Skip to content

Political rhetoric is meaningless in the wake of the police murder of Tyre Nichols, especially when the same politicians vote for increased funding for the police

February 2, 2023

It has been almost a month since Tyre Nichols was brutally beaten by five Memphis cops. Over the past week and a half, since autopsy reports were released and the five cops were arrested (Jan.6), there have been a nationwide outcry against yet another Black person dying at the hands of police in the US.

Mapping Police Violence documented 1,192 civilian deaths at the hands of US police in 2022, which is the highest number since the project began documenting this type of death. The organization also has documented that Black people are 3 times more likely to die at the hands of the police than any other group of people, plus since 2013, in 98.1% of the police killing of civilians, there has been no accountability. 

Protests have happened all over the US over the past week, but nothing like what happened after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis cop. The police murder of Tyre Nichols has elicited more conversation around defunding and abolishing police departments, with the analysis that what happened to Tyre Nichols was not an aberration, but an expected outcome based on how policing is conducted in the US.

However, the more dominant news stories involve politicians who sometimes make noble speeches, which are generally filled with empty rhetoric. Take for example recent comments by members of the Michigan Black Caucus, as reported on MLive on February 1st, with the headline, Tyre Nichols’ death demands renewed scrutiny of policing in Michigan, Black lawmakers say.

The Michigan Black Caucus members that spoke at a press conference recently were Sen. Erika Geiss, House Speaker Joe Tate of Detroit, Sen. Sarah Anthony of Lansing, Rep. Donavan McKinney of Detroit, Rep. Stephanie Young of Detroit, and Rep. Amos O’Neal of Saginaw. Many of them used the kind of language we have become accustomed to when cops kill Black people, with words like accountability and training. More importantly, what we have seen time and time again is that politicians, even if they demonstrate righteous anger of the police murder of Black people, it doesn’t result in increased consequences for police departments. In fact, what often happens is an increase in funding for police departments, like what we have seen in Michigan, where under the leadership of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, there has been a $1 Billion investment in policing. Gov. Whitmer said in her 2023 State of the State speech:

Since I’ve been governor, we’ve invested $1 billion in public safety. Let’s continue funding law enforcement with better training, oversight, and access to mental health resources. Police officers, state troopers, and prosecutors have tough, dangerous jobs, and if we work together, we get them what they need to keep our communities safe. 

The 2023 Michigan Budget includes the following for policing. After each funding allocation, GRIID provides some commentary to counter these policing funding justifications. 

  • $9.2 million to support a Trooper Recruit School (general fund) anticipated to graduate 50 new troopers in addition to the 120 troopers that are anticipated to be hired and trained using existing attrition savings. This investment allows the department to increase enlisted strength to nearly 2,200 while continuing to increase the diversity of uniformed personnel. GRIID Comments: More funding to recruit more cops does not translate into safer communities. Over and over again, the public is mislead into believing this major fallacy of more police, safer communities. See the report, Cops Don’t Stop Violence.
  • $3.7 million to improve Data Collection during Traffic Stops (general fund) through the development of new tracking and documentation systems including a benchmarking dashboard and increasing data collected during traffic stops to allow for easier review and analysis of traffic stops made by the State Police. These improvements will build upon the recommendations of the recent Michigan State University Traffic Stop Study. GRIID Comments: Last year, the Michigan State Police had conducted a traffic stop study, which concluded there was racial disparity by their department. Despite this, the public will provide more money to tell us what we already know about policing, traffic stops and racial profiling. 
  • $3 million to expand Training and Professional Development (general fund) to provide training on cultural competency, implicit bias, and decision-making to expand positive interactions between department members, minority groups, and the diverse communities that the department serves. GRIID Comments: There are numerous studies demonstrating that racial sensitivity and cultural competency training for police departments are ineffective. As Alex Vitale, author of The End of Policing states, “Diversity and multicultural training is not a new idea, nor is it terribly effective. Most officers have already been through some form of diversity training and tend to describe it as politically motived, feel-good programming divorced from the realities of street policing. Researchers have found no impact on problems like racial disparities in traffic stops or marijuana arrests; both implicit and explicit bias remain, even after targeted and intensive training. This is not necessarily because officers remain committed to their racial biases, though this can be true, 19 but because institutional pressures remain intact.”
  • $1.8 million to establish a Victim Services Program (general fund) that will support 14 full-time Victim Advocates across the state. These positions will serve to support victims’ needs early in their interactions with the criminal justice system while also building partnerships with community organizations in support of victim advocacy. GRIID Comments: There should be funding for victims of crime, but it should not go to the Michigan State Police. Funding for crime victims should go through the Department of Social Services. 
  • $1.1 million to increase the department’s capacity to Prevent, Detect, and Investigate Cybercrimes (general fund). This investment will support statewide investigatory assistance and digital forensic examinations to further the department’s position as a leader in areas of cyber security, computer crimes, and digital evidence. GRIID Comments: Cyber crimes prevention, detection and investigation should also not be done by the Michigan State Police. Such categories are nothing more than justifications for police departments to receive more funding.
  • $1 million for Trooper Recruitment (general fund) to broaden the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of the department to make it more representative of the communities it serves. This investment will support digital marketing campaigns, recruiting events, and improved public relations to assist the department in achieving its recruiting goals for enlisted positions. GRIID Comments: Recruiting and hiring more cops based on gender, race and ethnicity will NOT address the deep seated lack of trust between the police and the public. Do you think it matters that having a Black cop arrest you, beat you or shoot you is any better than a white cop doing the same?

