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GRPD Strategic Plan: Placates those unaffected by police violence, insults the rest of us

August 10, 2020

On Friday, the GRPD released a draft of their strategic plan. This news was announced on the City’s website, with the headline, GRPD’s strategic plan will transform policing in Grand Rapids

A PDF version of the strategic plan is 18 pages long and the draft of the new GRPD Strategic Plan for for 2021 – 2023. The Strategic Plan begins with a Letter from Chief Payne, which states early on:

Your safety is our highest priority and, with this document as our guide, we will work together to ensure all people feel safe and are safe in this city.

Such a statement from Chief Payne is simply not true. Part of the problem might be with how Chief Payne defines what it means for people to feel safe. Does the Chief mean that Black people who feel the fear and dangers of White Supremacy and White Supremacist institutions will be safe? Does the Chief mean that those who identify as Queer or Trans should feel safe and never have to worry about homophobia and transphobia, or the spiritual violence that permeates Grand Rapids? Does the Chief mean that undocumented immigrants will feel safe with the GRPD’s Strategic Plan, never having to worry about ICE agents coming to kidnap them? Does the Chief mean that families who are facing eviction from rental properties, since they can’t afford the outrageous costs of housing, since they work in low wage jobs?

Chief Payne and the GRPD have no real idea what it means to really feel safe for thousands of people in Grand Rapids. What Chief Payne means by safety is really when people comply and submit to oppression and exploitation, especially if people do not disrupt business as usual and challenge the very systems of power and oppression that keeps people from feeling safe.

On pages 3 – 4, there is a timeline that begins in 2015 and brings us to the present, following a narrative that the GRPD wants us all to believe. The timeline completely omits any of the harm that the GRPD has committed against the Black community, against immigrants, against families in poverty, against queer and trans people or against those who have resisted oppression. The timeline does include May 30th from this year, uses the language Civil Unrest and Demonstration and includes a picture of Chief Payne kneeling during a Black Lives Matter protest (shown above). This narrative says nothing about the GRPD beating people, firing weapons into crowds, arresting people for curfew violations or spying, monitoring and intimidating people who have opposed police violence.

Page 5 includes a graphic that includes “stakeholders, with exclusively law enforcement agencies and city officials in 9 of the 10 categories. Under the category of community, the GRPD lists all the ways they have “engaged” the community with programs like Speed of Trust, Coffee with Cops or the Citizen Police Academy – all of which are designed to manage public dissent in ways that the cops can control.

On page 6 of the Strategic Plan, it lists the top 10 community feedback items. However, most of this “feedback” was based on comments from programs that the GRPD or the City had complete control of. The only unfiltered feedback was from the June and July town halls and commission meetings, where people flooded the meetings with calls to Defund the GRPD. And lets not forget that this happened all digitally, since these meetings took place during the pandemic, where people could not physically demonstrate their outrage, like what we have seen at City Commission meetings in recent years.

Page 7 lists the values of the GRPD, which is laughable and infuriating at the same time. Does the GRPD really believe any of this shit?

Much of the rest of the document lays out how the GRPD will implement their strategic plan, which is essentially a regurgitation of previous plans – community policing and beat cops. There is a section called “Innovation”, which is where the GRPD plans to “partner” with mental health workers and other social service agencies, which we have previously critiqued

Page 13 has a section on police use of technology, such as unmanned ariel systems and drones. The GRPD planned to hold “community” sessions on this technology back in the Spring of 2020, but then the pandemic hit and those meetings were cancelled

A great deal more could be said about the GRPD’s new and improved strategic plan, but the reality is that the GRPD is only making mild adjustments to the way they do policing. There is no evidence that the GRPD or the City of Grand Rapids is taking any of the calls for Defunding the GRPD and the redirecting of those funds to the Black community, as a serious and urgent call from the community. This Strategic Plan from the GRPD is at best designed to placate sectors of the public that still believes in the benevolence of the police, but to those on the ground fighting against power and oppression, this document is insulting.

It’s not Philanthropy, It’s Ideological and Class Warfare: How the DeVos Family Foundation contributions complement their political donations – Part I

August 9, 2020

We were recently able to access the 2018 990 documents from the various DeVos family foundations, through GuideStar.org. These foundations include, the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation, the Doug & Maria DeVos Foundation, the Dan & Pamela DeVos Foundation and the CDV5 Foundation.

