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What happens when you invite the cops: WGVU program on Policing

July 27, 2016

What happens when you have a chief of police on a TV program to discuss policing in Grand Rapids? It turns into a show, where not only did the Chief of Police act as an apologist for police behavior, it makes it difficult to have a real conversation about police accountability or community solutions that are independent of the police.8fbc371b0c137fdb53d9ac37f67df1d6

How we frame issues, especially an issue such as police brutality and the institution of policing, is critically important if we are ever going to go down the path to ending state violence. If we understand that the function of policing is fundamentally the armed protection of state interests. Rachel Herzing, the co-founder of Critical Resistance, names policing as follows:

“A set of practices sanctioned by the state to enforce law and maintain social control and cultural hegemony through the use of force.”

For many people and organizations within communities of color, the question is “not how to improve policing, but how to reduce its role in our lives.” 

WGVU TV’s Mutual Inclusive showed aired on Monday night with the topic focused on policing. The program invited the Grand Rapids Chief of Police, Briana Urena-Ravelo (Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids) and Darrel Ross (Linc up). The show began with some text on the screen, providing data on how many black people have been killed by police officers across the country, this year alone. This was followed by a video clip of a African American mother talking about how her son was wrongfully accused and then beaten by the GRPD. The mother’s story was powerful.

The TV show’s host then began by asking Briana a question, but before she could respond, the Chief of Police interrupted. Not only did he interrupt, he then wanted to reframe the issue and defend the actions of officers in his department. However, not once did he apologize for the beating this young black kid experienced at the hands of the GRPD.

The video of the mother was countered by a 5 minute video on a variety of programs that the Grand Rapids Police Department uses to engage the community, particularly youth. There were several youth singing the praises of the police department because the cops play baseball with them and take them to Tiger games in Detroit. Several police officers also spoke in the video, but one was particularly revealing. Lt. Patrick Merill addressed the issue of bias training, by saying, “if this training comforts the public, we’ll do it.”

Chief Rahinsky spoke more than the other panelists, using his comments to either defend or deflect questions from the host or those in the audience.

Darrel Ross from Linc Up did offer some poignant comments that challenged what Chief Rahinsky was saying, particularly around the idea that while talking about police behavior it often causes us to discuss specific cases, instead of discussing the institution of policing. Ross also commented that he felt that the result of our collective failure to talk about the institution of policing, perpetuates racialized outcomes.

Briana Urena-Ravelo also challenge comments or responses from Chief Rahinsky. In response to the issue of people living in fear, the Chief equated the fear that the public experiences what the police officers experience. Urena-Ravelo named this as a false binary, since “fear is not equitable.” The police are not as afraid as the public, particularly with communities of color that fear for their lives every day based on what the police do and might do, since these communities are more heavily policed than other communities.

Briana also challenged the very nature and function of the police on numerous occasions. When talking about funding, she stated that the police have recently spent more money on new rifles than they have on bias training. In fact, she said that more money should go back to the community, since they could do more with those funds to transform their communities instead of those funds ending up in the hands of the police.tumblr_nyxx2fiAaJ1tx66yvo1_1280

Urena-Ravelo also stated at one point that the police are not being held accountable. “They use excessive force. I haven’t seen transparency, plus we don’t name the racism and white supremacy perpetrated against the black community.”

What was important about what Briana was saying, was to reframe questions and to do what no one else was doing……which was to try to shift the conversation on the necessity of the police. As was stated at the beginning of this post, there are a growing number of people who think it does no good to attempt to reform the police. Again, to quote Rachel Herzing, the function of policing is the armed protection of state interests.

Just a few weeks ago, the Black Lives Matter Grand Rapids chapter, wrote a powerful statement in response to the Am I Next gathering, which had invited the police. Part of that statement read, “We do not think those who police, intimidate and enact violence on communities are healthy, functioning parts of those communities and regard with suspicion those who believe that moral appeals will save Black people from public execution.” 

The whole time I watched this program on policing, I kept thinking, what kind of discussion could have happened if the police chief was not invited. Indeed, what kind of creative and transformative solutions could people come up with that doesn’t rely the cops.

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