The rhetoric from politicians like the Michigan Black Caucus also rings hollow since they have supported Gov. Whitmer’s $1 Billion in funding for policing. On top of that, at least three of the members of the Michigan Black Caucus have received campaign contributions from police unions, as has been documented by the group, No More Cop Money.

  • House Speaker Joe Tate – $1500 from police unions
  • Sen. Sarah Anthony – $1250 from police unions
  • Sen. Erika Geiss – $1000 from police unions
  • Gov. Whitmer & Attorney General Gilchrist – $3000 from police unions

All of the rhetoric in the world about police accountability means nothing if politicians continue to provide massive amounts of funding to police departments and continue to take money from cop unions. Not only is their rhetoric hollow, it is insulting to the public, and especially to the Black families that have had relatives murdered by cops. We need a massive movement and a mass uprising if policing in this country is going to be held accountable, defunded and eventually abolished.

If Michigan Democrats really want to help people, then they need to adopt policies that tax the Rich and Corporations

February 1, 2023

Just days after the 2022 elections, Michigan Senate Democrats made the following statement, “Since 1984, Republicans have used their control of the Michigan Senate to block things Michigan families need. No more.”  

For the first time since the early 1980s, Democrats control the Michigan legislature, with Whitmer as the Governor and a majority in both the House and the Senate. We wrote a three part series in November, asking the question, What kind of change do we really want to see in Michigan. Based on one of the first legislative proposals coming from the Democrats, the change were are likely to see will be marginal.

On Monday, MLive posted a story with the headline, House, Senate Democrats differ on when to give Michigan seniors pension tax relief. The article discusses the the different bills passed recently, by the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate. The House Bill that was passed was HB 4001 and HB 4002. The Senate bill that was passed is SB 0001. 

The differences that were discussed in the MLive article, have to do with when to repeal Michigan’s tax on retirement pensioners while boosting its Earned Income Tax Credit to 30%. The MLive article writes, “The EITC aids low- to moderate-income workers and families get a tax break according to the Internal Revenue Service, though the amount returned is relative to if the filer has children, dependents, is disabled or meets a slew of other criteria.”

Now, these bills are ultimately a good thing, in that they will mean that families and individuals who make moderate to low incomes, will have a little bit more money coming to them because of these tax changes in Michigan. According to a recent article in The Bridge, Whitmer’s tax cut plans would benefit more than 1.2 Michigan families. Some 700,000 households that would be in line to save more than $300 annually under an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), while about 500,000 retirees would save about $1,000 per year in pension taxes. However, these bills do not address the larger tax policy discrepancies, which are how the state taxes corporations/businesses and members of the Capitalist Class. The Bridge article also provides some insight into why we will not likely see tax policies that will target the rich and corporations/businesses in Michigan. 

Democratic lawmakers say more aggressive tax code changes — such as taxing the rich at higher rates or expanding corporate taxes — are unlikely given their slim, two-seat majorities in both the House and Senate. 

“Because it’s been 40 years since Democrats have had control of Lansing, there are so many sensible and relatively easy and very important changes that we can make that will really help people in Michigan,” said Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor. 

“So some of those more difficult, more thorny, more complicated conversations around tax policy are going to be harder to get done because there’s just so much work to do.”

Apparently, Democratic Senator Jeff Irwin doesn’t think that taxing corporations and the rich will really help people in Michigan. Senator Irwin and the Michigan Democratic Party would do well to read a report from the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) that was released in February of 2019.

The IPS piece notes that a majority of Americans support increased taxation on the rich, primarily because it would benefit everyone else. Here is a summary of the IPS talking points on What States Can Do to Reduce Poverty and Inequality Through Tax Policy. 

STATE ESTATE TAXATION – The estate tax is a levy on large fortunes when they are transferred from one generation to the next, with exemption thresholds that shield middle and working-class families. Before the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001, every state in the nation collected revenue from the state estate tax credit, which sent the first 16 percent of federal estate tax revenue to the states. Congress phased out this tax credit gradually until fully repealing it in 2005. Re-instating a progressive state estate tax in states that lost their state estate tax could generate significant revenue while reducing the concentration of wealth in intergenerational wealth dynasties. 

TAX ON CORPORATIONS WITH EXTREME GAPS BETWEEN CEO AND WORKER PAY – Such tax penalties are easy to administer because U.S. publicly held corporations began reporting the ratio between their CEO and median worker pay to the SEC in 2018. Lawmakers in seven U.S. states and in the U.S. Congress have introduced legislation similar to the Portland tax: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Washington. These efforts build on the living wage movement by creating an incentive to pull down the top end of the pay scale while sending a message that everyone in a workplace contributes value (not just the CEO).

CARRIED INTEREST TAXStates with significant financial sectors can take action to make up for Washington’s failure to close the “carried interest” loophole, which allows private equity and hedge fund managers to reduce their tax bills by claiming a large share of their earnings as “capital gains” instead of ordinary income. This has allowed many of the wealthiest Americans to pay lower rates than firefighters and teachers.  Legislation to close the carried interest loophole has been introduced in New YorkNew JerseyMassachusettsConnecticutRhode IslandMaryland, the District of Columbia, and Illinois. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has included a state-level “carried interest fairness fee” in his budget proposal two years in a row.

FINANCIAL TRANSACTION TAX – The notion of instituting a Financial Transaction Tax has gained increased attention at the federal level in recent years, but Congress has failed to take action. This would not be relevant in states that do not have a large trading exchange. The Illinois state legislature is considering a bill that would place fees of $1-$2 per contract on Chicago’s commodities and financial exchanges, with revenue estimated at $10 billion to $12 billion per year.

