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Community Responses to the GRPD violence against Honestie Hodges and the limits of reform politics

December 20, 2017

It has more than a week since the news that several Grand Rapids police officers handcuffed at gun point and 11 year old black girl while looking for a suspect.

Initially, Police Chief Rahinsky and other members of the Grand Rapids City Commission responded with concerns about how this 11 year old black girl was treated, with Rahnisky even saying he felt “nauseated” after watching the body cam footage. Our post last week made the point that the city and the police department would not make any fundamental changes because this is how policing is designed, especially when interacting with communities of color and poor working class white people. 

Since then, the Grand Rapids Police Union has made it clear that they felt the officers responsible for handcuffing Honestie Hodges at gunpoint followed standard protocol. 

According to MLive, on Friday, At the press conference, Rahinsky said he thought there was “good police work” at a quickly evolving scene where officers were responding to a stabbing with unknown factors in play. He also said they followed proper training. But at the same time, he hoped for a better outcome that would not traumatize an 11-year-old.

While the police union says it doesn’t think that Rahnisky has their trust, the responses from Rahinsky make it clear that he believes the officers involved with handcuffing the 11 year old black girl at gunpoint was how cops should handle this situation. We should not by lulled into believing that Chief Rahnisky has the community’s best interest in mind, just because he felt “nauseated” when viewing the video footage. Again, this is how the police function.

Community Responses

There have been several community responses since the GRPD handcuffed at gunpoint  Honestie Hodges on December 6. On Tuesday, December 12 and last night, people spoke out against the way that this 11 year old girl was treated. In both cases, these comments came during the open public comment period, as there has not been a forum public hearing on this police abuse by the GRPD.

Last Wednesday, some 30 local clergy gathered at Brown-Hutcherson Ministries in Grand Rapids to discuss what the faith community ought to do in this case. According to a WOOD TV 8 story, the clergy stated:

“We are not asking for change now, we are cohesively demanding to have the Department of Justice to review the police practices and training mechanisms,” said Jerry Bishop, pastor of Lifequest Ministries.

One additional response is a campaign, initiated by Dana Knight, to have people donate gifts to Honestie Hodges, by dropping them off at the LINC office. 

Linc also is calling for the suspension of all the GRPD officers involved in handcuffing at gunpoint Honestie Hodges, based on a Press Release from yesterday.

Lastly, at a press conference held yesterday at City Hall, the NAACP stated:

“The officers involved violated Honestie Hodges’ Fourth Amendment Constitutional right, in addition to using excessive force,” the Grand Rapids branch of the NAACP said in a statement.”

“The NAACP Grand Rapids Branch is greatly concerned with the disturbing trend in which officers have aggressively traumatized youth of color. Recently, five African American males between the ages of 12-14 were ordered to the ground, held at gunpoint and handcuffed for over 10 minutes on their way home from a community center.”

“The regional, state and national affiliates are also closely watching, expecting appropriate disciplinary actions be taken.”

The Limits of Reformist Politics

All of these responses are understandable given the current political culture we live in. We want the police department to be held accountable and to adopt policies and procedures that will not allow for this kind of behavior in the future. However, when we take a step back and look at what happened, do we honestly believe that there will be any real change because we ask the police to do better?

If we read Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, or familiarize ourselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, it becomes clear that the analysis that these people bring to the table, in addition to their own lived experience, should suggest to us that reformist politics are inadequate as a response to the function of policing in the US. Now, I’m not suggesting that we not make demands from local officials and the GRPD. We should, but we have to be more strategic about it. 

What if, instead of just going to a City Commission and expressing our collective anger at what the police are doing to black people in this city, we went with the intention of not leaving until certain demands were met? What if we had 100 people willing to do civil disobedience and stay in city hall until we got what we wanted? This of course would mean we would need to devise a list of demands, which should really be part of a robust community conversation that questions the actual function of police departments.

Would it be wiser to ask for some kind of reprimand against the officers who handcuffed at gunpoint the 11 year old black girl or should we demand some radical shifts in how policing functions in this community and whether or not there are community-based solutions to safety that do not require heavily armed individuals that are trained to protect private property, power and privilege? 

Of all the community responses so far, the best one is giving gifts to Honestie Hodges. I say this because, it is always good to practice mutual aid, where those who are victimized by systems of oppression (yes, the GRPD is part of a system of oppression) get some relief and care from the larger community.

What has happened in the past couple of years, both nationally and locally, with greater attention given to police violence against the black community, is that it has forced us to question the role of police departments. This violence by cops against the black community is nothing new and in fact, it is consistent with the history of policing from the beginning. What we need to do is to collectively come up with a strategy to challenge the way we think about cops and the way we think about public safety. Until then, we are not likely to change much of anything, since our responses are too often reactionary and reformist in nature.

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