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The Fight continues in the campaign to end the ICE contract in Kent County

August 16, 2018

There is a movement in Kent County to end the contract that the County has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Beginning in late June, this new movement (which was initiated by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE) began by mobilizing nearly 200 people to attend a Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the contract, which we reported on.

The initial action made it clear to the organizers of this campaign that county officials – administrators, the Sheriff’s Department and County Commissioners – were in no way interested in ending the contract with ICE. Since then, several commissioners have made public statements about how they have no power to end the contract and that the Sheriff’s Department holds all of the power.

The End the Contract campaign doesn’t believe that to be true and has pressured the commission to take a public stand against the contract and to use their authority over the budget to pressure the Sheriff’s Department to end the contract. So far, none of them have publicly agreed to do so.

The campaign is organized around the belief that real power resides in social movements and not with elected officials. We have seen in recent weeks the news media, elected officials and those who work for political parties express a contrary view. These sectors believe that they have the real power and the only way for the public to make progress is by getting “the right people” elected so that change can happen. However, this view of power and history is not supported by the history of social movements. From the Abolition movement to the Labor movement, the Civil Rights Movement to the Environmental Justice movement, change happens when people are organized to make the change that is necessary. Those in power never freely promote social justice. In fact, any change that might happen legislatively, has only ever come when social movements are strong enough to force elected officials to enact policy that the public wants.

This is the case with the End the Contract campaign, which seeks to mobilize enough people to ultimately pressure county officials to terminate their contract with ICE. In fact, this is what we are witnessing all around the country, where municipalities are ending their contract with ICE.

Even our neighbors in Kalamazoo County, the movement there recently made it possible for the local commissioners to pass a resolution stating in part:

In Kent County the elected officials continue to say that the only the Sheriff’s Department can make such a decision. Interestingly enough, Sheriff Stelma announced last week that he was retiring. In a recent MLive article, Stelma claims it has nothing to do with the protests against the ICE contract, yet it seems hard to believe that the End the Contract campaign had no influence on his decision.

Stelma made some ridiculous comments the previous week, in response to protestors showing up at the home of County Commission Chair Saalfeld’s home, claiming that intimidation isn’t very American.

Sheriff Stelma has been in a defensive posture since the county has had a contract with ICE, beginning in 2012. Here is a video clip, where one of the County Commissioners challenges Stelma over the use of beds by ICE at the county jail.

In addition, Sheriff Stelma (near the end of this video clip) states that the 3 day hold that ICE puts on being being held in the Kent County Jail is a “good” thing, because it gives families three days to be near the person who is being incarcerated at the county jail. Only someone who has the kind of privilege that Stelma has, could see this as something the county is doing that is a benefit to the families experiencing ICE repression.

In addition to attending county commission meetings, the End the Contract campaign has been involved in engaging the public in varying capacities, such as an action at the Fourth of July Parade, being at festivals and utilizing various forms of social media to invite people to be part of this fight to End the Contract.

People are encouraged to stay informed about the End the Contract campaign, by going to the Facebook page and to attend future actions, like the one being organized this Saturday at the Kent County Jail. The campaign is hosting an End the Contract with ICE Rally at the Kent County Jail. The rally will begin with a short march and then include speakers, music and more information about how to be involved in the campaign.

It is through this kind of actions and this campaign that the County will end their contract with ICE. This movement not only has made it a public issue, it will create enough pressure that county officials will have no choice but to respond to the will of the people and End the Contract.

GRIID is taking a break until next week

August 8, 2018

Constructing Historical Narratives: Michigan Radio series on the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids

August 6, 2018

A few weeks ago, it was the 51st anniversary of the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids, a riot that last three days.

Since the 50th anniversary, there has been an increased level of interest in what took place in 1967, not just in Grand Rapids, but in cities like Detroit and Newark, which also experienced riots that were ignited by ongoing structural racism that impacted the black community.

There is no correct way to construct a narrative about what happened in 1967, but it is important how that narrative(s) gets told. Too often there is a tremendous amount of historical amnesia and historical denial about institutional racism and white supremacy. The narratives we construct about the past often informs how we act in the present.