STATE CAPITAL GAINS TAX – A capital gains tax is a levy on income from investments rather than wages. In the 42 states (including DC) that impose capital gains taxes, rates range from 3.1 percent in Pennsylvania to 13.3 percent in California. States without a capital gains tax should implement one and states that have one should increase the rate to at least 10 percent.  Raising or introducing such taxes would mostly impact the wealthy, since the top 1 percent owns half of the nation’s financial wealth and the bottom 50 percent only own 0.5 percent of financial wealth. State capital gains taxes help ensure fairness between those who work paycheck to paycheck and those who pocket dividends.

HIGH-END REAL ESTATE TAXES TO FUND AFFORDABLE HOUSING AND OTHER PRIORITIES – Cities and States should consider taxes on luxury real estate investments, particularly unoccupied, vacant properties.   A huge number of new luxury high-rise properties have been purchased, with many vacant and unoccupied, and many purchased by shell corporations, creating a method for the ultra-wealthy to hide their wealth.  The impact has been to disrupt local real estate markets and push up existing housing prices for rent or sale higher and higher.  States can pass enabling legislation to allow cities and localities to address this problem through taxes on vacant, unoccupied luxury units, and can consider transfer taxes, and laws to require beneficial ownership transparency in real estate transactions. States could also institute graduated real estate transfer taxes, taxing properties transferring over $1 million at progressively higher rates. Think of how much money could be generated for the construction of affordable housing for those who are currently priced out of the market.

LUXURY TAXES – A luxury tax is a duty levied on luxury goods, such as high-end automobiles and expensive yachts. In Connecticut, the sales tax rate jumps from 6.35 percent to 7.75 percent on vehicles costing more than $50,000; jewelry costing more than $5,000; and apparel and footwear costing more than $1,000. The clothing tax also applies to handbags, luggage, umbrellas, wallets, or watches costing more than $1,000. In New Jersey, a tax penalizes both luxury cars and gas guzzlers by imposing a 0.4 percent surcharge on vehicles that have price tags above $45,000 or get less than 19 miles per gallon. 

STATE PAYROLL TAX ON HIGH INCOMES – Federal payroll taxes for Social Security have a huge loophole for the wealthy in the form of a cap on the amount of income subject to the tax. It’s currently $128,400 and is adjusted annually for inflation. This means a multi-millionaire and someone earning $128,400 per year pay the same amount in Social Security payroll taxes — not the same rate, the same amount. States can close this loophole by imposing a state level payroll tax on income above the federal cap.

STATE CORPORATE INCOME TAX – With the federal corporate tax rate dropping from 35% to 21%, this is an opportune moment for states to recoup some of these funds by raising or introducing corporate income taxes. Forty-four states levy a corporate income tax, with rates ranging from 3% to 12%. Nevada, Ohio, Texas, and Washington impose gross receipts taxes instead of corporate income taxes, while South Dakota and Wyoming have neither. 

The bottom line is, if the Democrats want to put more money into the pockets of regular, everyday Michiganders, then these are the kinds of tax policies they need to adopt if they want to make real changes for Michigan residents and not be afraid to piss off corporations or members of the Capitalist Class. 

Media Coverage of Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker doesn’t inspire and doesn’t create a counter narrative to the one sent out by the killer cops’ lawyers

January 31, 2023

Remember the message that the lawyers representing Christopher Schurr, the ex-cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head, presented to the news media on January 11th? Schurr’s lawyers presented a 45 page brief laying out several arguments over why his case should be dismissed. 

The local news media cited several of those same reasons why Schurr’s case should be dismissed, plus most of the local news outlets included a link to the 45 page brief, as we noted in a post from January 12.

The response from Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who brought a second degree murder charge against Schurr, was not even picked up by all of the local news agencies. In fact, there is no evidence that Becker’s office even provided a Media Release, since we could not find any on the Kent County Prosecutor’s site, nor the Kent County Clerk or the County Administrators section of accesskent.com. 

WOODTV8, WXMI17 and WWMT did not run a story on Becker’s announcement, just MLive, WZZM 13 and the Associated Press ran the story. As of January 31st, to access the MLive story you needed to be a subscriber.

The WZZM 13 story was short with channel 13 providing this narrative from the Prosecutor’s office:

Becker says in court documents that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding probable cause to bind Schurr over on the second-degree murder charge. 

Therefore, he argues, Schurr’s request to quash the bind over should be denied. 

Becker believes there is enough evidence for the murder charge as opposed to the lesser count of manslaughter.

The channel 13 piece is so short, they decided to include information about the lawsuit that Patrick Lyoya’s family has filed against the City of grand Rapids. 

The Associated Press (AP) story is also brief, with the following narrative based on what the Kent County Prosecutor’s office had shared:

Becker said in court documents filed Tuesday that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding probable cause to bind Schurr over on the charge. Therefore, Schurr’s request to dismiss the charge should be denied, the prosecutor said. 

The AP story did state that Kent County Circuit Judge Christina Elmore will hear both sides’ arguments during a motion hearing scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on February 3rd, plus they included the date that the trial will start, which is March 13. The WZZM 13 story did not mention the February 3rd motion hearing date, they only said there was “a hearing next week.”

The Kent County Prosecutor’s office missed a huge opportunity to create a counter narrative, which could have included clear reasons for why this case should go to trial. None of that happens in the local news coverage of Becker’s response to the lawyers representing the ex-cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head. 

The message coming from Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker does not inspire and it does not create a counter narrative, which is crucial at this point, especially since the lawyers representing Schurr have hammered home their particular narrative. This battle is not just a legal one, it is about public perception, and right now the Kent County Prosecutor is losing the propaganda war. 

