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Cops, Clergy and State Violence: The GRPD recruits faith leaders for Clergy on Patrol program

July 28, 2021

Earlier this week, the Grand Rapids Police Department posted information about a new program they are rolling out called Clergy on Patrol or COP. 

According to the GRPD’s post:

The Grand Rapids Police Department is excited to launch a new partnership with area faith leaders, called Clergy on Patrol (COP).  The mission is to foster relationships between the police and faith based leaders to build bridges with the community.  Clergy members have already started to learn more about GRPD operations and procedures.

During the Grand Rapids Public Safety Committee Meeting on July 27th, Police Chief Payne said that there were already 11 clergy signed up for the GRPD’s 

Cops on Patrol program. Payne said he would like to triple that number. Grand Rapids City Commissioner Nathaniel Moody, who is also a pastor, responded by saying, “The clergy that I know, that’s going to participate, they wanna participate. They were excited to hear about it, and they were excited to get the information.”

For those who have been involved in monitoring and resisting US militarism abroad, the language that the GRPD is using to recruit faith leaders is the exact same kind of language that the US Army and CIA were using in manuals to train foreign soldiers in counterinsurgency. This may sound extreme to equate the GRPD’s recruitment of faith leaders to techniques that have been used in counterinsurgency, but to dismiss such a claim would be naive.

The GRPD sees the public, particularly members of the public who are opposing business as usual policies, as insurgents, as people who are a potential threat to order. In the Public Safety Committee meeting mentioned above, Chief Payne stated that he had reached out to the group Justice for Black Lives (JFBL) about getting a permit for their rally/march to City Hall. Chief Payne stated that groups like JFBL need to get permits if they want to do things in a lawful and orderly fashion. In other words, the GRPD wants to be notified, and therefore, have has much control as possible for when there is any demonstration, protest or act of resistance that challenges business as usual. 

This is why it is important for us to think about how dangerous it is for faith leaders to be part of the Clergy on Patrol program. We have to come to terms with what the bigger picture is for such programs, which are ultimately about inserting law enforcement – which is state violence – into neighborhoods and through community-based groups. In fact, the more they are inserted into our communities, into our schools, and places of worship, the result would be and increase in surveillance, the expansion of mass incarceration expands and increased justification for state violence. 

Now, one major objection to faith leaders working with the GRPD is on moral grounds. The argument usually is framed through a Christian lens and says, “Jesus was all about non-violence, forgiveness and mercy, so collaborating with the police would be contradictory.

Now I don’t necessarily disagree with such a response, but these are theological and biblical arguments which have been had since St. Augustine developed the Just War Theory. I am much more interested in looking at the distinction between the interpretation of faith teachings and the historical record of how faith communities have acted. In fact, if one were to take a close look at the history of Christianity and its support of State Violence, then one would see that it has not been an aberration, but the norm.

This is just a brief sampling of what we mean when we say that Christian Clergy have been intricately connected to State Violence over the centuries:

  • The Crusades
  • The Inquisition
  • The Witch Trials in Europe and in North America
  • Every example of European Colonization involved Christian Clergy and communities
  • The Genocide of Indigenous people in the so-called Americas.
  • Slavery of African people
  • Forced removal of Indigenous children into boarding schools – most of which were run by Christians.
  • The rape and murder of Indigenous Children at so-called boarding schools.
  • Christian support of and enforcement of Jim Crows laws.
  • Christians defending segregation and voter suppression.
  • Chaplins in the US Military.
  • Chaplins in Police Departments.
  • Chaplins in jails and prisons.
  • Christians in active support or complicity of US militarism for the past 150 years.
  • Christians in active support of complicity of White Supremacy for centuries.

Again, this is a very brief list of the ways in which Christian Clergy have participated in State Violence. However, there are no doubt people who will point out that their church did not participate in Colonialism, White Supremacy, US militarism or other forms of State Violence. My response would be the same response that Dr. King gave to Christian ministers (a message he wrote in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail) who told King that he and the Black Freedom Struggle were demanding too much:

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

For those of you who are part of faith communities, I hope that you will actively resist collaborating with the GRPD. Doing so, would only solidify your complicity in State Violence. 

The Grand Rapids Power Structure is backing Mark Huizenga in a big way for the 28th Senate District

July 26, 2021

The Grand Rapids Power Structure has made it clear that of the three GOP candidates running for the 28th District Senate seat, they are picking Mark Huizenga. 

