fact is that, the people who think that Grand Rapids is progressive are those with the most privilege – people who are white, economically privileged, the business community, those who are cis-gendered, those that benefit from rape culture and those who benefit from settler colonialism.

Such an analysis is no small task, but if we are to achieve equity, if we are to fight for justice and if we want to build strong social movements, then we need to have a robust analysis of who has power in Grand Rapids. Once we have a clear sense of who has power in this community, we can then develop tactics and strategies to defeat that power.

Our next piece will look at members of the most powerful family in Grand Rapids, the DeVos Family. We will look at their economic power, their political power and influence over policy, the role of their foundations in influencing the non-profit sector, how commercial media will not challenge their power and a look at how many organizations they influence by being of boards of directors and committees.

ICE continues to terrorize the immigrant community in West Michigan

May 11, 2018

Editor’s note: For sake of transparency, I am part of the GR Rapid Response to ICE project and some of the information included here is based on my own experience of being involved in that work.

Yesterday, another immigrant family was terrorized by members of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), in the southeast side of Grand Rapids.

The Spanish language news service, El Informador, reported on the ICE arrests yesterday morning, which included pictures and a video interview.

It was estimated that 9 ICE officers broke in the door of (pictured here) an immigrant family and then pointed their guns at everyone inside, including the children. A member of Child Protective Services had accompanied the ICE officers, with the intent of taking the children as well, but this didn’t happen.

However, ICE officers did take the father, arresting him right in front of his wife and children. Based on a report from an immigration lawyer, the father is now in detention in Battle Creek, at the Calhoun County Jail, which ICE is using for arrests made in West Michigan.

This kind of repression from ICE is taking place on a weekly basis in West Michigan. The GR Rapid Response to ICE group is receiving calls about ICE arrests or ICE intimidation on a regular basis. What is happening is nothing short of terrorism. Immigrant families are the targets of state terrorism, which traumatizes families, separates families and creates a climate of fear throughout the immigrant community.

So, how can those of us who have racial and class privilege be in solidarity with immigrants who are experiencing this kind of terror? There are several ways people can practice solidarity with immigrants.

  • Like the Facebook page for GR Rapid Response to ICE. This will help keep people in the loop about the work of the group, along with regular updates about families who have been impacted by ICE arrests.
  • You can attend the next GR Rapid Response to ICE training, which are being offered monthly. This is for people who want to take a more active role in trying to prevent ICE arrests and to offer concrete forms of support to families impacted by ICE.
  • Attend one of the fundraising events that the GR Rapid Response to ICE is hosting, so we can all contribute to the financial support that families impacted by ICE need. The next event is May 17, with details at this link.
  • You can share this card, which provides information for immigrants on what to do if ICE shows up. Calling 211 can get you connected to the GR Rapid Response to ICE group, which can mobilize people to take action.

  • Donate when you can and ask your friends to do the same. Check the GR Rapid Response to ICE page for ways to donate.
  • There is a new Community Bond Fund that has been established, which will be used for immigrants who can be bonded out from detention to be with their families. More information on this effort will be coming soon on the GR Rapid Response to ICE page.
  • Have a conversation at your church, synagogue, mosque or temple about offering sanctuary for those being targeted by ICE repression. Two months ago, IUC Ministerios Ríos de Agua Viva / Joy Like a River UCC, declared themselves a sanctuary. We need many more religious institutions to do the same. Contact Reverend Justo González, II at 716-989-9207, cell or jgonzo2@michucc.org, for those wanting to become a sanctuary.

  • We all need to educate ourselves on US immigration policy, both historically and in the present. We need to be informed about what the US government has done and is doing when it comes to immigration.
  • Lastly, for those of us who want to support the powerful immigrant-led movement, known as Movimiento Cosecha GR, contact them to get involved in their efforts to win respect, dignity and permanent protection for all immigrants. For there to be immigrant justice, the movement must be led by immigrants. Allies should always work to center the voices and lived experience of the immigrant community.

Betsy DeVos Watch: Another speech at a religious university founded by Billionaire Christian Tom Monaghan

May 10, 2018

As we reported on in December, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education has a penchant for speaking at organizations or educational institutions that shares her ideological perspective. 

It seems clear by now that DeVos choses to speak in public at places where she is welcomed, because virtually every other place she has given a speech has been met with significant resistance

Therefore, it is no surprise that on May 5th, Betsy DeVos chose to give a commencement speech at a University that shares her values. The Secretary of Education spoke at Ave Maria University last week, a conservative Catholic university that was founded by Domino’s Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan.

Just days before Betsy DeVos delivered the commencement speech at Ave Maria University, it’s president, Jim Towey, wrote an article on the school’s blog, entitled, Why We’re Honored To Host Betsy DeVos At Our University’s Commencement. In that article, Towey was hyper-critical of the Obama administration’s  policies that were adopted through the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Towey then goes on to write:

One of the biggest threats to Ave Maria and other higher education institutions in the Obama era was the 2011 OCR directive on how colleges were to proceed in investigating Title IX sexual assault claims on campus.  While the goal was widely supported – to ensure colleges “take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX” – the implementation and fear of a forced settlement agreement meant that university officials everywhere scrambled to hire “regulatory czars” and more staff to deal with the mountain of new requirements.  By government edict, the evidentiary standard on sexual assault cases was lowered to a “preponderance of the evidence test” and any college with a higher standard or other safeguards for the accused had to amend their procedures and rules . . . or else.