Perpetuating structural racism in Kent County: Questioning the process for COVID relief funding and the limits of electoral politics in The Diatribe case

January 30, 2023

There is no question that structural racism exists in Kent County. BIPOC residents and neighborhoods where BIPOC residents are most concentrated have higher levels of poverty, are disproportionately more food insecure and are more impacted by the current housing crisis than their white counterparts.

Todd Robinson, author of the book, A City within a City: The Black Freedom Struggle in Grand Rapids, Michigan, refers to structural racism as managerial racism. No matter what words we use to describe institutional racism in Kent County, the harsh reality is that it permeates every institution, including businesses, social service agencies, non-profits, religious institutions, financial institutions and local government.

A recent article in the Michigan Advance, entitled, ‘Just not The Diatribe’ – How partisan politics intentionally left out a Grand Rapids Black and LGBTQ+-run nonprofit from receiving COVID-19 relief funding, speaks to the issue of structural racism in Kent County, particularly with the Kent County government.

The Michigan Advance article does a good job of investigating an issue that has been public for several months now, mostly because of the work done by The Diatribe to make it public, as is evidenced in this video and this interview with The Diatribe’s Marcel Price, who is the organization’s Chief Inspiration Architect.

What the Michigan Advance article did, which was not part of much of the previous coverage, was to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for access to e-mails and other communication between Kent County Commissioners and Kent County Administrative staff. The communication around the issue of which organization(s) should receive federal COVID-19 relief funding through Kent County is instructive and demonstrates not only a lack of understanding of structural racism, but almost a complete denial of the fact that it even exists in Kent County. This is in part based on who was bank rolling some of the Republican Commissioners featured in the FOIA documents, specifically Commissioner’s Green, Stek and Brieve. Here is a list of their large contributors from our research during the 2022 Election:

Ben Greene (R)

Total raised: $28,858.08

Largest contributors:

  • Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce – $3500
  • Realtors Political Action Committee of Michigan – $2000
  • TGIF Victory Fund – $2000
  • JC Huizenga, National Heritage Academies – $1050
  • Dan Hibma, Land & Company – $1000
  • Terri Land, Land & Company – $1000
  • Joel Langlois, Delta Properties – $1000
  • Michael Jandernoa, 42 North Partners – $1000
  • Susan Jandernoa, homemaker – $1000
  • Lee Anne Langlois, Retired – $1000

Stan Stek (R)

Total raised: $24,927

Largest contributors:

  • Kent County Republican Committee – $2500
  • Miller Canfield PAC – $2000
  • GR Chamber of Commerce – $1500
  • GRAR Commercial Real Estate PAC – $1500
  • Dick DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Betsy DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Pamela DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Dan DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Suzanne DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Doug DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Maria DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Steve Ehmann, RDV Corp – $1050

Emily Post Brieve (R)

Total raised: $23,286

Largest contributors:

  • Realtors PAC of Michigan – $3000
  • GR Chamber of Commerce PAC – $2000
  • Terri Land, Land & Company – $1050
  • Dick DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Betsy DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Pamela DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Dan DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Suzanne DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Doug DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Maria DeVos, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Steve Ehmann, RDV Corp – $1050
  • Michael Jandernoa, 42 North Partners – $1000
  • Susan Jandernoa, Retired – $1000

Another important aspect of the Michigan Advance article states, ”On Nov. 17,  Republican commissioners started looking for connections between The Diatribe and the Black Lives Matter organization or the defund the police movement, according to texts.”

The article goes on to say. “The defund the police movement aims to reallocate or redirect funding away from the police department to other government agencies funded by the local municipality, like mental health services. It is often misinterpreted by conservatives as an effort to abolish police departments. 

In April, Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr, who is white, fatally shot 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, during a traffic stop. For months, residents protested in the streets of downtown Grand Rapids, calling for the police department to change their policies and reform their policing of Black residents. In June, Schurr was charged with one count of second degree murder.

Brieve texted Greene and asked if he found “any defund the police stuff on the Diatribe site/social.” 

This is the point where I begin to take issue with some aspects of the Michigan Advance article. While it is clear that Kent County Republican Commissioners – which disproportionately represent more of the rural parts of the county, were wanting to fund projects that would benefit their districts – the partisan take on the issue of defunding the police is simply not accurate.

During the last election cycle, GRIID documented several instances where Democrats running for office were trying to use the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya to their own benefit and presenting themselves as pro-police in their campaign statements. 

  • On April 11, just one week after Patrick Lyoya was murdered by the GRPD, only one elected official out of 47 had responded to thousands of messages that were sent by one of the coalition groups, Together We Are Safe, that is part of the Defund the GRPD campaign.
  • On April 14, we posted an article after State Senator Winnie Brinks released a statement after the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya.
  • On April 15, we posted an article after then Kent County Commissioner Phil Skaggs (who was running for State Representative, had released a statement after the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya.
  • On April 19, we posted an article after Michigan Governor Whitmer had her picture taken with Patrick Lyoya’s parents and made some remarks.  
  • On July 5th, we posted an article showing bi-partisan support for more funding for police from State officials, including Rep. David LaGrand. Kent County Commissioner Phil Skaggs was part of LaGrand’s staff last year.
  • On August 14, we posted an article entitled, Despite public perception, the Democratic Party is equally committed to supporting and increasing funding for the police.

I include these previous posts to make it clear that the Democratic Party in Kent County, not only hasn’t been in support of the Defund the GRPD movement, they have demonstrated over and over again their commitment to increasing the funding for policing.