We have been tracking the DeVos family foundations for years, since it provides useful information on how the family strategically uses their money to influence the world around us. It is important to recognize that when people generally think of philanthropy, they think of money going from those with tremendous wealth to non-profits who provide needed services in the community. While there is some truth to this, what we will demonstrate in this series of articles, is that the DeVos family uses their foundation money to primarily wage ideological and class warfare.

However, before we get to the data from the 2018 990 documents from the various DeVos family foundations, it is important to note that this family spends more money to directly influence public policy, based on the funding they provide to candidates and various Republican Party entities, as documented by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network (MCFN). Between 1999 and 2018, the DeVos family provided at least $93 million in contributions to political candidates and Republican PACs. However, this amount of money does not include Dark Money, such as the group known as Donor’s Trust. According to one source, the DeVos family has contributed $6.5 million to Donor’s Trust, which funds a variety of right wing entities throughout the country.

We argue, that the money the DeVos family foundations contribute ultimately compliments the direct political contributions they make. In Part I of this series, we look at the contributions the DeVos family foundations made for 2018 to educational entities and what that means.

The DeVos family is not shy about their Christian values, which is reflected in the amount of funding they provide to Christian Schools from their 2018 contributions:

  • King’s College $33.500,000
  • Rehoboth Christian School $2,836,000
  • Potter’s House Christian School $2,175,000
  • Western Theological Seminary $1,950,000
  • Lee University $1,250,000
  • Grand Rapids Christian Schools $1,220,000
  • Cornerstone University $1,160,000
  • Aquinas College $1,097,500
  • Trinity Christian College Association $1,000,000
  • Calvin Theological Seminary $443,000
  • Zuni Christian Mission School $300,000
  • Calvin College $125,000

It’s instructive to note that King’s College is a Catholic College, which also has a major business school component. Potter’s House has been a pet project of Dick & Betsy DeVos for many years and Rehoboth and Zuni are both mission schools specifically for indigenous people to educate them in the “one true God” – which is one form of White Saviorism and Cultural Genocide.

The DeVos family foundations also contribute significantly to public schools, such as:

  • GVSU $4,983,000
  • Northwood University $3,320,000
  • MSU $2,700,000
  • Grand Rapids Community College Foundation $2,623,000
  • Ferris State $537,500
  • Grand Rapids Students Advance Foundation $477,500
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools $211,200

In the case of GVSU, Northwood and GRCC, there are buildings named after DeVos family members. The GR Student Advancement Foundation is the foundation for the GRPS, so the combined total is close to $700,000 for 2018 alone. The DeVos family foundations have been the largest contributor to the GRPS for several years, as we reported on in 2019. The DeVos family has been instrumental is getting more business-oriented curriculum into the GRPS system and they have been the main force behind Christian-centered programs like Believe to Become and the DeVos Urban Leadership Institute

It is no surprise that GVSU is first on the list of contributions to secular schools from the DeVos family. The DeVos family has been very influential in the school’s history, with several members of the family serving on the Board of Trustees. It is also well known that the DeVos family influenced the school’s shift from being a more liberal-arts oriented school, with William James and Thomas Jefferson Colleges, to a more business-centered school. It is also well documented that the DeVos family blocked GVSU’s push to have domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff. In 1994, when faculty and staff at GVSU were meeting with then President Lubbers over the university’s willingness to offer domestic partner benefits, word got out that this was going to happen. At the time GVSU was raising money for a proposed health education building on Michigan St and Peter Cook and Rich DeVos had pledged millions. Once DeVos and Cook found out about the proposal by GVSU to offer domestic partner benefits, they threatened to withdraw their financial support if the university would support a domestic partner benefits policy. GVSU acquiesced to the wish of DeVos and Cook. For further reading on Rich DeVos and GVSU check out What’s in a Name: A Popular Guide to Wealth & Influence at GVSU.

These DeVos foundation contributions to schools and colleges are strategic, both to promote conservative Christian values within faith-based schools and to influence public schools to take a more pro-capitalist position, as well as to infiltrate these institutions with conservative Christian beliefs. These two principles – conservative Christian and Capitalist Class values – are also what drives the DeVos family contributions to political candidates for local and federal offices. This is essentially the two-pronged strategy of the DeVos family, both in the political and philanthropic arenas.

 

White Lies Matter: Director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute defends racist monuments

August 6, 2020

I was contacted the other day by someone involved with GVSU concerning the Civil War monument in Allendale, Michigan.

