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City of Grand Rapids and GRPD release memo that threatens those who would protest the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial

April 20, 2021

On Monday, City Manager Mark Washington and Police Chief Eric Payne released a memo that despite its rhetoric, is nothing short of a threat against those who would disrupt business as usual once the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial has been decided.

The memo begins by saying, “As the murder trial of Derek Chauvin comes to an end, the City of Grand Rapids reaffirms its steadfast commitment to improve policing in our community, enhance our service, building trust and partnerships, and working to be a model in community-police relations.” 

These comments are meant to divert people away from the rage and frustration they feel about precisely how policing is done across the country and in Grand Rapids. These opening words also demonstrate that City officials and the GRPD are desperately hoping that the community will not respond the way they did on May 30th last year.

In fact, it is my contention that the only reason that the GRPD adopted mild reformist policies in their new strategic plan, is precisely because they knew they had to throw the public a bone so as to appear to want to build trust with the community. One could certainly argue that the hundreds of people who protested in the streets last May, along with the burning of cop cars, broken windows and appropriation of wealth that took place was the real cause of the GRPD adopting any mild reformist policies. Had the protest on May 30th been another quiet vigil or another march with nothing more than chants, the GRPD would not have felt compelled to change a damn thing.

The City/GRPD memo goes on to say, “Whatever the outcome of this trial, we know people will be emotional and passionate in their reactions. We know people will want to express that emotion and have their voices heard. And as always, we stand ready to protect the rights of free speech and peaceful assembly. We must also be on guard for those who seek to exploit these events to undermine the work we’ve already begun.”

First, the GRPD does not really protect free speech rights and peaceful assembly. For the past 40 years, I have witnessed how the police always show up to a protest to either try to manage what people want to do, or they outright use intimidation, threats and force to prevent people from speaking their minds or gathering with others who are pissed off about some injustice. Just look at the recent examples of how the GRPD has targeted Justice for Black Lives organizers and you can see how they don’t give a shit about people’s rights. Second, the GRPD, on the behest of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, will only allow people to protest if it is done in a way that doesn’t threaten power. They want people to talk to the GRPD before the protest, get a permit, stay out of the street, be nice, talk about unity, say some prayers and then go home. Anything form of protest that doesn’t fit inside that model will be scrutinized and the organizers will be harassed, intimidated, threatened and possibly arrested. Third, when the City/GRPD says people will seek to exploit these events, they are really saying that anyone who doesn’t follow their orders will be dealt with harshly. Also, what work has the City/GRPD already begun? They still want to dictate how things happen and have resisted any and all efforts from the community for accountability, alternatives to policing and have vehemently opposed any possibility of defunding the GRPD.

The City/GRPD memo then makes clear what the real intention of the memo, by stating:

We should not and will not allow our community to be further divided by those whose aims are not healing but harm – to our people, our businesses and our City. We have come too far together in these last eight months.

We have made the necessary preparations to respond as needed. 

For those who are planning to take part in the protest after the results of the Derek Chauvin trial, the GRPD will not allow people to do anything that does not fit into their pre-determined and acceptable forms of dissent. People should expect to see a massive police presence for the protest, with the likelihood that other municipal police and the Sheriff’s Department will also be involved. People should also be prepared and on the lookout for cops in plainclothes, acting as infiltrators, for the purpose of gathering information and arresting people who say or do the wrong thing.

Last year, after months of pressure, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response were able to get some Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) documents pertaining to the GRPD’s preparations for the non-violent march that was organized for May 1st, 2019. You can read the entire FOIA documents at this link, but here below was what the GRPD was planning before the march even began.

One can expect that the GRPD will do something similar when there is a protest following the verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. 

The City/GRPD memo should demonstrate to the public that the local power structure will not tolerate any disruption in this city and that they are prepared to use deadly force if necessary to prevent efforts to engage in any kind of resistance, disruption or righteous indignation. 

What the City officials and the GRPD do not understand is that people who resist, who disobey, who disrupt will not just be responding to the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial, but to the cumulative rage over the numerous incidents of police murder and police brutality mostly directed towards the Black community. In addition to the actions of police departments all across the US and right here in Grand Rapids, the righteous indignation is also a reflection of the cumulative frustration that people have over systemic forms of discrimination, being forced to live in poverty, being subjected to mass incarceration, inadequate educational opportunities, living in substandard housing, the affects of gentrification and a whole host of other forms of injustice that takes a toll on our collective humanity. 

In the book, Why Don’t American Cities Burn?, by Michael Katz, the author argues that whenever there are riots, uprisings or rebellions in the US, “in almost every instance, police actions had ignited long-standing grievances whose roots lay in racism and economic deprivation.”

People don’t riot in a vacuum, they riot because of much larger grievances. This was the case with the 1967 riots and the uprising that began last May in Grand Rapids. Police actions and police repression are just the spark that people need to take matters into their own hands. 