The Limits of Electoral Politics

The other main issue I take with has to do with how Kent County officials made decisions on what projects received funding is about the process. Actually, not so much the process that Kent County officials used, but what they didn’t do. 

During the process of rating and negotiating which projects would receive COVID relief funding, none of the Democratic Commissioners cited in the Michigan Advance article made any effort to make what they knew publicly. I don’t mean simply making a post on their Facebook page or tweeting about it, I mean making an effort to contact people and organizations in the community to apply the necessary pressure to make it impossible for the Republican commissioners to exclude The Diatribe or any other project that truly serves to Benefit the Black community. I never received notices about what was happening in the process to use federal COVID relief funding.

Taking it a step further, the Democrats could have demanded that the county government use a participatory budgeting model, to allow the community to vote directly on the how these federal dollars would get used, using a ranked voting system of say the top 5 or top 10 choices.

Taking it even further, instead of having Black organizations compete for the same dollars, how about a Black community coalition, which would craft a platform for what the Black community needs and demand that all of it gets funded, whether we are talking about federal, state, county or city funding. Why should we leave how communities receive necessary, quality of life funding, in the hands of partisan politics? 

We should be advocating for more Direct Democracy, instead of leaving it in the hands of politicians who are more interested in their image and getting elected, than they are in truly representing the interests of the people, particularly the most marginalized in the county. I for one am tired on how partisan politics is all about blaming and never about radically imagining a better way to engage in transformative politics.

20 years ago there was a movement in Grand Rapids to oppose the US war and occupation of Iraq: Part II – Confronting President Bush when he came to town in 2003

January 29, 2023

In Part I of our series looking back at the 20th anniversary of the public resistance to the US invasion/occupation of Iraq in 2003, we focused on early organizing efforts to build an anti-war movement before the US war on Iraq even began. In Part II, we will look at the plans to protest President’s Bush’s visit to Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address, the protest and the GRPD’s response during that protest.

With just a few days notice, it was announced that President George W. Bush would be coming to Grand Rapids the day after his State of the Union address in late January of 2003. Bush chose Grand Rapids since he believed that his ultimatum against Iraq would be welcomed in West Michigan. Bush’s father made the same mistake in 1991, choosing to come to Grand Rapids to celebrate July 4th, just a few months after the US bombed Iraq “back to the stone age.”

Organizers had just a few days to begin planning an action to confront Bush when he would be in town. The announcement said he would first be at Spectrum Hospital and then take the motorcade to DeVos Hall. The plan was to line up on both sides of Michigan Street, from just west of Spectrum Hospital, all the way down to the Federal building. The GRPD was told that the demonstration would then move down Michigan Street and turn left onto Monroe. However, organizers had a different plan, which was to turn left on Ottawa, then right on Lyon St and go directly to DeVos Hall. 

There were over 100 cops out in force that day in late January, 2003. When the police realized that the demonstrators took a detour, they panicked. Protestors, which numbered over 1,000, began turning right on Lyon Street, near the entrance to the building, when police cruisers jumped the curb and almost ran into the building, in order to block those demonstrating to walk any further. At the same time, dozens of police officers lined up along Lyon St, facing demonstrators, in full riot gear. For nearly 30 minutes there was a shouting match between cops and protestors. Jack Prince, who was teaching at GVSU at the time, and was at the protest, told us what had happened to him that day: 

The protest in 2003 had problems from the beginning. All of the phones were shut off in the sociology and psychology department on campus as a means to thwart communication, since they knew there was talk of organizing or even discussing Bush’s visit. This was denied later, obviously. The group I was in was detained on North side of Michigan Ave in attempt to separate us from other protestors by police. After complaints we had to travel down Michigan to a point to cross. We noticed a lot of plain clothes men in suits with earplugs that were directing the local police as to what to do with shades on and dress suits. They would not interact with us and tried to be invisible but they were clearly in authority and control. As we proceeded down  Ottawa south they attempted to compact us on sidewalk and when we turned West on Lyon there they had a constricted area where they made their move and began grabbing people. My daughter was grabbed and thrown on top of the hood of a car and was arrested. I became very vocal obviously at that point toward the police, but as there was a crowd forming with more witnesses they didn’t arrest me until I was walking up the steps to the ground level of a second story level by what is now the 5/3 bank building. Again in an area that was blocked from vision. My charge was: instigating a riot. A serious Felony Charge. People at GVSU, meaning  the administration higher ups, saw me with a GVSU coat I had on in the news coverage and I was contacted by the Coaching department and they shared their displeasure which led to my departure from the school. After some time and organization with others who were arrested the charges were dropped. The ACLU was helping us and and really were instrumental in the charges being dropped after approximately a month. 

What was not known at the time was that the GRPD had created a “Free Speech Zone,” which was something that the Bush administration had begun to use after 9/11. Free Speech Zones were fenced off areas that were designated for protestors, often a significant distance from where those protesting had intended. The same was the case on that day, with the Free Speech Zone create in front of City Hall on Monroe, nearly a block from where Bush would be speaking. Most of the 1,000 people who came out to protest the possible war with Iraq were uncomfortable with being pinned down by the GPRD on Lyon Street, so the majority of them decided to go to the designated “free speech zone.”

When protestors arrived on Monroe, just in front of City Hall, they were greeted by more cops and a few angry construction workers who were supportive of the US going to war against Iraq. There was a smaller group of people who refused to go to the “free speech zone”, choosing instead to demonstrate in the streets further south of where Bush was speaking, shutting down traffic on Division and several other streets.