The person who contacted me included a recent column by the Director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. The column by Doug Kindschi is fraught with all sorts of inaccurate information and problematic analysis, 

This is not the first time that the Kaufman Interfaith Institute has taken a problematic position on critical issues of the day. In September of 2016, they co-hosted a forum on Israel/Palestine, but both speakers were really biased in favor of the State of Israel. On this issue, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute has always sided with Israel and will not take a position on Israel’s Apartheid policies.

Doug Kindschi’s column, entitled, Response and Reflection on Monuments, takes the position that all monuments are important, as they are part of the nation’s history. Kindschi provides examples of other war monuments in Grand Rapids, then shifts to monuments that have primarily been erected through a project that Peter Secchia created.

Kindschi mentions the Chief Noonday statue and says that Noonday “welcomed the early settlers to the area.” The narrative on the statue that accompanies the Noonday statue also perpetuates a Settler Colonial narrative, which we have written about on the Grand Rapids People’s History Project site

Kindschi then goes on to mention the statue of Bishop Baraga, “an early Christian figure in the City’s history. This overly simplistic statement about Baraga fails to mention the role he played in Settler Colonialism in Michigan. Kindschi also includes in his list Arthur Vandenberg, and attributes to the former Senator that he played a role in the creation of the United Nations. It is true that Vandenberg played a role in the development of the UN, but he also was instrumental in the Marshal Plan and the creation of NATO, which were all critical aspects in the expansion of US imperialism after WWII

The Director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute then cites a college classmate who was appointed to the American Battle Monuments Commission by both the Clinton and Obama administrations, saying in part:

The same can be said of what has been built on our National Mall, America’s “village green.”  Washington and Jefferson owned slaves.  Yet, one led the nation in establishing our country as a republic and democracy; and the other authored the words “all men are created equal,” which would eventually lead to the freeing of the slaves.  These men were not perfect but the underlying principles for which they stood were enduring and gave us the country we now have.

If we think we can erase American history or change social behavior by removing monuments and memorials — we are going down a dead-end.  Martin Luther King kept his eye on what would help African Americans during his time and that was the Civil Rights Act.  He didn’t waste a lot of time trying to tear down Confederate monuments.

And, fittingly, when a subsequent generation decided to remember King, they didn’t tear down the Jefferson Memorial.  They built a memorial to King, straight across the tidal basin from Jefferson where the two could look each other in the eye, each with his own words engraved in stone about what freedom and liberty should mean for the citizens of this country.  

That is the way to deal with Memorials — build new ones to show how the country can grow, change and embrace equality under the law for all of its citizens.

There are several things that are wrong with this commentary. First, the writer acknowledges that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, but then minimizes that horror by saying they were not perfect. What we need to come to terms with is the fact that Washington and Jefferson were some of the architects of the founding policies of this county – genocide of indigenous people and the enslavement of people forcibly brought from Africa. It’s not just a question that these men own slaved, but that they founded a country based on genocide and slavery.

Second, using a portion of the legacy of Dr. King is a bullshit argument. We have to look at the totality of Dr. King’s legacy and there is nothing to suggest that Dr. King would not have supported the tearing down of monuments that celebrate White Supremacy. It is true that King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference made it possible to get Civil Rights legislation passed, but Dr. King acknowledged himself that it wasn’t enough and that Civil Rights legislation was inadequate, since it did nothing to deal with dismantling the economic system which produced millions of poor people.

Kindschi then concludes his column by stating, “I appreciate the sentiments expressed by Kidder and certainly hope that whatever the disposition of such statues and monuments, that it be handled not by angry mob violence, but by careful consideration by the appropriate representatives from our communities.”

People who are protesting everything from racist monuments to police violence have every right to be angry, but calling those protesting a mob is nothing more than borrowing from the narrative of those in power. And who exactly are the “appropriate representatives from our communities?” Sounds a lot like respectability politics to me. Only professionals or those with degrees should have a say on the matter of monuments, which is to say people like Doug Kindschi. My advice to Mr. Kindschi is that he better get out of the way of the people involved in the current Black Lives Matter movement, who, like the late John Lewis, said: 

“To those who have said, “Be patient and wait,” we must say that “patience” is a dirty and nasty word. We cannot be patient, we do not want to be free gradually. We want our freedom, and we want it now. We cannot depend on any political party, for both the Democrats and the Republicans have betrayed the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence.”