Huizenga is running against Tommy Brann and Kevin Green, all of who have been State Representatives. The two Democratic Party challengers are Keith Courtade and Gidget Groendyk, but neither of them stands a chance to defeat the GOP candidate that has the financial endorsement of every major player in the Greater Grand Rapids area.

Huizenga is the choice of the most powerful people in West Michigan because he has consistently demonstrated his allegiance to the issues that best represent their interests – a pro-business, reduce taxes on the rich, small government, Anti-Choice, anti-Labor Union, and pro-police positions. 

I mean, the first thing you see when you go to Huizenga’s Senate candidacy website are the words, Faith, Family, Country. https://votehuizenga.com/ Of course, there isn’t much information about Huizenga’s platform or his voting record of the years, but these are details that the people just don’t really care about. At least, that is what we are told.

So here is a rundown of the financial backed that Mark Huizenga has received from those with tremendous political and economic power in the Greater Grand Rapids area, based on date from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Betsy DeVos $2,100

Ken Sikkema $2,100

Karl Betz $2,100

Carol Van Andel $2,100

Patricia Betz $2,100

Dan DeVos $2,100

Jeff Connelly $2,100

Maria DeVos $2,100

John Weller $2,100

Timothy Schowalter $2,100

Jim Williams $2,100

Tom Helmstetter $2,100

Sid Jansma Jr. $2,100

Jeffrey Baker $2,100

Suzanne DeVos $2,100

Jerry Tubergen $2,100

S. Helmstetter $2,100

Daniel Hibman $2,100

Bill Morren $2,100

J.C. Huizenga $2,100

Carla Sikkema $2,100

David Van Andel $2,100

Doug DeVos $2,100

Richard DeVos Jr. $2,100

Stephen Ehmann $2,100

Pamela DeVos $2,100

Michael Jandernoa $2,100

Now this list just represents the list of those who contributed the maximum amount for individuals. There are also other people who are part of the local power structure that contributed less than the maximum $2,100, some $1,500 and some $1,000, but you get a pretty clear idea from this list.

Now I am not a betting man and neither are those with deep pockets. The list of people here are strategic in their thinking, no matter how vile or loathsome they might be, they don’t just throw their money around. I would find it hard to believe that on August 4th, there would be a name other than Mark Huizenga as the winner of the August 3rd Primary for the 28th District Senate Seat. 

So, how do we counter the political and economic influence that the Grand Rapids Power Structure wields? I don’t believe that it is a matter of matching their funding with better candidates. I believe that we build powerful social movements that can not only challenge the policies implemented by the Capitalist Class and their bought politicians, but more importantly, we build movements that actually create the kind of world we want to live in. We need to build social movements that practice direct democracy, direct action and collective liberation instead of playing the chess game that those in power want us to play. 

Deconstructing the Anti-Defund the Police Meme that keeps popping up on social media

July 25, 2021

I’m sure we have all seen the Anti-Defund the Police meme. Hell, maybe some of you have even posted it. It’s the left side of the graphic here below.

This meme is so insidious and started appearing shortly after the Defund the Police Movement began, as a clear response to the police murder of George Floyd. It is critical to deconstruct any form of propaganda and this one is particularly important to deconstruct, especially since the Movement to Defund the Police is at a critical juncture.

There is a lot to unpack with this meme, but I want to point out three major aspects.

First, let’s look at the content of this meme. The whole “let’s transform, reform, rebuild, retrain the police” is simply a dead end. If you have read Alex Vitale’s book, The End of Policing, or any of Kristian Williams books on the history and function of policing in the US, you realize that trying to reform policing simply will not work, not if we are serious about ending state violence.

Moving beyond the slogans at the top of this meme, we then get to the narrative, which makes the case that if police numbers are reduced that criminal will run wild. There is little evidence to support such a claim, and the fact is that people who commit crimes already get away with whatever crime they commit, despite the fact that US police departments are massive, with tremendous weaponry. Moving on the narrative claims that this is damaging the Black Lives Matter cause. Ok, stop right there. The Defund the Police Movement actually comes out of the Movement for Black Lives, in part because of the lived experiences of Black people being brutalized by the cops and because of the decades long push to Abolish various forms of State violence, particularly the Prison Industrial Complex. The meme then continues to say that demanding to defund the police will hurt, “our chances of beating Trump in November.” Why is it that White Liberals always think that Social Movements are subservient to elections? 