At the same time the GRPD was engaged in their own PR war, sending out their own press release, which was the origin of many of the lies reported by the local corporate media in their coverage of the Bush protest. The press release describes a “large, unruly crowd” that “block[ed] streets in downtown Grand Rapids,” attempted to “overturn a commercial truck,” and tried to “attack police officers.” The press release outlines the arrests made during the day and the charges faced by the protestors, specifically highlighting the “10 year felony, $10,000 fine” some protestors faced for “inciting a riot.”

Included in the FOIA documents we received months later, it is instructive to read about the GRPD’s “notes” on the Bush protest and how they were prepared to use Chemical agents and shotguns on ant-war protestors.  Lastly, in another FOIA document dated February 25, the GRPD’s Internal Affairs division determined that the GRPD’s behavior during the Bush protest was justified because the protestors refused to comply with GRPD commands.

In thinking back about the action to confront President Bush, we didn’t have enough time to plan, but we also didn’t have enough capacity to plan an action that was more confrontational and could have disrupted the President’s motorcade before he gave his speech in front of supporters. However, as the resistance grew against the US threats to bomb and invade Iraq, more people began to step forward who were willing to engage in more direct actions. 

In Part III, we will look at the Women in Black actions, the global protest against the war march that took place in Lansing, along with the People’s Alliance for Justice & Change workshops on civil disobedience that were offered to a growing number of people who wanted to do more than just hold signs. 

Food Start-ups, , food insecurity and food justice in Grand Rapids 3rd Ward

January 26, 2023

Earlier in the week, MLive reported a story about a project in the Southeast part of Grand Rapids, involving SpringGR and Amplify GR, focusing on what is being called an “Incubator kitchen.”

The story shares that there are a few “food entrepreneurs” who will now be able to use the kitchen space at Kazoo Station to prepare food that they will will sell for their budding food businesses. It’s a nice story, with commentary from the small business owners on how such a space will help them expand their businesses.

Now, I don’t begrudge people who want to start their own businesses, as my family had a business that lasted for three generations. But after reading the MLive article and thinking about the fact that the neighborhood that this “Incubator kitchen” is located in, I wanted to think about this issue through a food justice lens.

There are large parts of the urban core of Grand Rapids that are often referred to as food deserts. However, food deserts is a misrepresentation of what actually exists. More and more people are realizing that when we talk about neighborhoods that are short on functional grocery stores, community gardens and space dedicated to making sure that people have easy access to healthy, local food, we need to understand that these realities are based on policies and decisions that are often driven by capitalism. The term that more and more people are using to describe this dynamic is Food Apartheid. 

Food apartheid is a system of segregation that divides those with access to an abundance of nutritious food and those who have been denied that access due to systemic injustices, such as the shift from local grocery stores to chain stores, families that do not make a living wage, structural racism, etc. 

The new “Incubator kitchen” is located in a part of Grand Rapids that is experiencing food apartheid, and while the “incubator kitchen” will benefit a few people who have food businesses, it will not address the community’s food insecurity.

A spokesperson for Amplify GR was quoted in the MLive article, stating that the “Incubator kitchen” came out of community conversations that were being had as part of the Amplify GR effort to re-develop the Boston Square neighborhood. Now, GRIID has written a great deal about the Doug & Maria DeVos-created organization, Amplify GR, which you can read at this link. One of the themes were have addressed since AmplifyGR was created in 2017, is the fact that the DeVos family promotes the notion of entrepreneurs, which can benefit some people, but it does not address the massive wealth gap that exists in Grand Rapids, nor the longstanding impact that structural poverty has been imposed on communities like Boston Square Neighborhood. 

A question I would ask about this process that need to the decision to create the “Incubator kitchen” would be, “were there other options presented about address food insecurity in that neighborhood, like the idea of a community kitchen.” A community kitchen is fundamentally different that an Incubator kitchen, since a community kitchen is more of a cooperative model designed to address food insecurity, food apartheid and build community. The function of a community kitchen is to have a collective space that is owned by the community, where people can cook meals together, send food home with families, share recipes, and provide skill sharing like how to preserve and prepare food. 

Imagine what it would mean to have a community kitchen that took this approach, how often it would be utilized and how many people who have greater access to healthy & nutritious food on a daily basis. In addition, to food sharing and community building, it could provide an opportunity for people to have deeper conversations about the existing food system, a system that does not benefit most people. Here is a link to content that I created over the years when doing Food Justice workshops.

The mLive article says that people who have food businesses can rent the kitchen space for $20 an hour for their food businesses. I have to believe that the space will sit empty for good parts any given week, so why not allow the community to use the space – rent free – as a community kitchen, which could benefit the while community instead of just a handful of business owners? 

Meijer family members spread out their wealth to get a lower ranking on the Forbes 400 list

January 25, 2023

For years, Hank and Doug Meijer would combine their wealth, which made them the wealthiest family in West Michigan. 

People might think that the DeVos family is the wealthiest, and they probably are, but the DeVos family has diversified their wealth to such a degree that it is hard to determine what they are worth collectively. Add to their diverse wealth portfolio the fact that they are not big on transparency, and you end up with the Meijer family having the higher ranking on the Forbes 400 list for several years in a row.

However, the Meijer brothers have also decided to separate their wealth, so that Hank, Doug and Mark Meijer want the public to see their wealth as diminished and separated. 

In looking at the most recent Forbes 400 list from 2022, we discover that Hank, Doug and Mark Meijer are tied for the 202nd spot on the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans, each with $5 Billion to their name. This of course means that they are collectively worth $15 Billion, which is a disgusting level of wealth.