No Police in Schools: GRPD out of the GRPS Campaign begins

August 5, 2020

Alex Vitale, in his important book, The End of Policing, states:

While the origins of school resource officers (SROs) can be traced back to the 1950s, there was a dramatic change in their number and focus in the 1990s, thanks in large part to the Justice Department’s “Cops in Schools” program, which gave out $750 million to hire 6,500 new school-based police.

Police and policing in schools, particularly in urban schools has been a major source of contention for some time, primarily because policing in urban schools has been a major component of the school to prison pipeline. Like community policing, school administrators will tell you that having cops in schools is about safety, but the reality is that it is just another form of control and punishment, particularly directed at Black and latinx students.

However, with the current national conversation about policing, there is an opportunity to do away with part of the school to prison pipeline, getting cops out of schools completely. New legislation in both the Senate and the House have been introduced to get police officers out of schools permanently. This legislation is called the Counseling Not Criminalization in Schools Act

However, as with any legislation, local communities do not have to wait for federal legislation to be passed. The group Grand Rapids for Education Justice (GREJ) has just announced a new campaign to get cops out of the GRPS. Part of the reasoning from GREJ was the direct result of the used of public school buses to transport members of the GRPD in early June, cops who were in downtown Grand Rapids to suppress the resistance to police violence.

Another major reason for the GREJ to demand that the GRPS end any and all relationships with the GRPD, is because the GRPD was named as a partner in an upcoming program for 2020-2021 called the Academy of Public Safety Services, which will be held at the Ottawa Hills High School location. The Academy of Public Safety Services would introduce students to policing as a career, where the GRPD would have direct access to students. Not much else is known about this program, as the GRPS has not provided many details on this academy.

The GREJ has initiated an Action Alert and called it the GRPD out of the GRPS. Here is the text of that Action Alert:

We are demanding that the Grand Rapids Public Schools discontinue any relationship they have with the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD). We know that the GRPD has officers come in to GRPS schools and that the district approved a plan to have an Academy of Public Safety Services in Ottawa Hills HS for the 2020-2021 school year, which would involve the GRPD presenting to students about careers in policing.

The GRPS should end any current relationships they have with the GRPD, along with not entering into any relationship with the GRPD in the future. We are making these demands in solidarity with the larger Black Lives Matter movement, which is also calling for a defunding of police. The GRPD has a long history of violence against the Black community and since there are a disproportionately large number of Black students in the GRPS system, we believe that demanding an end to any relationship with the GRPD is what solidarity looks like. GRPD Out of the GRPS! Black Lives Matter!

To add your name to this campaign to get and keep the GRPD out of the Grand Rapids Public Schools, go to this link https://actionnetwork.org/letters/grpd-out-of-grand-rapids-public-schools?source=direct_link&, then share the link on social media and help get the word out.

A Primary Election Day reflection for Kent County

August 4, 2020

By the time that most of you have read this post, you will have already voted in the August 4 Primary Election. In the midst of a pandemic, I am guessing that many of you have voted absentee and sent in your voting choices weeks ago, which is fine as this post is not meant to persuade you how to vote. This post is intended to raise questions about the state of electoral politics in Kent County and its relationship to social movements and some of the critical issues our community is faced with.

We have learned a great deal about ourselves over the past few months, beginning with the reality that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. The pandemic has further exposed the vast inequities in our society and the lack of radical imagination of our elected officials. At the same time, the pandemic has caused more people to question fundamental aspects of our society, leading many to reject the idea that they want things to get back to “normal.” Going back to normal means that we still have a community that is built on White Supremacy, a massive wealth gap, structural violence, mass incarceration, gentrification, food insecurity and a health care system based on profits.

As the primary election grew closer, most of these issues I named have become even more prominent, especially since the May 30th uprising that began in Grand Rapids. White Supremacy and policing in Kent County has been put under the microscope, resulting in a great deal of organizing and resistance and White Supremacy and all of its manifestations in this area.

At the same time, people running for office, whether as incumbents or challengers, have been very silent on these critical issues, whether they are running for Congress, state seats or county commissioner. I have looked at candidate websites and Facebook pages and have rarely found public positions from candidates on the issues White Supremacy/systemic racism, mass incarceration, the current health care crisis, the massive wealth gap in Kent County, unemployment or the housing crisis and the thousands of area residents who are facing possible eviction. These are not marginal issues, but they are the issues that thousands of families in Kent County are facing every day.

One would think that candidates for political office would be sensitive to this reality, yet I have found very little public information about where candidates stand on these critical issues. Most of those running for office have been silent on the issues I have identified above.