Second, at the bottom of the meme, it says that the message came from the American Women’s Coalition. The American Women’s Coalition has no other online presence that a Facebook page, which was created by and run by Eve Sharon Hart, someone who is a “life coach” and lives in Laguna Beach, California. The Facebook page for the American Women’s Coalition states, “We are a new group for progressive, liberal and independent women of integrity, intelligence and heart, who are on a journey of both personal growth and political action!” However, no other people or organization are named as part of this coalition, which should raise lots of red flags. Coalitions have multiple groups, yet there is no evidence that the American Women’s Coalition is more than a one person gig.

Third, and most importantly, the Defund the Police Movement is a direct outgrowth of the Movement for Black Lives and other Black organizers that have been using an abolitionist framework to challenge numerous aspects of State violence over the past several decades. 

If people would actually read the Defund the Police Toolkit https://griid.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/movement-for-black-lives-defund-police-toolkit.pdf, we could easily dispose of these harmful memes created by White Liberals. Here are the opening words of the toolkit:

#DefundPolice is a demand that has gained popularity in response to recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. It is rooted in the failure of decades of commissions, investigations, police reforms, and oversight to prevent their deaths. 

It is also a response to the fact that, in the face of a pandemic and the most devastating economic crisis of a generation, in which cities, counties, and states are experiencing drastic losses in revenues, many life-saving programs are on the chopping block while officials increase or maintain police budgets. 

It is a demand to #DefendBlackLives by shutting off resources to institutions that harm Black people and redirecting them to meeting Black communities’ needs and increasing our collective safety. 

#DefundPolice is a demand to cut funding and resources from police departments and other law enforcement and invest in things that actually make our communities safer: quality, affordable, and accessible housing, universal quality health care, including community based mental health services, income support to stay safe during the pandemic, safe living wage employment, education, and youth programming. It is rooted in a larger Invest/Divest framework articulated in the Movement for Black Lives’ Vision for Black Lives. 

It is high time that white people stop telling everyone else what they should do, particularly when it comes to how to deal with systems of oppression. White people need to shut up and listen to what Black people are telling them they want. White people also need to educate themselves on the history of the Black Freedom Struggle instead of just re-posting harmful memes that make them feel less threatened. 

Acton Institute’s shameful defense of Billionaires

July 22, 2021

There are lots of critiques and memes these days calling out Jeff Bezos for spending a shit ton of money to go into space. While I generally view such attention as a distraction, it has provided an opportunity to talk about Capitalism and the Billionaire Class.

In many ways, the Billionaire Class are an easy target, but useful as a way of framing the problem of wealth in society. For example, according to a recent Forbes report, in looking at the current wealth of Jeff Bezos, he makes $215,068,493 every day, which translates into $8,961,384 per hour or $149,353 a minute. This means that Bezos makes more money in a minute than millions of Americans will make in a year.

On the flip side, you have organizations, like the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, who have since their founding in 1990, have vehemently defended Capitalism. This is not surprising, considering the fact half of the members of the Acton Board of Directors are millionaires, with one member, Rick DeVos, being part of a Billionaire family.

Then on July 13, the Acton Institute posted an article entitled, Are Billionaires Evil? The article wasn’t about actually answering this question, as much as it was a defense of billionaires, wealth accumulation and Capitalism.

The article was written by Ben Luker, who is a Junior at Calvin University. According to Ben’s Linedin page, he worked as a sales associate for Boyne Country Sports for 6 months in Grand Rapids, plus he worked for 2 years at a concert set up and security group in his hometown of Grand Junction, Colorado. Considering his extensive job experience, it would appear that Ben has no clue as to realities of what it means to be part of the working class, nor the realities of how the Capitalist Class has been hell bent on exploiting workers, since Capitalism began centuries ago.

But hey, there’s nothing like drinking the Capitalist Koolaid and defending Billionaires. 

The article by Luker is brief, which begins with a quick dismissal of the criticisms of the Billionaire Class, then shifts to proclamations about how wealth promotes innovation and opportunity. Luker does admit that some of, “the ultra-rich have engaged in shady and immoral business practices.” The Acton writer cites illegal schemes made recently by Amazon, but only because it was outside the law. 