Michigan Radio did a three-part series on what happened in Grand Rapids in 1967 and what it means for the city today? The three-part series, which ran during the week of the  51st anniversary, consisted of interviews with 5 people – an academic, a cop, a probation officer and 2 members of the black community, both of which are involved in the NAACP.

The three-part series begins with an interview with Matthew Daley, an Associate Professor of History at Grand Valley State University. This interview was entitled, Racial discrimination, segregation provided “tinder” for 1967 Grand Rapids uprising.

Daley tries to give the 1967 riot some context, talking about how the city was deeply segregated that the time. The GVSU history professor also talked about employment issues and the increased number of African Americans that were moving to Grand Rapids, especially after WWII.

When asked about the spark that led to the riot, Daley said that there a great deal of mistrust between the black community and the cops. Daley also acknowledged things like Red Lining, School de-segregation and the lack of job opportunities for blacks in the city.

Daley also acknowledges that Paul I Phillips had warned city leaders about the possibility of a riot, but does not comment on the specifics. Here is a more detailed explanation from the Grand Rapids People’s History Project

At a meeting on July 12, 1967, the head of the Grand Rapids Urban League, Paul I Phillips, communicated to Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Grand Rapids Chief of Police that according to the national Urban League office, Grand Rapids was on a “dangerous list” of cities with racial tensions. Despite the comments from the Urban League, Mayor Sonneveldt, the City Manager and the Chief of Police “positively denied that riots were possible in the city.”

The Michigan Radio reporter then asks Daley about the difference between the Detroit Riot and what took place in Grand Rapids in 1967. Daley said that in Grand Rapids there was less looting, but more property damage. Another major difference was that unlike Detroit, where the National Guard was called in, Grand Rapids relied on the GRPD, other area police departments and members of the Michigan State Police.

Daley also talked about a task force that had been created prior to the riot, which consisted mainly of young people who were tasked with building relationships with people in the southeast part of Grand Rapids and offering resources to people who were experiencing poverty and other forms of structural racism.

The GVSU history professor also talked about the area that the riot took place in, along with the number of arrests and injuries.

Unfortunately, there was no discussion about media coverage of the three-day riot, how the white community responded to what was happening, nor the major report that came out a few months afterwards, called Anatomy of a Riot.

In addition, it would have been important for Michigan Radio to interview George Bayard, with the Grand Rapids African American Museum, which produced a documentary on the 50th anniversary of the riot and those whom the documentary featured, some of which were witnesses to what happened in 1967.

The interview with Daley concludes with some of his observations about what changed afterwards. Daley said the riot forced the city’s leadership to make some adjustments, that the city adopted a model government approach, school segregation was dealt with and that Grand Rapids did try to take more steps to address the problems. Daley also talked about the development projects that have happened, but failed to mention how this has impacted the black community in particular and no mention of the current gentrification that is impacting the black community, specifically along Wealthy St.

More White Voices

In part two of the series, Michigan Radio interviewed two white men about what they remember about the 1967 riot. That interview was entitled, Two officers – one white, one black – remember the 1967 Grand Rapids riots. 

Dan Groce was a probation officer at the time and Victor Gillis, now a retired Grand Rapids Police Captain, talked about what they remembered.

Early on in the interview, Gillis said, when the trouble began in Detroit, there was a naive assumption that Grand Rapids did not have those kinds of problems and that the riots would stay on Michigan’s east side. 

What is problematic about this interview is that while both men have certain recollections about what took place, it allows them to construct a certain narrative about what took place, specifically a white narrative and a narrative from two men who worked  within the larger Prison Industrial Complex. Both men can even acknowledge the mistakes that were made by the system, but that just re-enforces the idea that the system is fundamentally good and just needed to make some adjustments. Instead of interviewing people who were part of the system of oppression, it would have been more important to provide an analysis of that system, both in 1967 and how state violence continues through today.

Part three of the Michigan Radio series on the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids was entitled, Two Generations of Grand Rapids leaders reflect on how the City’s changed since 1967In Part three, the reporter interviews Ellen James, a founding member of the Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees, and Tavian Moore, president of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP Youth Council.