At the same time there has been a great deal of social media endorsing numerous candidates running for office in this community. People have used all sorts of platitudes to describe these candidates and their commitment to this community, yet I can help but wonder what they hell this really means. Virtually all the candidates that are on the Primary ballot or will be on the November ballot, do NOT have a position on issues like White Supremacy, policing, mass incarceration, immigration justice, eviction, unemployment or the massive wealth gap in Kent County. Some might say that these are not issues that elected officials would be dealing with or would have little influence on. Such a response in my experience has taught me that this is bullshit.

For example, two years ago, most people in Kent County were completely unaware of the fact that the Kent County Sheriff’s Department had a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a contract that County Officials voted on. When Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE had 200 people show up to a Kent County Commission meeting to demand an end to the ICE contract, they were met with contempt and a whole range of excuses. 

All of the Republican members of the Kent County Commission left the meeting and said that those protesting were disrespectful. Democrats on the County Commission, most of which stayed, did nothing to assist the campaign to End the Contract. In fact, Democrats on the commission either remained silent on the matter, engaged in gaslighting of immigrant organizers or offered the excuse that they had no power to End the Contract with ICE.

Those involved in demanding the end to the ICE contract were not deterred and continued to press their demands, with disruptions at more Kent County Commission meetings, protesting at the Commission Chair’s home, doing lots of education of the issue, holding marches, creating online petitions and actions at the Kent County Jail. In fact, after a little more than a year of direct action to End the ICE Contract, ICE officials decided to terminate the contract they had with Kent County in late August of 2019. What this all means is that elected county officials did nothing to end the contract with ICE. What ended the contract with ICE, was direct action and the involvement of thousands of people demanding immigrant justice.

Elected officials can claim that they have no power to affect change, but that does not absolve them from taking a public stance in support of social movements that are demanding structural changes.

So, regardless of who you voted for in the primary election, ask yourself this……..Will these candidates really do anything to further the vision of Black Lives Matter? Will these candidates make it so that thousands of families who are facing eviction in Kent County lift a finger to stop the evictions? Will these candidates publicly support Medicare for All? Will these candidates endorse and fight for the demand from Movimiento Cosecha GR to win Driver’s Licenses for All in Michigan? Will these candidates in Kent County call for a Defunding of the GRPD? Will these candidates fight to end the massive wealth gap in this community? The answer to these questions are right in front of us.

When will we stop centering cop voices: Confronting the White Liberal view of Policing

August 2, 2020

We are a little more than 2 months removed from the May 30th uprising in Grand Rapids, where thousands of people descended on the downtown area to protest against  the police murder of George Floyd.

During the past two months there have been ongoing protests, marches and vigils in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. There has also been a significant campaign, involving numerous groups, to Defund the GRPD. None of this pressure seems to be going away anytime soon and institutions are feeling tremendous pressure to deal with institutional racism and White Supremacy.

Amidst all of this, the GRPD and the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (cop union) has pushed back against any significant calls for reform, accountability and for departmental defunding. So why provide the police in the Greater Grand Rapids area a forum to continue to push back against community demands? Why do groups always feel the need to center the voices of law enforcement?

This is exactly what a group that supposedly works on police/community relations is doing on Monday night, as they host a forum that will center cop voices. The group known as ALPACT – Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust – is hosting an online event on Monday, from 6:00 – 7:30pm, where six law enforcement agency heads will be provided yet another opportunity to present their take on the current political climate. The forum is entitled “Behind every mask their is a story,” which is a very misleading title, since this forum will not be centering public voices, but the voices of those who are attempting to suppress any and all public resistance to police violence, particularly police violence against the Black community.

The panel will be moderated by someone with ALPACT and the GVSU Police. The panel includes six law enforcement agencies leaders, including GRPD Chief Payne, someone from the Michigan State Police, the Kentwood Police Department, the Kent County Sheriff, the Wyoming Police Department and the Grandville Police Department.

Now, this is a 90-minute forum that will feature six cops who get to “share their stories.” Why? Why is this moment, with everything that has been taking place around the country and in Grand Rapids, why provide yet another forum for cops to tell us what to think?

According to the ALPACT Facebook page, it says this about the group: 

GGR ALPACT examines issues affecting police and community relations and ensure equitable enforcement of laws to build trust.

This description of the organization is essentially the White liberal view of the relationship between the police and the public. In this version, we are to believe that the police exist to protect and serve the public, that they are a force for good, even if at times they make mistakes or we find out that there are a few bad apples in police departments.