What young Ben Luker, the Acton Institute and other defenders of Capitalism will never talk about is the fact that:

  • It is completely legal for someone like Jeff Bezos or Hank Meijer to exploit workers in their own companies, paying them wages that require people to seek out various forms of charity just to survive.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to pollute the world with toxins – called externalities – and to extract massive amounts of fossil fuels to make billions in profits, while contributing to Climate Catastrophe.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to buy politicians and to influence public policy that benefits their bottom line, like not raising the minimum wage or creating tax policies that make it so that the wealthiest pay virtually nothing in taxes.
  • It is completely legal for members of the Capitalist Class to hide large amounts of their wealthy from being taxed, by creating foundations that are not only another way of practicing social management, it provides them with a fabulous PR opportunity to talk about how much they care about “the community.”

It is completely understandable for people to have nothing but contempt for Jeff Bezos, Hank Meijer, and the rest of the billionaire class. However, it is critical that we don’t let our contempt of the billionaire class cloud our analysis of the economic system that spawned billionaires in the first place. We must make it a priority to dismantle the system of Capitalism and replace it with other economic mechanisms that are not only sustainable, but honor the humanity of everyone on the planet.

A short history of the GRPD Budget

July 20, 2021

The Grand Rapids Police Department, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association and City officials have all pushed back against a significant call from the community to defund the police department.

In June of 2020, when the coalition of groups that formed to demand that the GRPD be defunded, some City officials were willing to listen to what the community had to say. However, the City Manager and the City Attorney stepped in and prevented a proposal from several City Commissioners to actual reduce the GRPD’s budget.

Since then, there have been two dominant narratives coming from the police. The first narrative is that the GRPD have made reforms, a narrative that is hollow and meant to distract us from seriously investigating the real function of policing in this society. 

The second narrative coming from the GRPD has been that gun violence is on the rise, therefore this would be a bad time to defund the GRPD. The reality is that the GRPD rarely ever actually prevents gun violence or other homicides from happening in this city, they just show up after the fact. In other words, the GRPD does NOT prevent violence, they only manage it, particularly violence from below.

Structural violence – the violence of poverty, the violence of low wages and the violence of food insecurity – these forms of violence, which do more harm in our community, are never prevented or even considered by the GRPD. In fact, structural violence, which is violence from above, from those with political and economic power, are protected and defended by the GRPD.

I was recently reading Sidney Harring’s, Policing A Class Society: The Experience of American Cities 1865 – 1915,  and came across a brief description of a labor strike in Grand Rapids in May of 1891.  I decided to look up how the local newspapers reported on the strike.

Both cable and horse car workers went on strike May 10, 1891, for higher wages and union contracts. The company began hiring scab workers immediately. As the week progressed, workers tried to keep cars from running, first by inducing others not to take their jobs, but later also by blocking the cars.

The Grand Rapids Eagle and the Grand Rapids Democrat newspapers, both reported on the strike. The Grand Rapids Eagle even reprinted the text of a flyer that the striking workers were handing out, which includes information about a labor parade and the role of the local Sheriff’s office. The same was the case during the 1911 Grand Rapids Furniture Workers Strike and any other worker strike that has happened in this city. The police show up to defend the company, to protect scab workers, to defend the Capitalist Class and to defend business as usual.

Policing was created in the US prior to the Civil War with the use of slave patrols, where men were hired to hunt down and bring back those who had fled slavery, especially after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.

Since then, police departments, like the GRPD, have existed to keep social order for those with power, whether that is to suppress strikes or make sure that Black, Latinx, indigenous and other communities of color do not assert their rights.

It is instructive to note that has Black, Indigenous and Latinx people have asserted their rights, particularly since the late 1950s, one can see how police budgets across the US and right here in Grand Rapids have increased. These increases in police budgets have also coincided with an increase in the funding for law enforcement at the federal level.

In her important book, America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black rebellion Since the 1960s, Elizabeth Hinton makes a clear correlation between increased federal spending on policing and Black militancy. For instance, after the 1967 riots occurred in cities across the country, Congress passed The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. This legislation not only increased funding for the police, it provided an upgrade in weaponry. 