While it was important to have the two African American voices in this story, the question of how the City has changed since the 1967 riot was not really answered. There was no substantial investigation of indicators – housing, employment, education, incarceration, poverty, etc – to see what the condition of the black community was during the 1967 riot and what it looks like now.

James and Moore do acknowledge that there is black representation in places now that didn’t exist in 1967. They also acknowledge that there is still plenty of work to be done, particularly when it comes to police abuse, citing the example of Honestie Hodges. Moore believes that the black community was able to get the GRPD to adopt policies that would limit the kind of police violence and intimidation that has occurred in recent years. Unfortunately, there is no explanation of verification provided by the Michigan Radio reporter.

The narrative created by this three-part series on the 51st anniversary of the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids offers a limited understanding of what happened then and where Grand Rapids is today in terms of racial justice. A great deal more needs to be done in order to construct more narratives about this history, particularly narratives that come from the black community. We cannot rely on mainstream media to provide these critical narratives, nor can we allow mainstream media to construct narratives that offer up simplistic explanations about the past, which we know will not do justice to the present.

Statement from Commissioner Talen affirms his complicity in ICE violence and his unwillingness to take action to End the Contract

August 2, 2018

On Tuesday, Kent County Commission Jim Talen issued a statement on why he will not support the call from Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE for the County of Kent to End their contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

This statement not only further demonstrates Commissioner Talen’s unwillingness to do something that comes from the affected community (immigrant community), it makes it clear that he will not take action as an elected member of the county commission to concretely reduce the harm being done to the immigrant community through the actions of ICE and local law enforcement agencies that cooperate with ICE.

In the second paragraph of the statement, Commissioner Talen admits that there is harm being done to immigrant families, but lays the blame solely at the feet of federal and state government. It is true that the bulk of the violence done by ICE against the immigrant community is because of federal policy, however, ICE would have a much more difficult time terrorizing the immigrant community if they did not have the cooperation of private corporations (who makes money providing specific services for ICE) or local governments that have contracts/agreements with ICE to either provide jail beds for those detained by ICE or the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies. The Kent County government has a contract through the Sheriff’s Department to provide beds at the Kent County Jail for those ICE choses to put a hold on, plus the Kent County Sheriff’s Department has made it clear that they will cooperate fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In March of this year, Kent County Sheriff Larry Stelma, signed onto a letter crafted by the National Sheriff’s Association, which makes it clear that this association embraces the same anti-immigrant position as the Trump administration. Here is just a sample of that letter and the hyper-nationalistic language it contains: 

Congress must act to pass legislation to secure our borders through enforcing immigration laws, tightening border security, support the replacement and upgrades to current barriers and fencing and construction of barriers along the U.S. and Mexico international boundary as requested by those areas where it is needed, suspending and/or monitoring the issuance of visas to any place where adequate vetting cannot occur, end criminal cooperation and shelter in cities, counties, and states, and have zero tolerance and increased repercussions for criminal aliens.

Commissioner Talen then goes on in his statement to say that what the End the Contract campaign is proposing should be, “vetted by people who have expertise in all the potential implications.” What Commissioner Talen is saying is that the affected community, the immigrant community being targeted by ICE, does not have enough expertise in understanding their own oppression. Such a statement by Commissioner Talen is dismissive of the lived experience of the immigrant community, a community that lives in constant fear of what ICE agents will do to their families, their parents, their spouses and what long-term effects it will have on the children.

Commissioner Talen then goes on to suggest that signing onto the statement put forth by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, will not help the cause (reducing the trauma to Kent County residents.) He then cites three excerpts from the End the Contract statement, which he says are problematic for him. It is worth including all three of his responses to these three points.

“….will immediately release a statement denouncing ICE….” I don’t know a lot about ICE and I have concerns about how the agency is doing its work under the direction of the current administration. I’m willing to denounce some of the specific current actions of ICE that are hurting families but I don’t know enough about it’s broader roles to denounce it overall. I suspect that there may be some important roles for it to play in immigration and customs enforcement.