This view of the police is part of the problem. First, it completely ignores the history of policing in the United States and the reasons why police departments were created. According to the book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, by Kristian Williams, policing in the US was always about power. In the South, policing began as a function of “slaves patrols,” where armed men were tasked with hunting down and capturing those who were enslaved, and bringing them back to whichever plantation they escaped from. In the North, policing was created at the same time that political machines were developing and the police departments acts as tools for those political machines. Overtime, police departments have been used to manage populations and to suppress dissent.

Second, the White Liberal view of policing is problematic because it ignores the fact that police departments are designed as a system of oppression. As Alex Vitale, author of the book, The End of Policing, states in the chapter entitled, The Police Are Not Here to Protect You:

The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last forty years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself.

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.

A Third reason why the White Liberal view of policing is problematic is that it wants to believe that if we just sit down and talk to cops we will have a better understanding of how they do their jobs and we will be able to assist them in preventing crime. While this may be true on a superficial level, where community members provide information to cops to prevent petty crimes, it fails to understand the power dynamics that exist. Policing is about protecting systems of power, which are also primarily systems of oppression. For example, if a Property Management Company, which charges outrageous rental fees, is confronted by a tenant or a tenant union, who do you think the police will protect? Institutions can exploit and oppress people all they want and when people engage in organized resistance, the police are always there to protect those with power and those who are exploiting and oppressing people.

Think about the deliberate harm that Wolverine Worldwide has caused to thousands of people and their health. If you were to deliberate poison or attempt to poison someone and the police were around, you would be arrested and maybe even beaten in the process for doing so. However, a corporation can poison thousands of people and the police will not be arresting them or beating them in the process. Sure, corporations like Wolverine might have to pay fines, but these are legal inconveniences that are nothing like what Black communities face on a daily basis.

Lastly, the White Liberal view of policing in this community is problematic, because it says that trusting the police is more important that solving systemic problems. Doing the work of trying to get the public to trust the police is a false solution, not only because it ignores the real function of policing, it also demonstrates that the White Liberal view of policing is about the normalization of the oppression of Black people.

For those who are fighting against police violence, those wanting to Defund the Police and those who embrace an abolitionist view of policing, we have to come to terms with the fact that the White Liberal view of policing is the dominant perspective on policing. Therefore, resisting police oppression will inevitable lead to resisting White Liberalism.

To join to zoom call for the ALPACT forum go to https://us02web.zoom.us/…/tZctcuysqDsjG9Cdv_b0BXVLyJLQjc0GY.

Front running GOP candidates for Congress are both backed by members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure

July 30, 2020

Based upon the most recent data from the Center for Political Responsibility, there two leading GOP candidates running for the seat that is being vacated by Justin Amash and both of these candidates are being financed by families and companies that are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure.

Peter Meijer and Lynn Afendoulis are the two leading COP candidates for the 3rd Congressional seat that is up for grabs and on the August 4th Primary Election ballot.

The DeVos family is the main backer of Peter Meijer, both with individual family members contributions, plus RDV Corporation and the Amway Corporation. Other members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure that have contributed to Meijer are the Meijer Corporation, the Secchia family’s company Sibsco LLC, Bissell, Gordon Foods and the Van Andel Institute.

Lynn Afendoulis hasn’t raised nearly as much as Peter Meijer in her bid for the 3rd Congressional seat, but she also has received campaign contributions from individuals and companies that are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure. Among those that have contributed are Autocam (John Kennedy), UFP Industries (Peter Secchia), National Association of Realtors, Varnum Law, the Huizenga Group (J.C. Huizenga) and Wolverine Oil & Gas.

There are three other GOP candidates listed as running for the 3rd Congressional seat, but only Tom Norton has any campaign finance information as of the last filing date. Elections are not exclusively won by the amount of money that a candidate raises, but in most cases, those with the biggest war chest are often the winners.

Between Meijer and Afendoulis, whoever wins the Primary race next week, will then run against Hillary Scholten in the November election. It is likely that the wealthiest families and largest companies in West Michigan will back whoever wins between Meijer and Afendoulis. If either of those two candidates win, they will most certainly be beholden to the corporations and and families that make up the Grand Rapids Power Structure. The next time you thin that the philanthropy of DeVos, Meijer, Secchia, Kennedy and Huizenga families are benign, remember that they finance candidates who adopt policies that do tremendous harm to Black and latinx communities, working class people, immigrants and other socially marginalized communities.