Getting back to the GRPD, we see this same correlation with increased federal funding for policing as a direct response to Black people not falling in line. In 1965, the GRPD budget was $2,003,380. By 1969, the GRPD budget had more than doubled, increasing to $4,022,565

We can then look to passage of The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly referred to as the 1994 Crime Bill, which also provided massive increases in police funding. In Grand Rapids, the GRPD budget was $23,762,515 in 1994. In 1995, the City Charter was changed to make it so that at least 32% of the City’s budget would be allocated to the GRPD. By 1996, the GRPD budget grew by more than 3 million, totaling $27,865,047

In 2000, just prior to 9/11, the GRPD’s budget was $39,533,775. After 9/11, the rhetoric at the federal level supporting the police was very high, so naturally the federal government was able to push for more police funding in order to fight against domestic terrorism. This led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the further militarization of the country. By 2003, the GRPD’s budget had grown to $43,207,168

In 2020, we saw the largest anti-police protests in US history. Cities all across the country were protesting against the continued police killing of Black people. On May 30th, 2020, Grand Rapids saw a similar response. 

The Biden administration has already been calling for an increase in police funding, so one would think that funding for police at the local level would increase as well. However, because of the massive call for defunding police departments, we have not seen a significant increase at the local level. In Grand Rapids, the budget for the GRPD did increase, but only by $700,000, bringing the total to $55.81 million for 2022. Any increase for the GRPD budget is still too much, but it is important to acknowledge that for the first time in Grand Rapids, and across the US, there is a defund the police movement that has already had tremendous success in challenging the power of the police and police funding.

West Michigan Foundation Watch: Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation – the art of influence

July 18, 2021

The 990 documents for local foundations are starting to be posted on GuideStar and we will be posting at least one a week for the next month or so.

The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, like all of the DeVos family foundations is important to scrutinize, since they are the largest foundations in the area and have tremendous influence in supporting conservative religious groups, groups that practice a form of White Saviorism and public policy through think tanks and other groups that have an ideological framework that lines up with the DeVos family.

The Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation contributed $14.5 million in 2019, even though the foundation itself had $80 million in assets that same year.

The first list of contributions are for Private Charter and Public School Education entities. Many of these education entities are part of the national and local network of entities that have been part of network of organizations that Betsy DeVos is connected to, such as the Alliance for Children Everywhere, Leading Educators Inc., the New York Leadership Academy, Potters House and Hope Academy of West Michigan. Note that they contribute both to the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation, which is the foundation for GRPS. This is because the GRPS has for the past several decades adopted more business-friendly education practices and even has specialty schools/academies that have pro-business influence and even business curriculum.  

EDNET $258,540

Alliance for Children Everywhere $260,000

Calvin University $500,000

First Steps Kent $150,000

Hope Academy of West Michigan $294,000

K-Connect $500,000

Kent School Services Network $150,000

Leading Educators Inc. $697,250 and $862,750

Talent 2025 $205,000

Wake Forest University $1,280,000

West Michigan Aviation Academy $315,000

Cornerstone University $114,500

Grand Rapids Christian Schools $163,000

Grand Rapids Public Schools $129,850

Grand Rapids Student Advancement Foundation $215,000

Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth Inc. $100,000

GVSU $175,000

New York City Leadership Academy $356,000

Potters House $100,000

Rehoboth Christian School Association $65,000

The group listed below here, are primarily are Conservative Christian groups, that have a history of practicing a form of White Savorism. Note, Bethany Christian Services recently changed their long-standing policy of allowing same sex couples to adopt, so we won’t know if the DeVos family contributions will continue or be as substantial until we have access to the 990 documents for 2021.

Gatherings of Hope $762975

Believe 2 Become $590,144

Bethany Christian Services $750,000

Christian Leadership Institute $100,000

Luis Palau Association $330,000

Tall Turf Ministries $200,000

Wedgewood Christian Services $685,000

Keystone Community Church $720,000

Then next group list below here are organizations that share a similar ideological that the DeVos family does, particularly a Neo-liberal brand of Capitalism, which involves significant State intervention and harmful austerity measures. 

National Constitution Center $3,025,000

Rende Progress Capital $275,000

Acton Institute $75,000

George W Bush Foundation $500,000

Mackinac Center $300,000

Lastly, there is one Grand Rapids development project that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation is championing, since it also promotes development in the downtown area, which widely benefits the profits of the DeVos family, with the numerous hotels they own and other investments in that part of the city.

Grand Rapids Whitewater Inc. $750,000

One other important aspect of the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, is the fact that this foundation has started several initiatives, they also have a representative sitting on the Boards of numerous groups that the foundation makes contributions to, along with those entities that list the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation as Partners. This level of control and influence is substantial, and it reflects the interlocking systems of power that the DeVos family is involved in Grand Rapids and beyond.