“….submit a motion to end the contract….to all agendas….until the motion passes.” Although the County Commission does not have the power to end the contract, it could approve a resolution asking the Sheriff (who does have the power) to end the contract. In my experience, repeatedly submitting a motion is not a very effective way to get nine of my colleagues (a majority) to vote favorably on a motion. It would probably have the opposite effect. My experience suggests that I need to be able to provide good evidence in civil conversation with my colleagues to bring them over to my side and I am willing to commit to that.

“….will do everything in our power, including withholding county monies for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department budget and refusing approval of budgets, to end this contract.” The County Commission cannot withhold funding for a particular portion of the Sheriff’s budget. I don’t feel that it would be responsible for me to refuse approval of the entire Sheriff’s Department budget. The Sheriff plays an important role in ensuring the safety of our community.

To the first point, it is clear that Commissioner Talen doesn’t know a great deal about ICE, yet he believes ICE must provide some important roles. It is not a a surprise that the current immigration justice movement, made up of immigrant communities, other communities of color, religious communities and other allies, all are calling for the abolishment of ICE

ICE was created in 2003 as part of the U.S. government’s response to 9/11 that included mass surveillance, racial profiling, and militarism. As part of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE is positioned to treat immigrants as a security threat—not as people who are part of our communities. ICE only benefits the current systems of power and oppression and that is why Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE are calling for its abolishment.

The second point that Commissioner Talen communicates is that the County Commission does not have the power to end the contract. We disagree with that belief, in part because the commissioners voted to adopt a contract with ICE in 2012, plus the commissioners, like any organized body can pressure the Sheriff’s office to end the contract through a variety of tactics, specifically through the budget.

This brings us to Commissioner Talen’s third point, where he believes that the commission, cannot withhold funding for a particular portion of the Sheriff’s budget. Again, Commissioner Talen demonstrates his unwillingness to push the issue and use a tactic which could be rather effective. Talen qualifies his position in this third point by stating, The Sheriff plays an important role in ensuring the safety of our community. We would ask, whose community? The affected community, the immigrant community doesn’t feel safe because of the actions of the Sheriff’s Department.

In addition, this also speaks to the commissioners belief that law enforcement agencies primary function  is to keep the community safe. There is a growing body of work which suggests otherwise. I challenge Commissioner Talen to read Alex Vitale’s book The End of Policing or Kristian Williams book, Our Enemies in Blue. In Vitale’s book he states:

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

Why else is the county jail made up disproportionately of black or latino/latinx members of the community?

At the end of his statement, Commissioner Talen says, “I am committed to finding ways to reduce and hopefully eliminate the trauma being experienced by many in our community.” If this was true, then the commissioner would do what the immigrant community is asking him to do…….end the county’s contract with ICE. If he is unwilling to do this, then he is actually complicit in the violence that ICE commits against the immigrant community in Kent County.

Who the wealthiest in West Michigan are giving their money to for State races in West MI

August 1, 2018

As we have documented in our series on the Grand Rapids Power Structure, the DeVos Family and other members of the local elite, strategically contribute to political campaigns throughout the state, but particularly to races in West Michigan. 

Let’s look at which candidates for state office in West Michigan that the Grand Rapids Power Structure is contributing to.

State Senate Races

28th Senate District – Peter MacGregor: DeVos family, Amway $25,000; Michael Jandernoa, 42 North Partners, $10,000; John Kennedy, Autocam Medical, $10,000; Van Andel family, Amway, $5,000; Mark Meijer $2,500, Mark Murray, Meijer, $2,500; Peter Secchia $2,500

29th Senate District – Chris Afendoulis: John Kennedy, Autocam, $4,000; Steve Van Andel, Amway, $2,000; Cheri DeVos $2,000; Maria DeVos $2,000; J.C. Huizenga $2,000; Mark Murray $2,000; Michael Jandernoa $2,000; Matthew Hayworth $2,000; Richard DeVos Sr. $2,000; Dan DeVos $2,000; Peter Secchia $2,000; Richard DeVos Jr. $2,000; Doug DeVos $2,000