I say disgusting because they have made their wealth off of the labor of their employees and people who work in the agricultural sector, along with those who work in the manufacturing sector. Whether we are talking about people who pick the food sold in Meijer stores, those who make the non-food products sold in Meijer stores, those who stock the shelves or work the cash registers at Meijer stores, all of them give their labor to the Meijer family. Plus, all of these people who give their labor so that Meijer can sell products in their stores, the vast majority of them do not make a livable wage. In fact, many of the make the minimum wage or less, especially those that pick the food sold in Meijer stores.

Now, over the past few years, GRIID has been tracking the wealth of the Meijer family, like when we noted that, during the first 18 months of the COVID pandemic, the wealth of Doug & Hank Meijer had grown by $6.7 Billion. We noted that this increased wealth was taking place when so many people were without work and experiencing food insecurity.

Another way that we have looked at the wealth of the Meijer family in recent years is to re-imagine how just the amount of increased wealth they made during the early part of the pandemic could benefit their employees. We noted that if Meijer paid their employees $40 an hour for a 40 hour work week, that would result in a $90,000 annual salary. If Meijer decided to pay their employees such a wage, they would still be worth BILLIONS, meaning their lives would be ridiculously comfortable. The difference is that their employees would now have a less stressful life and be able to have opportunities they didn’t have before.

In another examination of the Meijer family wealth, we wrote in August of 2021:

For the rest of us, we should be marching on the Meijer corporate headquarters at 2929 Walker Ave NW, Grand Rapids, making other demands about wealth redistribution. Imagine what $900 million could do to relieve the harm that thousands of families are currently experiencing in the Greater Grand Rapids area. $900 million would eliminate poverty, homelessness, food insecurity and provide plenty of health care funding. Demanding that the Meijer family give $900 million to be distributed to the thousands of families in this area who are experiencing poverty, systemic racism and other forms of structural violence would still leave Hank & Doug Meijer with $12.6 billion, which I’m sure they could still support their families on.

Those with tremendous wealth won’t willingly give up millions or billions of dollars, we must demand that they turn in over to the rest of us. Of course we are talking about a sustained organizing effort, a revolutionary effort that would involve tremendous risks, but if we really wanted to engage in systemic change, then such action needs to happen. I mean, look at how much money members of the Capitalist Class spend on buying and lobbying politicians to make sure that their grotesque amounts of wealth are not fairly taxed. Imagine how resistant they would be to the public demand a redistribution of their wealth. Remember, it’s not really their wealth to begin with, since they made it off of the exploitation of those who do the real work.

The West Michigan Policy Forum continues their efforts to undermine public education in Michigan

January 25, 2023

“If we want our economy to thrive, we must invest in its future: our students. We need to make it clear to our lawmakers: we need change that’s going to drive success for our students and our economy. And this year, with Michigan’s new legislative line-up, we need to be louder than ever.”

The above quote is from a recent article posted on the West Michigan Policy Forum’s website, an article from January 9th. Clearly, the WMPF has concerns about the now Democratic Party control of state government, with their point about the need to be “louder than ever” on education and the economy in Michigan.

For the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF), education policy has been a priority for years. GRIID has been documenting this dynamic over the years, such as when the WMPF helped to craft and then support legislation in 2016, which would eliminated public teacher pensions and force them to adopt a 401k plan. In 2018, the WMPF brought former Florida Governor Jeb Bush to Grand Rapids, advocating that Michigan adopt similar policies that Florida did during his tenure as the Florida Governor, policies that would undermine public education and push for more Charter Schools and Private education opportunities.

Last April, the WMPF brought in  Corey DeAngelis, who is the Director of Research for the American Federation of Children, who made three issues for the future of education in Michigan:

Lastly, during their Fall 2022 Conference, the WMPF had a session on education, with the headline, Reimagining Michigan’s Failing Education System and Making Michigan a Top 10 State. The 2022 WMPF conference addressed two aspects of what they referred to as a failed education system in Michigan. First, the speakers discussed how to move Michigan more in the direction of what Betsy DeVos has been advocating for over the past 3 decades, a more privatized educational system with charter schools, religious schools and private elite schools. The second aspect of the education-themed conference is to discuss the need to gear education in such a way as to generate talent, specifically labor talent, which is why there were several business people speaking during that session, along with the fact that the majority of those in attendance were business people.

A morning session on education policy at their Fall 2022 Conference was entitled, A Game Plan for K-12 Transformation in Michigan, Next steps for Education Transformation in Michigan. This presentation was given by Don Nielsen, with the American Center for Transforming Education. The American Center for Transforming Education is part of the Discovery Institute, which advocates for Public Education Reform. What they mean by Public Education Reform is to push School Choice, to change education policy, make schools places that work with the business community to meet market demands through talent creation.

At the second morning session on education policy, there was another panel to react to the comments by Don Nielsen. The panel consisted of Rep. Pamela Hornberger, John Kennedy (Autocam Medical) and Kelley Williams-BolarSchool of Choice Advocate. Rep. Hornberger is the Chair of the House Education Committee, and last year she introduced a House resolution on Wednesday condemning the Michigan Department of Education’s teacher training videos on student gender orientation and reaffirming the fundamental right of parents to direct the education of their children. John Kennedy is part of the Executive Board with the WMPF and has been one of the most consisted WMPF members to speak out against Public Teacher Unions. Lastly, Kelley Williams-Bolar, an African American parent, went to jail for sending her kids to a highly ranked school near where her father lives, which was out of her home school district. Now, the far right is using her to push their own education agenda. 