Here are the projects that the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation has initiated

Believe 2 Become

https://believe2become.org/who-we-are/

Education Network of Greater Grand Rapids

https://www.ednetggr.org/EdNet-Home

AmplifyGR

This list is of groups that lists the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation as Partners

Alliance for Children Everywhere

https://www.childreneverywhere.org/our-people

Grand Rapids White Water

Leading Educators Inc. 

New York Leadership Academy

https://www.leadershipacademy.org/our-partners/

This final list has DeVos family members who sit not the Board of Directors or are Trustees of these organizations.

Christian Leadership Institute

National Constitute Center

https://constitutioncenter.org/about/board-of-trustees

Talent 2025

http://www.talent2025.org/about/ceo-council-members

AmplifyGR

We monitor foundations like the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, because they wield tremendous influence that impacts policy and practices within various sectors of society. To ignore this or frame their foundation contributions has benign or even beneficial is to not only ignore the strategic function of their foundation contributions, it minimizes the far right political contributions they also make.

Justice for Black Lives organizer once again arrested for using a megaphone at rally before marching to a City Commission meeting

July 14, 2021

Last night, Justice for Black Lives had organized an action, which included a march to City Hall, with the intent of then speaking during the first in person commission meeting since the pandemic set in last year, primarily to demand the defunding of the GRPD.

About 25 people showed up for the action. This writer was there in the capacity of acting as a police liaison. Danny, an organizer with Justice for Black Lives (JFBL), was using a megaphone, talking about defunding the GRPD and refunding issues like public education and getting lead out of the water in Grand Rapids.

After about 15 minutes of talking and getting people ready to attend the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, two police cruisers showed up, with three officers stepping out and heading towards those who were there in support of JFBL. As the police liaison, I approached the first cop and began to engage him, when he said, “get the hell out of my way.”

Realizing that the GRPD was there to grab Danny, several people then quickly surrounded Danny in an attempt to prevent the GRPD from grabbing him. One cop grabbed another person around the neck, throwing them to the ground and bloodying their knee. Some people were filming, while others chanted. Some of us were trying to get the names of the cops and their badge number and when we got “too close” to these cops, they yelled at us to step back or be arrested.

Earlier this year, some of the same tactics were used by the GRPD to target and arrest JFBL organizers, particularly Black and Brown organizers.

After the police put Danny in the cop car and drove away, other JFBL organizers decided they would go to the Kent County Jail and begin the process of bonding Danny out. The rest of us decided to continue with the plan to march to City Hall and speak at the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting.

We entered City Hall off of Monroe Avenue, and since we were about 20, we rode up in the elevator in two groups. When we got off the elevator that takes you to the Calder Plaza level, you then have to go around the corner and take another elevator to the 9th floor for the Commission meeting. When we got off at the Calder Plaza level, there was a line of cops there – at least 10 – waiting for us. In all the years of going to City Commission meetings, I have never seen this kind of police presence right when people are getting off the elevator. This was clearly an intimidation tactic that was deployed, to send a message to those who were on their way to attend the City Commission meeting. In addition, it is likely that the GRPD had a contingency plan in place to “deal with” people who might have come to the Commission meeting to disrupt it.

During the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, there were some 20 people who spoke to the issue of Defunding the GRPD, along with what they had just witnessed at Rosa Parks Circle, with the GRPD abusing activists and arresting a JFBL organizer.

People made numerous points about the necessity of defunding the GRPD and refunding the community. Another issue that came up was the fact that the GRPD had issued a statement last week, just prior to the Proud Boys event planned for Saturday. The GRPD said that they would protect the free speech rights of the Proud Boys, a know White Supremacist group. Yet, when an organizer with Justice for Black Lives speaks, he gets arrested to doing nothing more than exercising his right to speak.

Clearly there is a double standard in the City and clearly the GRPD has decided that anyone who raises the issue of Defunding the GRPD, of questioning GRPD tactics, or hold the GRPD accountable, will be targeted. In short, what we all witnessed tonight was nothing more than political repression.

If you have not already done so, like the Facebook pages of Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD. Get involved, get educated and get engaged. We will not rest until the GRPD is defunded and abolished!

Acton Radio show features 3 Billionaires talking about Education

July 13, 2021

The Acton Institute for the Study of Religious and Liberty hosted a discussion on June 30th, for their radio show called Acton line, which included 3 billionaires – Sal Kahn, Jeff Sandefer and Betsy DeVos.