30th Senate District – Daniela Garcia: John Kennedy, Autocam, $10,000; Jack DeWitt, Request Foods, $2,500, Grand Rapids Area Chamber PAC $500; Meijer PAC $500

34th Senate District – Holly Hughes: DeVos family, Amway, $12,000; Secchia family, Universal Forest Products, $4,000

State House Races

72nd House District – Steven Johnson: Meijer PAC $500

73rd House District – Lynn Afendoulis: DeVos family, DP Fox Ventures, $2,000; Mark Murray, Meijer, $1,000; Joan Secchia $1,000

77th House District – Tommy Brann: Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce $650; Meijer PAC $500

86th House District – Thomas Albert: John Kennedy, Autocam, $10,000; Michael Janderoa $1,000; Matthew Haworth $1,000; Peter Secchia $1,000; Meijer PAC $1,000

89th House District – Jim Lilly: Meijer PAC $1,000; J.C. Huizenga $1,000

Sources used:

Betsy DeVos Watch: Freedom, Prosperity and other lies of Capitalism

July 31, 2018

Last week, hundreds of high school students from around the country attend a conference in Washington, DC, hosted by the ultra-conservative group Turning Point USA.

From the Turning Point USA website

Turning Point USA’s mission is to educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government. Through non-partisan debate, dialogue, and discussion, Turning Point USA believes that every young person can be enlightened to true free market values.

Therefore, it stands to reason that those invited to speak at this high school summit, were those who also embraced the mission of the organization, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Senator Orin Hatch, Senator Rick Santorum, billionaires Peter Thiel, Mark Cuban and Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. 

DeVos spoke to the gathering of conservative high school students on Wednesday, July 25. In her prepared remarks, DeVos addressed several issues. DeVos began by speaking about the Parkland, Florida school shooting, stating that President Trump has taken swift action to respond to this kind of violence, by appointing  a Federal Commission on School Safety, which has no real experience in this area, but reassuring the crowd that whatever schools do to respond to violence is really up to states and school districts.

DeVos used her states rights mantra on school safety to then talk about applying the same principle to all aspects of education. DeVos clearly panders to an audience of young people who embrace her philosophy of freedom or more specifically, freedom to chose.

The Secretary of Education then goes on to make the following statement:

There’s one thing for sure: you’ll enter an economy that’s the strongest it’s been in years! After the historic Tax Cut and Jobs Act, confidence is at a new high and unemployment – in nearly every sector – is at a new low. Nearly 3 million jobs have been created since President Trump took office, and Americans are more hopeful about their futures!

Of course, Secretary DeVos provided no evidence to support any of these claims, the claim about the economy in general, the claim about the Tax Cut and Jobs Act (which really benefits the wealthy) or the claim about job creation. Of course, Secretary DeVos doesn’t have to verify these claims, because if people like her just say it, they must be true.

Betsy DeVos also made the following claim in her speech:

So, let’s conclude by returning to the idea that made this country great: freedom! You’re blessed to live in the most free and most prosperous country in the history of human civilization. Most free and most prosperous. That’s no accident. You cannot have one without the other.

Again, no substantiation of such a claim is necessary. In fact, that the US is the most free and prosperous nation in the history of the world is just a truism. It just is. And to question such a claim, borders on treason and heresy.

The high schools students who attended to the Turning Point USA summit certainly believe this truism, that the US is the greatest country in history. In fact, it is a fundamental belief that isn’t just embraced by conservatives, but by many liberals as well. In fact, those who are the beneficiaries of this freedom and prosperity, people like the DeVos Family, are well aware of the fact that the prosperity of the US really means the prosperity of the few, act the expense of the many. The lie of wealth accumulation is that anyone can do it. However, the reality is that those who are part of the billionaire class, like the DeVos Family, are well aware of the fact that their wealth is predicated on the poverty and exploitation of others.

This was really the message that Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, was delivering to the 800 students gathered last week in the nation’s capitol…….if you believe in capitalism, then you can do whatever you want with your life. To hell with the masses of people who will suffer while you make millions.