For those wanting to engage in righteous indignation after the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial, Justice For Black Lives is calling for people to gather in downtown Grand Rapids on Breonna Taylor Way at 5pm on the day of the trial verdict.

Senator Peters visits the US/Mexican Border, praises US Customs and Border officials, gets excited about new border security weaponry

April 19, 2021

Earlier this month, Michigan Senator Gary Peters visited the US/Mexican border to meet with US Customs and Border officials. 

The trip by Peters didn’t receive much media attention, especially by Michigan-based news sources.

We only came across this story by reading a Media Release from Senator Peters’ website, which stated in part:

“I appreciated the opportunity to visit the Southern Border and to hear from officials on the ground about the work they’re doing to meet our security and humanitarian challenges,” said Senator Peters, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “I’ll continue to work with the Biden Administration, my colleagues in Congress, and relevant officials and agencies to ensure our borders are secure and that unaccompanied children and asylum seekers are treated in a humane way and can have their applications processed efficiently.”

According to a story in the Dallas Morning News, the trip was closed to the news media. That same article in the Dallas Morning News also spent a great deal of time discussing the immigration crisis, sharing stories from immigrants who are in detention and discussing the Mexican government’s compliance with the Biden administration’s request to increase the militarization of their borders.

Senator Peters alludes to the militarization of the US/Mexican border as well, but in a positive fashion, by stating in his Media Release:

“I was impressed by the Yuma Proving Ground and the critical testing of new technologies there that will define the future of warfare,” said Senator Peters, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “Ensuring that our military is prepared to face ever-evolving threats will continue to be one of my top priorities.”

Such a statement from Peters is not surprising, not just because he is Chairman of the Homeland Security, but because he is deeply committed to funneling Pentagon contracts to private companies, like the one based in Warren, Michigan, which makes combat vehicles used by the US Border Patrol, mentioned in the Senator’s Media Release.

This dynamic of supporting the militarization of the US/Mexican border has been part of the Democratic Party’s platform for decades. Sure, the Democrats were against the Trump wall along the US/Mexican border, but that was just a tactical difference and good optics, The fact is that the Democratic Party has not only been supporting an increase of militarization of the border, which escalated during the Clinton administration, they have made “border security” a priority for a very long time. 

Even when the Democrats talk about Comprehensive Immigration Reform, it always includes additional funding for border security, just like it did in the prosed 2013 bill that was defeated. When you hear border security, what that really means is an increase in funding to militarize the border, the use of technology – like the use of drones, an increase in surveillance, and a more punitive approach to dealing with undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the US. This is a theme that is well documented in Todd Miller’s latest book, Build Bridges, Not Walls: A Journey to a World Without Borders.

It is imperative that we come to terms with the fact that the militarization of the US/Mexican border, and immigration policy in general, is fundamentally a bipartisan affair. I encourage people to read Daniel Denvir’s book, All-American Nativism: How the Bipartisan War on Immigrants Explains Politics as We Know It. 

The most recent visit by Senator Peters to the US/Mexican border, which was primarily about supporting US Customs and Border agents, along with praising new weapons technology along the border, should be seen as consistent with the bipartisan border policy that Denvir documents so well in his book. 

110th Anniversary of the Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike: Why labor organizing is still urgently needed and what we can do to expand it

April 18, 2021

One hundred and ten years ago this week, some 600-700 furniture workers in Grand Rapids went on strike for better pay, better working conditions and the right to form a union.

There is plenty to learn about the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers strike and we would recommend that people read Jeffrey Kleiman’s book, Strike: How the Furniture Workers Strike of 1911 Changed Grand Rapids, along with what the Grand Rapids People’s History Project has written about the topic.

It is worth noting that the 1911 strike lasted for several months, was supported by the Catholic Bishop, along with lots of residents, resulting in 10,000 people turning out for the Labor Day Parade just weeks after the strike ended. In fact, the furniture barons were so threatened by 1911 furniture workers strike, that they then ran a campaign to change the Grand Rapids City Charter in 1916, reducing the number of political wards in the city from 12 to 3.

As we reflect on the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike, it is important to acknowledge that the strikers did not win. Despite not winning their demands, the furniture workers strike demonstrated to people in Grand Rapids that power can be challenged and that change can happen. The 1911 strike also made it clear to workers in the area that having the right to collective bargaining is extremely important and that anything is possible when organizing with your fellow workers.

Now the US labor movement has been on a stead decline since the 1950s, for a variety of reasons, such as the deindustrialization of the US, the lack of international worker solidarity, federal and state policies that have undermined labor unions and the mainstream union allegiance to the Democratic Party.