This clear overreach by social engineering zealots in the upper echelons of the Department defeated the laudable intent of protecting students from sexual assault and bringing justice to perpetrators.  OCR boasted at the end of Obama’s eight years that it had “proactively initiated” over 200 investigations and received a record-breaking 76,022 complaints. Maybe so, but the dragnet also surely victimized students wrongfully accused of sexual assault.  In addition to being denied their right to due process, they have and will suffer immeasurably from the ordeal. Many colleges chose not to defend their practices but instead took the equivalent of a “plea deal” by signing “resolution agreements” to escape OCR’s investigative tentacles.   

Towey also writes about the abomination of gender identity that now operates outside of the male and female gender framework. The Ave Maria University president said that  the idea that people can self-identify on their gender, “sent shivers to any faith-based or other college like ours who values religious liberty and devotes a great deal of study to theology and the “assigner” who created us.”

With this kind of worldview, you can see why the university invited Betsy DeVos to give their commencement address.

Again President Towey gushes over the Secretary of Education, in his introduction of her before the commencement speech. Towey even thanks Dick DeVos for accompanying his wife to the campus and praises their commitment to family values. 

DeVos didn’t have much to say in her commencement address, other than to highlight and honor Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, both examples of conservative Catholic values in the 20th Century.

However, DeVos does acknowledge the founder of Ave Maria University, Domino’s Pizza CEO Tom Monaghan. Monaghan has supported conservative and rightwing Catholic groups for several decades.

I first became aware of Monaghan’s politics in the early 1980s, when he was deeply involved in an Ann Arbor-based group called the Word of God (also often referred to as WOG). The Word of God group was connected to the Catholic Charismatic movement, which wedded Catholicism and Pentecostalism. In addition, the Word of God community was very involved in supporting the conservative catholic community in Central America in the 1980s, which opposed the influential Liberation Theology movement.

Monaghan provided financial support to the conservative Catholic movement in Honduras and Nicaragua in the 1980s believed that the US government needed to support the terrorist group known as the Contras. According to Russ Bellant, author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, Monaghan was quoted in the early 80s as saying about the need to support the Contras, “Talk about dominoes if we lose! It’s going to be El Salvador, it’s going to be Panama, it’s going to be Mexico. We could have a Soviet client state along our border.

In addition to funding the Word of God community in Ann Arbor and founding Ave Maria University, Monaghan also founded the group known as Legatus. Legatus is an organization made up of Catholic businessmen, which refers to itself as Ambassadors for Christ in the Marketplace

Legatus is also based in Ann Arbor and has chapters all over the US, including in Grand Rapids.

Once again, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos gave a speech at a religious university, that; 1) shares similar conservative values, 2) is openly supportive of the Department of Education’s watering down of civil rights and the undermining of Title IX provisions, and 3) was founded by a billionaire Christian businessman, just like members of the DeVos Family.

Known Weapons Trafficker, Oliver North will now lead the National Rifle Association

May 9, 2018

On Monday, it was announced that former National Security Council aide, Oliver North, will be the new President of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

This choice by the NRA, in many ways, makes a great deal of sense, considering the status that North has within right-wing circles. North is often seen as a “true patriot” by those who identify as conservatives, since he has been a staunch supporter of US imperialism in countries like Vietnam, El Salvador, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, North embraces many other conservative values, such as his support for the anti-abortion group, the National Right to Life. In fact, North was the featured speaker at a Right to Life conference held in Grand Rapids in 2002. North’s visit was greeted by several dozen protestors outside of DeVos Hall. 

However, North is best known as a member of President Reagan’s National Security Council in the 1980s and specifically for his role in orchestrating the illegal Contra war in Nicaragua, which led to his conviction of drug and arms dealing in what was known as the Iran Contra Scandal.

As one of Reagan’s National Security aides, North was deeply involved in the US campaign to destabilize the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s. After the US Congress passed the Boland Amendment, a series of laws that were passed which prohibited the US government from providing military assistance to the Contras.

Oliver North and other members of the Reagan Administration, along with the CIA decided to circumvent the US Congress and find ways to provide military support for the Contras in their effort to overthrown the democratically elected Nicaraguan government.

The result of North’s involvement of the illegal weapons sales to the Contras is that tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians were murdered during that 10 year bloody counter-insurgency campaign. The Iran Contra scandal was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the US role in committing war crimes in Nicaragua.

Oliver North’s role involved the selling of weapons to the government of Iran, whom the US considered an enemy at the time, using the money from those sales to purchase  other weapons, along with using drug money to also purchase weapons that were used by the Contras.

The Washington-based National Security Archives has thousands of declassified documents on the Iran Contra scandal and specifically documents pertaining directly to Oliver North, which you can find at this link. Many of these documents rely on Oliver North’s diary and memos from that period in the mid-1980s, such as this document about a meeting that North had with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who was deeply involved in cocaine trafficking with the Colombian Drug Cartels.

However, it must be noted that the Reagan administration convinced Oliver North to be the fall guy in the Iran Contra scandal. North did his duty and was then pardoned by the Bush administration just a few years after his indictment. National Security Archives Director Tom Blanton, provides this short explanation for how the Reagan administration was able to divert attention away from the role that administration played in the drugs and weapons trafficking they were involved in during the 1980s.

Therefore, it makes complete sense that the NRA would make Oliver North its new President, not just because of his blind support for guns, but because he has a history of arms trafficking and collaborating with US administrations to protect those in power.