The discussion that these 3 billionaires had about education was what one might expect from people who have tremendous economic privilege. Essentially, what they all were saying is that the traditional approach to education is wrong and that the more we can make education centered on individual students and the more creative we can be with educational approaches, the better off students will be.

Betsy DeVos argues that if parents had the resources to send their children to a school of their choosing, then that would make a huge difference, especially since, “we provide too many resources now in a system that doesn’t work.” When asked about educational models that works, DeVos conveniently cites only private school examples,  including her husband school, the West Michigan Aviation Academy. 

Another example that Betsy cited was Journey Academy, which is located in Ada, Michigan, where 2 of her grand children attend. Journey Academy is a Christian School and is one of the 250 Acton Academies that exist around the world. Acton Academies were founded by the moderator of the Acton radio show, Jeff Sandefer.

Sandefer had made his money from an energy firm he started, Sandefer Capitol. Sandefer also created the Acton School of Business, which features all white educators. https://www.actonnga.org/teachers/ Sandefer calls Texas his home, where he acted as an economic advisor for former Governor Rick Perry. Sandefer was also on the board of the Texas Public Policy Forum, which is a Koch-funded entity, that pushes policies that are anti-union, pro-privatization and all of the usual Neo-Liberal economic policies. https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Texas_Public_Policy_Foundation 

Getting back to the Journey Academy, where Betsy DeVos’ grand children attended, it is worth noting that one of the main educators is Antonio Tendero. Tendero used to be Director of the Middle School at Potter’s House, a school that the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation has channel hundreds of thousands of dollars to. In addition, Tendero was also part of the Stockbridge Boiler Room, a westside Conservative Christian entity that has also been the beneficiary of lots of DeVos money. 

As we suspected, even though Betsy DeVos is no longer in Washington, DC, she has continued to push private, charter and faith-based systems of education and to undermine any and all forms of public education, along with attacking public teacher unions. This is what Betsy DeVos did for 30 years prior to being the US Secretary of Education, and this is what she will no doubt continue to promote, now that she is back in the private sector.

Why we cannot rely on the Governor or the government to shut down Line 5

July 11, 2021

In early May, we reported on indigenous-led actions to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline, which carries tar sands oil.

At the same time Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had told the Enbridge Corporation that it would be illegal for the company to continue to operate Line 5, after she revoked a 1953 Easement Permit. Since May 12th, the Enbridge Corporation has been illegally operating Line 5, despite the Governor’s position.

Enbridge’s response was to ignore the State of Michigan, continue to appeal this case in court and to announce that they were receiving lots of such for keeping Line 5 open from government bodies, Chambers of Commerce and even unions. https://www.enbridge.com/media-center/news/details?id=123675&lang=en 

The Enbridge Corportation has been illegally operating Line 5 since May 12, so what has the State of Michigan done? Did they send State Police officers or the Michigan National Guard to shut down Enbridge offices and the operation of Line 5? Absolutely not.

When President Biden recently visited Traverse City, did Governor Whitmer press him on getting the federal government to enforce the shut down of Line 5? Not that we know of. We do know that the Mayor of Traverse City spoke with Biden about Line 5, but there was not evidence that Biden would take a stand against the Enbridge operated pipeline. https://www.record-eagle.com/news/local_news/biden-visits-king-orchards-with-governor-senators/article_4b5194ee-dc48-11eb-b5c9-03ccb70cc9ed.html 

What we do know is this…….the Biden Administration sent a Department of Homeland Security helicopter to disrupt an indigenous-led protest against the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline in early June. https://theintercept.com/2021/06/08/line-3-pipeline-helicopter-dhs-protest/ With that action, Biden signaled his full support for Line 3, which means the administration will most likely not take a stand against Line 5.

In addition, the Enbridge Corporation is continuing to push the Line 5 tunnel, which would be constructed under the Straits of Mackinac. The State of Michigan hosts its own online information about this project, https://www.michigan.gov/line5/ with no indication that they will decline this proposal.

Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that we cannot and should not rely on the State of Michigan or the Biden Administration to shut down Line 5. In fact, what we should be doing is exactly what Indigenous communities are doing, which is to actively resist these tar sands pipelines. We need to learn from the Standing Rock resistance, we need to support and participate in the Line 3 resistance, https://www.stopline3.org/#intro and we need to be doing the same thing in Michigan to shut down Line 5. Relying on the government is a false hope. Direct Action is the solution!