However, there is a growing interest in labor organizing, particularly amongst younger people, as can be seen in the $15 an hour campaign, the fast food worker campaign, the restaurant worker campaigns, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the public sector teacher union campaigns in several states and the most recent campaign to unionize Amazon workers. 

Forming a labor union, a workplace union, is a powerful strategy to democratize any workplace. It’s important to have collective power in the places that we spend so much of our life, even if we make a livable wage and have good benefits, we should never underestimate the power that the business class has in our places of employment.

The percentage of people who are part of a union has been hovering around 10% of the labor force in the US, which is a far cry from the 40% of workers that were organized in the 40s and 50s. So, what can we do to promote more organizing amongst those who are not part of the business/capitalist class?

First, people should really consider starting a union in their place of work. When we organize where we are, not only can we make our work place more democratic, we demonstrate that direct action doesn’t rely on the existence of laws or policies. We can take collective power into our own hands and not wait for local, state or federal politicians to adopt policies that are labor friendly.

Second, joining a union doesn’t have to be limited to being part of a particular craft. We should adopt the same mindset that has governed the IWW since it was founded, which is to say that anyone could join as long as you were not a boss. That means that everyone else could be part of a union, whether you have a job or not, whether you are employed or not, whether you work in the home and take care of children or not, anyone who is not a boss can be organized.

Third, we need to develop better forms of international solidarity. For too long, business unions have supported capitalist policies abroad, which often undermines worker rights around the world. We have to stop buying into the idea that Vietnamese or Mexican workers are in competition with us. Instead, if we have solidarity with people around the world, then we realize it is the business/capitalist class that is against us. The more cross-border organizing we can do, the more likely we will be able to engage in actions that benefit workers everywhere and not just ourselves. 

Fourth, those of us who are not part of the business/capitalist class are in the majority. Therefore, we can use our collective leverage to make larger social, political and economic demands. We need to stop just voting for the lesser of two evils and start making politicians bend to our will. This could take the form of creating worker-centered political parties, but it could also mean that if we are part of a union that we should demand that instead of making massive campaign contributions to the Democrats or Democratic candidates, we should use that money to support worker-led mutual aid project or pay people to organize workers in our communities. 

In 2012, there were 10,000 people protesting the Right to Work law that the Snyder administration pushed through. I was part of a crowd of 250 people who went into the Lansing State Capitol to occupy the building to force the State government to rescind the Right to Work law. Most of the 10,000 stayed outside and made speeches, but what if all 10,000 had entered the building to demand that the Right to Work law be done away with? Instead, those who stayed outside pushed a strategy to get a Democrat elected as Governor. Why do we put our energy into electoral strategies that do not result in significant improvements in the lives of workers and their families?

In 2012, Labor groups spent $21.9 million to defeat the Right to Work law in Michigan, but lost anyway. Imagine if that $21.9 million had been spent to support mutual aid project for families and to provide funds to pay people to organize labor unions all across the state?

Fifth, building on this idea of workers using their collective wealth to support worker and their families, according to OpenSecrets.org, labor groups spent roughly $220 million dollars in the 2020 Presidential election. This amount, does not include how much labor groups spent at the state level on Congressional, State and local races. Again, imagine how  $220 million could be used to provide mutual aid projects for families and how many people could be paid to organize in their workplace. 

Besides engaging in direct democracy through labor organizing, we also have to ask ourselves how spending $220 million on elections has really benefited workers and their families across the country, particularly in terms of economics? I mean, we can’t even get the Democratic Party to adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage policy, which in all reality is grossly inadequate in terms of what the cost of living is no matter where you reside. 

Sixth, the labor movement needs to make the wealth gap a major part of their analysis and strategy. We are all aware of how the billionaire class has expanded their wealth during the COVID pandemic. This is not some anomaly, rather it is the nature of the capitalist system to continue to direct massive sums of wealth to a small percentage of people, while most of the world’s population struggles to survive. Therefore, the labor movement has to adopt an anti-capitalist platform and stop believing that the system of capitalism can really benefit workers.

Seventh, the labor movement cannot operate in a silo and must see that their struggle is deeply connected to the struggles for Climate Justice and Immigrant Justice. The labor movement has to see that they cannot stand on the sidelines in the fight against White Supremacy or the anti-LGBTQ campaigns – particularly the anti-trans campaigns – that are happening all over the US. The labor movement has to see that the millions of families who are facing eviction, gentrification or homelessness are also people that do most of the actual work in this country. The labor movement must not only take a stand against all of these intersecting injustices, they have to be part of the larger coalitions to dismantle White Supremacy, anti-trans policies, fossil fuel extraction and other Neo-liberal policies that are attempting to privatize everything.

On the 110th anniversary of the Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike, let’s take inspiration from the hundreds of workers who took part in that strike, in their belief that when we practice solidarity we can achieve so much more, plus the value in seeing that, as the anti-globalization movement has taught us – Another World is Possible!