If the West Michigan Policy Forum gets their way, they will radically alter education policy in Michigan and effectively undermine public education for decades to come. We all need to know about their policy work and there needs to be a significant effort, even a social movement, to prevent them from achieving their goals for public education in Michigan. Unfortunately, the work of the West Michigan Policy Forum is under-reported and operates outside of the view of the public.

Newly formed Stand with Schurr page perpetuates racist ideology, glorifies state violence and justifies the murder of Patrick Lyoya

January 23, 2023

The group that has been organizing financial support for the Christopher Schurr, the ex-GRPD cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head, known as Stand with Schurr, now has their own Facebook page. 

The Facebook page for Stand with Schurr started just one week ago and as of this writing has 12 separate postings. Some of the posting people might be familiar with, such as the recent brief filed by Schurr’s lawyers asking the court to dismiss the case, the statement from the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association from April 26th pf last year, commentary posted from the Gerald R. Ford Metro Lodge #97 –  Fraternal Order of Police, and video of a GRPD Captain who testifies that Schurr followed proper training in Lyoya shooting. 

The posts on the new Stand with Schurr Facebook page that people may not be familiar with are from groups that are pro-police, embrace far right ideologies and in varying capacities perpetuate racist stereotypes and ideologies. The three groups that the Stand for Schurr Facebook page is promoting are:

Reading and watching content from each of these sites is not recommended, since they are difficult to stomach, but it is necessary if we want to understand the mindset, indeed the culture of people who defend cops no matter what. It’s one thing for the Stand for Schurr group to raise money for the ex-GRPD cop and his wife, but it is another thing to promote and perpetuate racist ideology and the belief that cops are in our communities to protect and serve. Regardless of the outcome of the trial for the ex-cop that shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head, we need to expose groups like Stand for Schurr and counter their glorification of state violence workers, known as cops. 

Class Warfare is what the Chamber of Commerce is waging across the US, and in Grand Rapids

January 22, 2023

Recently, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case with high-stakes consequences for the US labor movement. The case at issue, Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, deals with a 2017 strike at a concrete-mixing company.

According to an article in the Jacobin, If the Supreme Court rules against the Teamsters, it could open the floodgates for corporations to sue unions for economic damages caused by strikes. 

One of the groups that is lobbying the US Supreme Court is the national business entity, the USChamber of Commerce. That the US Chamber of Commerce is advocating that the Supreme Court rule in favor the corporation in question is not surprising, in fact, throughout their history, the US Chamber of Commerce has not only been anti-labor union, they have been waging a war against workers and working families. 

For decades, the US Chamber of Commerce has spent millions on lobbying Congress, along with millions in campaign contributions to candidates that are anti-union. Amway co-founder, Jay Van Andel, was the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1979 and 1980. In fact, during Van Andel’s tenure as chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, he worked on a campaign to counter the consumer-driven work of Ralph Nader and all the advocacy groups that Nader created, like Public Citizen. Under Van Andel’s leadership, the US Chamber of Commerce created chapters of Citizen’s Choice, specifically as an effort to counter the public demands of greater accountability and regulation of businesses and corporations. 

Other ways that the US Chamber of Commerce has been engaged in class warfare against working people and working families, has been their opposition to things like raising the minimum wage, paid sick leave, maternity leave, improved health care benefits and progressive Climate Justice policies.

If the US Supreme Court rules in favor of corporations, then workers who chose to fight for workplace democracy will have more of their legal power taken away from them. At the local level, the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is engaged in the same sort of class warfare in West Michigan.

Now, the  mission statement of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce states, “The Grand Rapids Chamber continues to work toward cultivating a region that is thriving and prosperous for ALL.” This is an outright lie, especially if one examines the legacy of the GR Chamber and the kind of things they have supported over the decades, which is in step with the US Chamber of Commerce.

The GR Chamber does an annual survey to find out what its members want the Chamber to make as its priorities. Just check out this short video, which lays out the 2021 legislative priorities for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

The video makes it clear that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce is “working to shape the policies to support a vibrant business climate.” The video states that the GR Chamber wants:

  • Property tax deferment for businesses, which Whitmer has vetoed twice
  • Regulatory flexibility 
  • A possible end to licensing fees
  • Eliminate or reduce business unemployment fees
  • Improve work search requirements to make people take jobs that don’t pay well
  • Education testing to make sure that students are work ready. In other words, the GR Chamber sees education as talent production
  • Creating more childcare options to get people back into the workforce and improve productivity
  • Criminal Justice reform for the GR Chamber is about getting more formerly incarcerated people into the workforce, which the Chamber also sees as a Talent issue
  • Continuation of the Going Pro Program, which transfers public money to private businesses for training purposes
  • Wants more housing, but not housing justice

The Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce made “big news” with their campaign contributions and endorsement of two candidates in the Grand Rapids City Commission race this past November. Of course, the GR Chamber of Commerce also contributed thousands to candidates for county and state offices as well, primarily GOP candidates. 

However, it would be a mistake to think that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce only contributes to GOP candidates who are running for office in Kent County. Check out the list of Democratic Party candidates that the GR Chamber of Commerce has contributed to in recent years, which begs the question – why would candidates who claim to support working people and working families, take campaign contributions from an entity that has been waging war on working people and families since they were founded in 1887. 

It’s bad enough that the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce wants the City of Grand Rapids to adopt a proposed ordinance that would criminalize the unhoused, but this is completely in line with the organizations history of waging class war against working people and families in the greater Grand Rapids area.

Editor’s note: Additional sourcing for this article came from the book, The Influence Machine: The US Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life, by Alyssa Katz.