GR Police Chief doesn’t hear community concerns on assault weapons or that people just don’t trust the cops
Over a hundred people filled part of the bar space where Equity Drinks held its latest forum, with a focus on the recent City Commission vote (5 – 2) to approve assault rifles for all 59 cruisers used by the Grand Rapids Police Department.
There was virtually no support in the room for allowing the cops to have even more weapons and many of the questions or comments directed at the Grand Rapids Police Chief were filled with disbelief and anger that the cops would try to justify the need for such weapons.
Many of people who spoke were from communities of color who made it very clear that they do not trust the GRPD and that they live in fear for themselves and for their family members on a daily basis. One African American woman glared at the cops and said, “I fear being killed by your officers.”
Other comments were directly specifically at the issue of assault weapons the GRPD will now have. One woman said that asking for and getting such weapons sends a clear message of intimidation to the community, especially communities of color. Another woman said, “you are proclaiming war on your own citizens.”
Most who spoke up were clearly angered by what the police had to say about the assault weapons, especially since the justifications offered seemed shallow and meaningless. On top of that, when several people spoke, particularly people of color, the Chief of Police would walk towards (as you can see if the picture here) them in what seemed to this writer as an intimidation tactic. In addition, there were several times where the cop interrupted people and tried to speak over them.
The arrogance demonstrated by the police was blatant, despite the fact that they were once again given the opportunity to speak first. Throughout the forum the cops were given an opportunity to respond to questions and statements made by members of the community. The Chief of Police gave the same tired answers that he gave at the forum held at the Wealthy Theater back in November, such as: we do work through the Boys & Girls Club, we teach young kids to play baseball and we host coffee with cops events.
The Chief of Police kept saying that Grand Rapids was so far ahead of any other city of comparable size in the US, in terms of community relations and training they provide for cops around cultural competency and implicit bias. When it came to justification for the assault weapons, they kept referring to incidents like Sandy Hook and others, which were acts of gun violence usually committed by a lone gunman. in other words, the cops NEVER mentioned or acknowledged the countless incidents where cops shot and killed civilians in the past 18 months, from Michael Brown to Tamir Rice.
So much of what the cops had to say was insulting. For instance, when the Chief first spoke he showed an ad from Cabellas for an assault rifle, which he claimed was just like the ones they will have in their cruisers. Therefore, if people can buy them at Cabellas, we should not be upset that the cops have them. Towards the end of the night the Chief of Police even invited people to be part of the Grand Rapids Citizen Police Academy, so we could all really understand how the police department works.
Such commentary from the cops prompted one participant to state, “It doesn’t seem like you all are prepared to have this discussion. What scares me is not the weapons but the leaders. You don’t seemed to be aware of our concerns. You want more guns and we are afraid we are going to be the recipients of the gun violence.”
Why is it that we keep organizing forums to talk about injustice and oppression, forums that invite the very institutions and structures that perpetuate the injustice and oppression? Why are we not have real dialogue that just involves the public?
This was the message from someone with Black Lives Matter GR, which made the point, “we are not talking about alternative solutions to violence in our community. Should the cops have guns or not? We have to go beyond that. The police are not the solution to the issues that I see.”
Indeed, this has been a message from Black Lives Matter chapters and other community-based groups around the country for years now. How do we create community safety that doesn’t rely on state violence, ie, the cops?
Instead of inviting the cops to our meetings or continuing to have expectations that if they have implicit bias trainings or hire more officers of color that somehow police violence will stop, maybe we need to have autonomous community meetings and tap into the creative and passionate energy of our own people.
This is not a new idea. In fact, there are great examples of what community safety programs or community anti-violence campaigns look like. In the last chapter of the book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, the author provides numerous examples throughout history. These examples can be found in the Afterword of the online version of the book, entitled, Making Police Obsolete.
Another great resource is put out by the national women of color organization INCITE!. They have a toolkit that investigates law enforcement violence and provides great examples by women of color and transgender people of color responses to police violence.
Such examples are not only inspiring, but it affirms the notion that we should not rely on systems of oppression to create community liberation.