Image below was created by Ricardo Levins Morales.

Protest in Grand Rapids focuses on the police lynching of Daunte Wright, GRPD again threatens people for not being obedient

April 17, 2021

Yesterday, I attended the Justice for Black Lives rally/march centered around the police lynching of Daunte Wright. 

A brief Media Release stated in part:

Protestors are demanding that justice be served, and that control of the police be given to the communities they claim to serve. The movement for Black liberation will not stand by and allow the police to murder people with impunity. If there is no justice, there will be no peace.

The event featured several speakers, some with Justice for Black Lives, as well as other people representing other organizations in the area. The organizers also offered an open mic opportunity for anyone to speak. One of the organizers with Justice for Black Lives, who had been arrested twice in the past month by the GRPD and was banned from being at Rosa Parks Circle, spoke via his phone and amplified with a bullhorn. His comments seemed to get people fired up and then all of a sudden this person started speaking loudly, because he was actually standing just north of Rosa Parks Circle. The crowd shifted from focusing on the stage at Rosa Parks Circle and had now moved in the direction that the “surprise” speaker who had been banned was talking. His appearance further energized the crowd, with a clear act of defiance. 

After the speakers there was a 23 second moment of silence followed by a march that began at Rosa Parks Circle going east on Breonna Taylor Way, then west on Fulton, across the blue bridge, past the public museum, east on Pearl St and back to Rosa Parks Circle. 

The march was mostly on the sidewalk, until it got to Pearl Street, where most of the roughly 150 people walked in the street. Within a minute, the GRPD showed up in cruisers demanding that those marching in the street get off the road and back on the sidewalk, with maybe half of the marchers complying.

It is a strange world we live in where cops try to dictate how people protest during a march that was calling out cops who murder Black people. 

When the march got back to Rosa Parks Circle, there was a confrontation with a guy who came with a Blue Lives Matter flag. There was lots of yelling, by the white guy with the Blue Lives Matter flag and several of those who came to the protest yelled right back. 

There was local news coverage from MLive, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17, all with the typical protest coverage. Some of the news stories included the usual, “it was a peaceful protest” language, which is code for the protestors didn’t do anything to disrupt business as usual. 

What was instructive about the news coverage is that both WZZM 13 and the MLive story did acknowledge that Justice for Black Lives did get a permit for this action, even though that information was never posted on the Facebook event page. I get that people are frustrated with the GRPD harassment and targeting of some of the organizers, but in the end what is to be gained by obtaining a permit, especially since it puts provides the GRPD with more justification to harass and intimidate protesters that refuse to get a permit for future actions.

WZZM 13 airs story about what to do if cops pull you over, but say nothing about what is wrong with the police

April 15, 2021

On Wednesday, WZZM 13 aired a story from one of their sister stations in Washington, DC, about what to do if you are “Black and Brown” and the police pull you over.

The story is centered primarily around knowing your rights when being pulled over by cops and features someone from the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops. The story even promotes an app from the Alliance for Safe Traffic Stops, which is essentially a tool to help aid drivers during traffic stops called ‘Not Reaching.’

I am all in favor of people knowing what their rights are and having any resources that might reduce the possibility that the police won’t harass, intimidate, beat or kill people that they pull over.

What’s instructive about this tv story is that it is prefaced by the reporter talking about the Black/latinx military man who was pulled over by a cop and the police lynching of Daunte Wright, both stories that have been dominating the news this week. However, there is no discussion in this story nor commentary from experts and community organizers about what is wrong with the cops!

Telling people what to do when cops pull you over is centering the behavior of motorists. It’s like how the news often reports on rape and sexual assault. The news instructs people what to do to stay safe or how to defend yourself, but doesn’t talk about why so many men in this culture commit rape or other forms of sexual assault against women, children and other men. 

When news agencies focus on the behavior of victims or those who are potential victims, it allows us to not think about the behavior of those perpetrating the harm. In the case of the story aired by WZZM 13, the focus should be on getting people to think about what is wrong with policing in the US. Why is it that the police disproportionately pull over Black and latinx people? Why is it that the police disproportionately murder Black people? Why is it that the police who kill Black people rarely are held accountable? Why are news agencies critiquing police funding and the massive movement to defund the cops that is happening all across the US? Stop victim blaming and shaming! Defund and Abolish the Police! 

Grand Rapids City Officials vote to give themselves a substantial wage increase over the next 2 years, so how does that promote equity?