Kent County Sheriff Stelma is either stupid or in denial about intimidation being un-American

July 30, 2018

Last Thursday, MLive ran an article about an action that took place at Kent County Commissioner Saalfeld’s house because of his refusal to end the contract that the county has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In that MLive article, Kent County Sheriff, Larry Stelma, was quoted as saying:

“Trying to intimidate anyone just isn’t the American way.”

Now, it is important to state up front, as someone who was part of that action at Commissioner Saalfelds house, that it was designed to expose him for the harm he is complicit in, specifically the harm done by ICE agents to immigrant families in West Michigan. There was no intimidation tactics, since people came to his house to ask him to commit to ending the contract the county has with ICE and to let his neighbors know what his position was on the matter. 

Having said that, it is astounding that someone like Sheriff Stelma can make such a statement. Does he really believe what he said or is he in deep denial about what America is all about? Do people like the Sheriff simply internalize the values of the system or is what he said simply what he was coached to say, since it is meant to put attention back on those protesting Commissioner Saalfeld and away from the county’s complicity in the harm being done by ICE. Either way, let’s take a moment to unpack the comment from Sheriff Stelma about intimidation being un-American.

Putting aside what most of us learned in civics class or US history from grade school all the way through college, what can we say about intimidation in US history? One need look no further than two of the fundamental pillars of what the US was founded on – Genocide and Slavery.

The US history of Settler Colonialism was predicated on intimidation. Indigenous communities and nations were intimidated by US militia and the US military to vacate their lands or suffer the consequences. This was the practice from the very beginning of US Settler Colonialism, from the 17th century all the way up to the present, as is well documented in books like, An Indigenous People’s History of the US, by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.

The legalized slavery that the US utilized throughout the country and particularly in the South, was also based on the use of intimidation. Africans were sold into slavery and the threat of violence was constantly asserted once Africans were property. If you don’t work fast enough, if you don’t obey the master or if you look at the master’s wife a certain way, were all means of intimidation in order to keep those in slavery compliant and submissive.

In fact, the whole history of White Supremacy in the US is based on intimidation. Even after chattel slavery was outlawed, the US legal system found ways to use intimidation as a means of keeping African Americans as second class citizens, whether it was through the use of Jim Crow laws, terrorist groups like the KKK or legalized segregation which constantly used intimidation as a tactic. If you drink from this fountain or use this bathroom or if you don’t sit at the back of the bus, there will be consequences. This normalized use of intimidation can still be seen through the War on Drugs, mass incarceration, where the black community is under a constant state of intimidation by the systems of power and privilege that dominate the US.

How about the economic system of capitalism? If you don’t perform at a certain pace or constantly produce more or if you want to organize your fellow workers, there is always the use of intimidation by the capitalist class. You can lose your job, you can lose your benefits or you can lose your pension if you do not comply with your employer.

Here’s another one, US foreign policy. If we think for a moment about the history of US foreign policy, we can easily see that the US has been intimidating countries for two centuries. Being the most militarized country on the planet, intimidation comes easy. If your country wants to question the US, you will be intimidated at United Nations gatherings. If you side with an opponent of the US, the US will impose sanctions on you. If you dare to develop your own nuclear capability, the US will intimidate you into submission or they will bomb the hell out of you.

Hell, if one wanted to look at the use of intimidation as a tactic in the US, one need look no further than the very profession that Sheriff Stelma is a part of. All law enforcement agencies use intimidation as a means to keep people from doing things that cops don’t want them to do.

How many of us have the experience of being pulled over by the cops and not feel intimidated? This is especially true in communities of color, based on the history of police abuse in those communities.

This brings us back to the issue of why people were confronting Commissioner Saalfeld in the first place, which led to Stelma’s comment about intimidation being un-American. The very function of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is to intimidate immigrant communities. Immigrant communities live in absolute fear of what ICE and other law enforcement agencies could do to them, whether they are going to the grocery store, picking their children up from school, driving to work or simply relaxing in their homes.

The very fact that Sheriff Larry Stelma can make such a claim about intimidation demonstrates he is either really, really stupid, oblivious to US history or he is in deep denial about what his Sheriff’s Department is primarily about.