The Community showed up and said No to White Supremacy and the Proud Boys!

July 11, 2021

Yesterday, people showed up to do exactly what we needed to do, which was to send a strong message to the Proud Boys that they are never welcome in this community. 

About 150 people came to Ah Nab Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids, from several different groups, to make sure that the Proud Boys rally that was scheduled for noon on Saturday did not happen.

People started arriving around 10am to the park. Around noon there were a few Proud Boys who walked through the park, but after seeing the large numbers of those who came to resist their White Supremacist gathering, they left.

It was a clear victory over hate, thus demonstrating once again, that groups like the Proud Boys, the Klan, neo-Nazis, the militia, etc., should never be tolerated. https://griid.org/2021/07/07/why-we-must-always-confront-hate-groups-when-they-come-to-town/ 

Around 1:30 a few people spoke to the people who had been in the park for over 3 hours. Joe Cadreau, a Indigenous activist, who talked about the importance of the sacred space that is Ah Nab Awen Park, said it best, “I was not going to allow neo-Nazi fascist and neo-Nazi white supremacists come in and walk across my sacred ancestors. We kicked their ass today.”

The GRPD also had a significant presence during the counter-protest. There were cops stationed on the tops of buildings, in police cruisers, in unmarked cars and about 20 cops in tactical gear riding bikes. The bike cops kept riding around the perimeter of the park and occasionally riding through the park, just to let those of us who were resisting that they were there.

At one point a few cops walked up to some of us and did the usual, “who’s in charge?” Because, in their world, someone has to be in charge. They will never understand the idea of horizontal organizing, where people come together and make decisions collectively. Several people just ended up telling the cops to leave or to fuck off, because they had nothing to say to them and were pissed off at the GRPD for releasing a statement saying that they would “protect” the Proud Boys’ right to free speech. 

There were also several local commercial news agencies present, many of which showed up at 10am. The local news media no doubt was hoping for a confrontation, since they love conflict porn, which always gets lots of hits and is great for advertising. The stories that we done were the standard narrative.

WOODTV8 ran a very short story with a headline that read, Dozens of counter protestors gather in GR for rumored Proud Boys rally. https://www.woodtv.com/news/grand-rapids/dozens-of-counter-protestors-gather-in-gr-for-rumored-proud-boys-rally/ The channel 8 reporter interviewed someone who had nothing to do with organizing the resistance and was critical of both the Proud Boys and those who gathered to oppose them.

The MLive article was longer, but also didn’t provide adequate context and follow standard narratives. https://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/2021/07/rumored-proud-boys-rally-fails-to-materialize-in-grand-rapids-as-counterprotesters-gather.html They also included interviews with several people who were not part of the organized resistance, people who had their own agenda and analysis that had nothing to do with why most people were there. In addition, many of the pictures that were included with the MLive article also centered on some of the religious people who came to the counter-protest to impose their values on the rest of us.

The WXMI story was a bit better, since it centered the voices a two of the organizers of the action, but they also gave time to people who were sympathetic to the Proud Boys or made ridiculous comments about the US not being founded on racism. https://www.fox17online.com/news/local-news/grand-rapids/counter-protesters-gather-ahead-of-expected-proud-boys-rally

In addition, WXMI 17 had run a story a few days earlier about the Proud Boys planned rally and the response from Kent County Commissioner Robert Womack, who told people they should just ignore the Proud Boys. This message of non-engagement or ignoring hate groups is absolutely the wrong kind of message to send and it only reinforces this idea that even groups like the Proud Boys have a right to spread their vile whenever they want. https://www.fox17online.com/news/local-news/grand-rapids/county-commissioner-hoping-for-no-violence-as-proud-boys-plan-rally-in-gr

Lastly, some of the news stories used language like, “there was no violence during the counter-protest.” This is a simplistic and naive notion of violence. When the Proud Boys announced they were coming to Grand Rapids, that was a form of violence. The GRPD showing up in large numbers, to do surveillance and to monitor those who came to say that the Proud Boys are not welcomed, that was a form of violence. When the GRPD sends dozens of cops in tactical gear, that is straight up a demonstration of state violence. 

However, despite the various news media narratives and the GRPD’s bullshit, it was great to see people come together to defend themselves against White Supremacy and to make it clear that the best way to stand against hate is to show up and confront them!