April 14, 2021

Last month, the Local Officers Compensation Commission adopted a resolution to increase the pay of Grand Rapids City Commissioners, the Mayor and the City Comptroller, based on the Agenda Packet for the City Commission meeting for April 13. (Pages 99 – 111

On April 13, during the City Commission meeting, the pay increase resolution was adopted. The current pay for City Commissioners, which is a part-time job, is $25,397. City Commissioners will receive $28,000 for 2022 and $31,000 for 2023. This means that the City Commissioners will be receiving on average $2,800 for each of the next two years

The Mayor of Grand Rapids current receives $44.188 for a part-time position. In 2022, the Mayor will receive $52,000 and in 2023, the pay for the Mayor position will be $60,000. This means that the Local Officers Compensation Commission decided that the Mayor should get an increase of $8,000 for each of the next two years.

Now, let me say that in many ways I have no problem that the City Commissioners and the Mayor of Grand Rapids will receiving substantial pay increases over the next two years. I think they deserve to make a more livable wage for their work. However, I think we all deserve to make a more livable wage for the work that we do, regardless of the type of work we are engaged in. However, their wage increases should have a major condition(s).

Therefore, I would like to see the Mayor of Grand Rapids and the entire City Commission make a collective public statement that they support and are committed to making sure that every resident of Grand Rapids, especially those who are subjected to poverty, should get the same rate of wage increase over the next two years. Grand Rapids City Commissioners will be receiving a 10.25% wage increase for 2022 and a 10.71% wage increase for 2023. The Mayor of Grand Rapids will be receiving a 17.68% wage increase in 2022 and a 15.38% wage increase for 2023. 

As a comparison, I made the same amount of money in 2020 as the City Commissioners did, except that my job is full time, while theirs is part time. I do direct care for residents who have had closed head injuries and need assistance with their daily care. It would make a significant improvement in my life to receive a 10% increase in wages each of the next two years. I have no doubt that most people would welcome the same type of increase, since it would make all of our lives a little bit less stressful. 

Since the Grand Rapids Elected Officials are being paid by our collective tax dollars, I want to see them make a public statement in support of a livable wage for all residents of Grand Rapids, particularly for the thousands of people who currently do not make enough money for the cost of living in Grand Rapids. In 2017, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), an individual must make at least $20.98 per hour working a full-time job to afford a three-bedroom apartment at market rate in the Grand Rapids area. 

Now I know that Grand Rapids Elected Officials don’t have the legal authority to make employers pay a livable wage, but making a public statement would go a long way to building momentum for a livable wage in Grand Rapids. In addition, the City of Grand Rapids could make sure that everyone who is employed by the City, makes a livable wage, regardless of the work they do.

Grand Rapids Elected Officials are always talking about equity, so here is their chance to take a public stance about equitable income. If they don’t come out as champions of a livable wage, then their acceptance of the pay increases is nothing short of hypocrisy

West Michigan Policy Forum hosted event on criminal justice reform is code for protecting White Supremacy, the Prison Industrial Complex and Business as usual

April 13, 2021

On Tuesday, the West Michigan Policy Forum (WMPF) host an event centered around the theme of Criminal Justice Reform. 

This is not the first time that WMPF has made criminal justice reform a priority. We wrote about WMPF efforts in 2018. In that article we wrote:

The West Michigan Policy Forum is NOT going to be advocating for the end of police surveillance of the black and latinx communities, they are not going to be calling for an end to mass incarceration, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of the privatization of prisons and prison services, they are NOT going to be calling for the end of criminal history to determine eligibility for housing, education, licenses, voting, loans, employment, and other services and needs, they are NOT going to be calling for an end to ICE raids, they are NOT calling for changes in the condition of jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities or immigration detention and they are NOT going to be calling for the end of capital punishment.

The other important thing about why WMPF was getting into the criminal justice reform game, is because, by their own admission, if too many people are locked up, it reduces the labor pool for the business sector.

At Tuesday’s event, the WMPF had as keynote speakers CNN commentator Van Jones and Mark Holden, who has a long history of working with the Koch brothers, specifically with Americans for Prosperity.

This is not the first time that Van Jones and Mark Holden are sharing the mic at an event on criminal justice reform. These two men have been front and center in the campaign to get the First Step Act passed during the Trump Administration. 

After year one of the First Step Act, here is what the Sentencing Project had to say:

Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act one year ago on December 21, 2018, to limit mandatory minimums for low-level drug offenses, provide retroactive sentence reductions to people imprisoned under the 100 to 1 crack cocaine disparity, and expand rehabilitation in federal prisons. Implementation of the new law has been mixed. While sentence reductions have been approved by judges, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has attempted to block hundreds of eligible beneficiaries. There has also been a problematic rollout of the risk and needs assessment tool to determine earned-time credit eligibility and limited programming for rehabilitation.

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) had a more critical response to the First Step Act, stating:

But the measure falls far short of forging a true “first step” toward fundamental change and addressing racial disparities in our criminal justice system.   