Grand Rapids is using bureaucratic management to further marginalize the Defund the GRPD campaign

July 29, 2020

Last week, the City of Grand Rapids made the announcement that the GRPD will be presenting to the City Commission on August 11th, regarding their new strategic plan. 

The local news media has reported a great deal on what Chief Payne thinks about police budget cuts, along with what City Manager Mark Washington has to say on the matter. In the City’s announcement from last week, Washington provided his talking points about the police budget and why he opposes Defunding the GRPD. Here are those talking points from Washington:

  • The City’s FY2021 approved budget was $22 million less than FY2020 due to the economic impacts of COVID-19.  
  • The general fund portion of the police department’s budget was reduced by $1.1 million – the largest department budget reduction. This resulted in a decreased FY2021 general fund police budget compared to FY2020.  
  • The $1.1 million reduction made during the budget process and the additional $403,000 cut made earlier this month total $1.53 million and equates to 63% of the department’s overtime budget, or roughly 15 officers.  
  • This adjustment, along with the fact the 327-person police department staff is lower than the millennium high of 369, is an indication of staffing divestment despite the city’s population growth.  
  • Since personnel accounts for more than 80% of the police department’s budget, further reductions likely would result in layoffs. Personnel changes must be carefully determined.  
  • The end is not known for the economic recession as a result of COVID-19 or the pandemic itself. It is not wise to make drastic changes without a clear picture of expected revenue and expenditures.  

The first point is pretty meaningless, since it just states the obvious. Of course COVID-19 has impacted City revenues, just like thousands of residents of Grand Rapids have been affected by the pandemic and continue to be affected.

Points 2 and 3 are basically saying the same thing and even though the amount of money to the GRPD has been reduced, it has nothing to do with Defunding the GRPD. Defunding the GRPD, not only is calling for a reduction of the police department’s budget, but that the money that would have gone to the police, be re-directed to the Black community in ways that they determine.

Point 4 from the City Manager is misleading, since the number of police should not be tied to the population of the city, but to the issue of how the police are responding to crime. Also, based on an independent investigation conducted last year, the GRPD spend most of their time responding to minor community conflicts. The study done by Hillard Heintze LLC, determined that 70% of calls to the GRPD are non-emergency. In addition, one of the recommendations from the study was that the police did not need to hire more officers and in fact, they could have non-police personnel respond to most of the non-emergency calls.

Point 5 is legitimate, since there would be a reduction in police personnel if the City were to take seriously the community calls for Defunding the GRPD. Layoffs happen all the time and the City Manager should know that literally thousands of Grand Rapidians have lost a job in recent months due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The last point from City Manager Washington not only brings us back to the COVID-19 induced economic crisis, but it misses the point about reducing the GRPD’s budget, especially if thousands of community members are calling for Defunding the GRPD.

Besides our responses to the City Manager’s talking points, there are other issues at play around the GRPD’s budget and larger issues around community safety and accountability.

First, as we have noted in a recent article, the GRPD and City officials have been attempting to radically alter the narrative around police violence and the demands from the community. However, the Defund the GRPD movement is not buying into the attempts of the GRPD and City officials to control the narrative about what has happened in the city since the May 30th protest. Protests and other forms of resistance are continuing in Grand Rapids, forms of resistance that have their own narratives.

Second, the GRPD has recently been attempting to justify their opposition to Defunding, based on recent gun homicides. However, the GRPD has not demonstrated that they would have been able to do anything to prevent these homicides. In addition, the ongoing calls from the GRPD to add more cops because of increased crime is a misleading narrative. Grand Rapids has not seen a rise in crime statistically for several years. The last time the City of Grand Rapids deceived the public around crime, they passed a ballot initiative in 1995, which solidified into the City Charter that the GRPD would receive at least a third of the City’s budget. 

Lastly, it is important to note that what the City Manager, Chief Payne and other City officials are doing, is engaging in bureaucratic management. Those with power in local government are planning on 1) dragging these issues out with the hope that people will forget or get distracted with something else; 2) that they know what is best for us, so they get to make the decisions, regardless of what the public has been saying; and 3) the City is banking on the fact that all the so-called reforms they plan to adopt around policing, will be enough to pacify people into accepting their plan. If there is ongoing resistance to the police reforms, the City will simply referred to any ongoing call for Defunding the GRPD as an extreme position that is being promoted by people who the City will attempt to further marginalize.