What’s more, several provisions are deeply problematic and would exacerbate racial disparities in the sentencing of individuals and encourage the expansion of the prison industrial complex. And as the bill passes through Congress, terrible amendments that stand in stark contrast to the supposed goal of the bill are being proposed to placate members who seek to be “tough on crime.” 

In addition, the AFSC states that the First Step Act Reinforces Structural Racism, Excludes Immigrants from Reforms, protects private prisons, perpetuates re-incarceration and privileges religious participation. 

Then there is the astute analysis offered in the book, Prison By Any Other Name: The Harmful Consequences of Popular Reforms, which said, “Reforms like the First Step Act and the Rights on Crime modifications might allow for some improvements, but they also entrench the underlying harm to those still ensnared in the carceral web.”

The fact the the Koch brothers have been pushing a “criminal justice reform” agenda should raise all sorts of red flags. 

In 2015, the Center for Media & Democracy wrote an excellent investigative piece on the real motives behind the Koch industries involvement in criminal justice reform and how it would benefit them. https://www.prwatch.org/news/2015/12/13002/koch-criminal-justice-reform-trojan-horse

The bill’s default criminal intent standard is strikingly similar to the ALEC “Criminal Intent Protection Act,” and tracks policies promoted by Koch-backed organizations for the past five years. As the Center for Media and Democracy has documented, Koch Industries is a major funder and leader of ALEC, and the Koch brothers have underwritten ALEC through foundations they control and organizations they fund.The proposal “would make it much harder for prosecutors to criminally prosecute companies that swindle the public, endanger their workers, poison the environment or otherwise imperil consumers,” said Rob Weissman, President of the public interest group Public Citizen.

In the same article, it states, that the some of the Kochs’ proposed changes in criminal justice reform would “make it harder to hold executives and their employees responsible for violating U.S. laws and would protect their financial interests, at the public’s expense.”

So it appears that the Koch-led initiatives around criminal justice reform is simply a cover for a much larger agenda of protecting and expanding the wealth of the Capitalist Class. We shouldn’t be fooled by what the West Michigan Policy Forum group is up to, since they, like the Koch Industries, has not come out and publicly condemned the police murder of Black people in recent years, they have not challenged the function of policing in the US and they certainly have not come out in support of the Movement for Black Lives, with the strong calls for prison abolition and the defunding of police department. In the end, these are the kinds of policies and platforms we need to be supporting, since criminal justice reform efforts are deeply committed to defending the criminal justice system and the Prison Industrial Complex. 

Oh, Doug DeVos introduced the WMPF event speakers and he laid out three reasons for doing criminal justice work:

Improves Public Safety for All – exactly how does criminal justice reform keep Black people in the US safe?

It Allows for Redemption – always injecting religious bullshit into whatever they do!

Returns individuals to productive members of society – this is simply code for get a job and comply with those in power.

Betsy DeVos created group Great Lakes Education Project, pushes misinformation about Schools and COVID

April 12, 2021

Over the past few months, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), Beth DeShone, has been engaging in misinformation, particularly as it relates to Governor Whitmer. DeShone has been with GLEP since 2011, but prior to that she was a campaign consultant for Dick DeVos when he ran for Governor in 2006.

In March, DeShone wrote this:  

Earlier this month, Governor Gretchen Whitmer wielded her veto pen as a weapon against Michigan students. In a brazen and broadside attack against local kids, she senselessly vetoed $87 million in critical COVID-19 relief funding for Michigan schools, and slashed another $10 million earmarked for summer school programs.

What GLEP doesn’t tell you is that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed HB 4048 releasing federal COVID relief funding for schools as laid out below, but announced she was vetoing HB 4049 – the bill limiting gubernatorial epidemic powers around school closure and athletics which the Republican Legislature tied to the release of $840 million in those federal funds.  You can also read exactly why Whitmer vetoed HB 4049, by going to this link.

In addition, according to the Michigan Education Association:

GOP leaders in the House and Senate have attached strings to hundreds of millions of dollars in COVID relief funding sent by Congress in December – withholding disbursement of more than $840 million unless Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relinquishes executive power to close schools and shut down athletic events in a health crisis. The Legislature also is refusing to supply districts with lower Title I enrollment (who didn’t benefit as greatly from federal relief fuding) up to $450 per-pupil in additional state funding if they did not offer at least 20 hours of in-person learning by March 22 – in effect, punishing communities devastated by the pandemic by denying them the money needed to fund safety equipment and protocols.

Then on April 9, the GLEP Executive Director said the following in response to Governor Whitmer’s public address on the same day:

“The last time Governor Whitmer suggested closing things for a few weeks, her lockdown lasted a year.  Now she’s suggesting closing schools again just as the spring assessment window opens, with billions of federal dollars waiting to help students and schools. While students are locked out of classrooms, we’ve seen too many fall into a crisis of despair.  Our kids deserve better from Governor Whitmer and the public school bureaucracy.  They deserve safely open classrooms.”  

Again, DeShone engages in misinformation, since Gov. Whitmer was not ordering the shift from in person learning to online learning, but merely encouraged it, especially considering that the COVID vaccine is not available for 16 and under, which would include most of the K-12 school students. 

On April 5th, the Bridge Magazine reported that COVID cases among school students had gone up 47% in a two-week period, resulting in numerous school districts going back to online learning. https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-health-watch/michigan-school-covid-outbreaks-surge-47-2-weeks-some-return-remote The same goes with Michigan High School sports, where athletes who have contracted COVID is also on the rise. Again, the Bridge Magazine wrote:

More than 100 boys and girls high school basketball teams — about one in 12 in the state tournaments —  had to drop out of the first round because of positive COVID tests or quarantines, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

The Great Lakes Education Project can complain all they want, but to claim that sending children back to school is what they deserve, just doesn’t sync with the recent data about the increase of school age COVID cases, nor the fact that Michigan in the worst in the country over the last month regarding COVID infection rates. Leave it to a DeVos created and funded entity to make life worst for students and families across the state. 

The Devil is in the Details 4/12/2021: recreational cannabis, corporate committee representation, money for the GRPD and the 2022 City Budget timeline

April 11, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes.

More non-Grand Rapids owned Recreational Cannabis locations approved

In the April 8th City Planning Commission  documents, there were 3 more recreational cannabis locations approved. Two of those locations approved are with Greenstone Michigan LLC, which is registered in Detroit and has cannabis locations in Ann Arbor, Lansing and Grand Rapids. The third location is owned by a Muskegon family, which has operations in Muskegon, Ottawa and Kent County so far. As we have reported in the past, most of medical and recreational cannabis facilities that have opened in Grand Rapids are not owned by people in Grand Rapids. In addition, there is little evidence that most of these business that will profit off of the sale of cannabis have demonstrated much interest in undoing the harm caused by the decades-long War on Drugs, particularly the harm done to the Black community.

More corporate representation on Grand Rapids City Committees

In the Committee on Appointments packet for April 13, there are two appointments worth noting. For both the Grand Rapids Housing Commission and the Downtown Improvement District Board, the City will likely approve Monica Steimle-App to sit on both of those committees. Steimle-App is the Executive Vice President of Real Estate Development for Rockford Construction. As has been the modus operandi of the City in recent years, they have appointed people from the corporate world to sit on these committees, but it is particularly disconcerting to have Rockford Construction have a say in housing policy in this community.

Public money approved for the GRPD recruiting class to attend GVSU Police Academy

In the Fiscal Committee packet for April 13, the first item listed is a resolution authorizing Grand Rapids Police Department Recruit Class 2021 to attend Grand Valley State University Police Academy for a total cost of $82,891

The Fiscal Committee packet also states:

Additionally, GRPD continues its partnership with Grand Rapids Community College’s (GRCC) police academy. The partnership is demonstrated by the following: · Deputy Chief Rifenberg holds a seat on the GRCC Law Enforcement Advisory Board · GRPD assists with GRCC’s police academy interviews · GRPD staff instructs at GRCC’s academy · GRCC assists GRPD by proctoring and conducting MCOLES (Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement) entrance testing. 

It’s always instructive to learn how public money is being used by the GRPD and how much time the GRPD spends on non-crime prevention work……which is most of what they do.

2022 Budget Plan Adoption almost here

In the Committee of the Whole packet for April 13, there is information about the upcoming approval of the 2022 City Budget. The COW packet provides the following timeline on this matter:

April 27 – City Manager presents FY2022 Preliminary Fiscal Plan to City Commission May 4 – City Commission Budget Review Workshop 

May 6 – Budget Town Hall 

May 11 – Set Public Hearing for proposed FY2022 Millage and Budget. 

May 11 – City Commission Budget Review Workshop 

May 18 – Committee of the Whole Budget Discussion 

May 18 – Hold Public Hearing for proposed FY2022 Millage and Budget 

May 20 – Resolution to Adopt FY2022 Millage and Budget 

July 1 – 2022 Fiscal Year begins

For a City that claims to be so progressive, how do they expect the public to review and provide input on the City Budget with this kind of timeline? In fact, most residents will not even know that the City of Grand Rapids will be voting to approve the City Budget, let alone be able to provide input, considering the short turn around time, which is 3 weeks from the time that the City Manager presents the 2022 Budget til they vote on it. One more example of why the City of Grand Rapids must adopt a Participatory Budgeting process, which is a process that truly values resident input

Imagining Grand Rapids without the GRPD

April 8, 2021

Last week, WOOD TV 8 aired a story about the national group Cure Violence. Cure Violence is likely to be hired by the City’s Office of Oversight and Public Accountability.

Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids Office of Oversight and Public Accountability put our requests for proposals on violence reduction, but they only ended up receiving a few proposals and decided to not accept any of them, which we wrote about in December.

The City of Grand Rapids had three national groups in mind, even before they put out an RFP, which in addition to Cure Violence, included Operation Cease FireAdvance Peace, and NOLA For Life. However, it looks like the City is leaning towards Cure Violence, which is why WOOD TV 8 decided to do a story on them.

In their interview with a representative from the national violence reduction group, the Cure Violence spokesperson said:

“We can get places where law enforcement can’t get because we have those relationships with those individuals on the streets, so they trust us. They know we’re not trying to send them to jail. We don’t want to see them get killed or arrested, so we’re able to mediate conflicts before it gets out,” said Whatley.

This comment from Cure Violence is not only interesting, it reflects the same dynamic that Defund the GRPD has been communicating since last June. It’s about relationships from people who live in affected communities, who have no desire to see people being punished. This kind of response to violence makes it clear that there are a whole range of ways that violence can be reduced and prevented, thus making the case that maybe we do not need heavily armed people who make it their goal to use force/violence against those designated as violent. In other words, maybe we don’t need cops to have real community safety.

Moving towards a radical community safety model requires two things. First, a divest/invest plan, which has always been part of the Movement for Black Lives agenda. If we defund the police and invest in the communities most affected by policing, it will great greater equity. We wrote about what the budget of the GRPD – $54 million, if invested in the Black community could do. Mind you, the $54 million is just for one year, so we need to imagine what that kind of monetary investment into communities affected by policing would look like in the short term and the long term.

The second step needed would then be to look at models of community safety that do not relay of policing. Those of us who have been promoting the Defund the GRPD campaign are not naive and we recognize how hard it will be to not have the GRPD. However, we also believe in radical praxis and radical imagination.

Together We Are Safe already encourages people to not call the GRPD when there is a conflict or a problem in the community. They distribute a two-page document that provides reasons why not to call the GRPD and then provides other valuable resources in the community that would more effectively respond to the conflicts in our community. When the GRPD becomes involved in conflicts, it only increases the possibility that the conflict will escalate.

So what are alternatives to having heavily armed cops in our neighborhoods, which often result in a disproportionately large number of black and brown residents going to jail?

In Zach Morris’s book, We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just and Inclusive Communities, he acknowledges that we live in a failed state. What Morris means by a failed state, is that too many people do not have their basic human needs met – housing, health care, food, transportation, child care, employment/wages. The result is the Prison Industrial Complex, the War on Drugs, Gentrification, a health care system based on profits over human needs, a dysfunctional transportation system and employment that is based on exploitation. One powerful example of how the failed state impacts black people, is this statement from Prison Abolition group Critical Resistance.

While Blacks only represent 13% of drug users, Black drug users represent 38% of those arrested for drug offenses, 55% of those convicted of drug offenses and 74% of those sent to prison.

What We Keep Us Safe advocates, in the face of a failed state, is a care-based strategy for public safety that overturns more than 200 years of fear-based discrimination, othering, and punishment. In addition, the book:

“We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.”

In addition to ideas and examples provided in We Keep Us Safe, there are other very practical ways that people can practice community safety. One of the most important and misunderstood aspects of the Defund the Police movement is that people have not taken the time to actually read what is being proposed. We encourage people to read the Defund the Police Toolkit, which is a powerful document.

Another solid resource is an anti-racist neighborhood watch manual that was developed by people in Portland Oregon. This 31 page manual provides great practical resources and application around community safety, specifically that are anti-racist. In some ways, this manual builds on the work of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, which was essentially about responding to the ongoing police harassment and violence directed at black communities across the country.

A third great resource, which was produced by the Women of Color group, INCITE!, is a 121-page toolkit that focuses on why calling the police is especially problematic for women of color and trans people of color. This toolkit also covers the following areas: 

  • Gender Policing
  • Immigration Enforcement
  • Cops in Schools
  • Policing Sex Work
  • The War on Drugs
  • Police Violence and Domestic Violence
  • Law Enforcement Violence and Disaster

A second major section of the toolkit, provides great examples of practicing community safety from several organizations. This toolkit is a must read and resource for people who want to practice community safety, plus it is a great resource to help us all radically imagine how life could be without the cops.

Lastly, I think it is worth quoting from the final page of the book, We Keep Us Safe:

“Real safety happens when we bridge the divides and build relationships with each other, overcoming suspicion and distrust. Real safety comes from strategic, smart investment – meaning resources directed towards our stability and well-being. Real safety addresses harms that the current system is failing to tackle, and holds people accountable for those harms while still holding them in community. Real safety results from reinstating full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in society. If we are able to transform our old system and create a culture of caring and healing in its place, we may have an actual shot at creating real democracy for the first time.”