The attempted marginalization of the Defund the GRPD campaign is the very definition of domestic counterinsurgency, which is most often a form of psychological and ideological warfare.

GRPS plans to start the school year with distance learning, but lots of questions remain about how this will all work

July 28, 2020

With the Trump administration, primarily through Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, pushing for schools to open for the upcoming school year, the Grand Rapids Public Schools announced it will begin the 2020-2021 school year. However, the district announced that it would begin the school year online, at least for the first marking period, which goes until October 21st, based on the statement they released

While it is encouraging that the GRPS will not be putting the health and safety of students and teachers at risk for the beginning of the school year, such an announcement raises all kinds of questions. The GRPS did host a Q&A for news media on Monday as well, which you can view at this link, but that virtual Press Conference still left numerous questions unanswered. 

Some of the larger questions are:

  • How will parents and students who a subjected to poverty navigate the additional demands of children being home while they go to work. Lots of low wages jobs require employees to work on site and not from home? This includes childcare costs, healthy food for students, etc. Billionaires are profiting from the pandemic, while politicians provide grossly inadequate relief to families.
  • We know that the schools in the district that are underperforming, utilize non-union, substitute teachers. Will this continue and how will it impact the quality of education that students are receiving?
  • What criteria will the district use to determine if and when students and teachers can return to the classroom, especially since there still is no cure for COVID-19 and grossly inadequate testing available?
  • Since the district will begin with distance learning, will access be free to homes with students and will there be adequate language support for students who are not fluent in English?
  • What kinds of support systems will there be for teachers, who will now be tasked with online education, and what will the classroom sizes be?
  • Will teacher unions demonstrate their collective power during this crisis or will they go along to get along. Eric Blanc, author of Red State Revolt: The Teachers’ Strike Wave and Working-Class Politics, has an excellent article about what teachers and teacher union could do in response to schools re-opening. 
  • The GRPS has stated that the will use Seesaw and Schoology as the two online educational platforms. Both of these entities are private corporations, which means they are driven by profits. Will the GRPS actively engage in the educational content used with both of these platforms? Will teachers have any say in online content? Will the district invest in creating (with teachers) their own online content for the future.

These are just some of the important questions we should all be asking ourselves as the school year approaches, but we know that there are many, many more. With the push to “re-open the economy,” we have seen spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Do we run the same risks when pushing students, parents and teachers with the re-opening of schools. How many and whose lives are expendable in the current crisis?

Important questions can be asked at the virtual town hall meeting on August 5 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m, hosted by the GRPS.

Grand Rapids Police Officers Association endorses the most far right candidate running for the 3rd Congressional District

July 28, 2020

Late last night, the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association, the union that represents those who work for the GRPD, posted an endorsement for the far-right Congressional candidate Tom Norton.

The brief post on the GRPOA Facebook page states:

The GRPOA proudly endorses Tom Norton and his bid to represent the people of Michigan in Washington. Tom is one of the most down to earth guys you will ever meet. He will be a true representative for the people and will never forget the real reason he is in Washington. Join us in casting a vote for Tom.

This should come as no surprise to people who follow the GRPOA, since Norton has been a staunch defender and apologist for cops across the US, especially since the police lynching of George Floyd. Norton also co-hosted a rally in support of the GRPD in late June, which we also reported on.

There is no evidence, based on the current data at the Michigan Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance page, that the GRPOA contributed to Norton’s campaign, but those filings only include what has been contributed up until mid-July of 2020.

However, the more important point is that the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association has endorsed a candidate that is the most pro-Trump of all the GOP candidates running for the 3rd Congressional District. Norton’s website doesn’t present a great deal of information on his political stances, but his Facebook page makes it clear where Norton stands on many issues. Norton is pro-police and he supports ICE and their terror tactics against immigrants. Norton is anti-Choice, homophobic and anti-Trans. Many of Norton’s videos demonize antifa, while supporting the “patriots” who have protested against Gov. Whitmer during the COVID-19 crisis.

We know that the GRPOA has been against the immigrant justice movement in Grand Rapids and has openly called for the arrest of members of Movimiento Cosecha GR, plus they have publicly defended the actions of Captain VanderKooi, who contact ICE in the Jilmar Ramos-Gomez case. The GRPOA has demonstrated their commitment to reactionary politics and their support for defending the status quo. Therefore, the police union’s endorsement of Tom Norton for Congress makes complete sense, since the GRPOA and Norton support the same police state politics of the Trump administration.