Skip to content

GR Press Editorial on the GRPD and community relations is the same old establishment mantra

January 31, 2018

On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press Editorial Board posted an editorial entitled, City leaders should expedite healing police, minority relations.

The editorial is a well intentioned piece, with lots of the usual calls for improving the relationship between the communities of color and the GRPD. However, the editorial ultimately falls into the same trap and all well intentioned proposals.

The editorial is both naive and it fails to acknowledge how power functions. The editorial  is naive, because it believes that the GRPD can rebuild trust with communities of color, but more importantly, the editorial staff fail to understand that the very function of the GRPD is not to protect communities of color. The GRPD’s function is to actually police neighborhoods of color, which is to say they are there to manage the activities in communities of color, which ultimately protects the centers of power, which benefit from White Supremacy.

In the very first sentence, the editorial staff shows its bias by using the term citizens of color. One would think that with all the recent attention around immigration policy, ICE raids and the fear that many in the immigrant community have towards cops, that the editorial board would know better than to use the term citizen.

Legally, those who are undocumented in this community, are not seen as residents. Instead, those who are undocumented are seen, especially by law enforcement agencies, as criminals who just happen to reside here.

However, the editorial primarily focuses on what the cops have done that impacts the black community, citing the incident with the 11 year old girl who was handcuffed at gunpoint and the 4 black boys who were profiled by the cops last March.

The editorial then states, “In both circumstances, the officers followed policy and procedure, and the children were innocent.” This statement is true. The GRPD was following procedure. This is how they treat suspects, regardless of the age of said suspects.

Then the editorial demonstrates a major fallacy about police, when it states:

And the police should be able to do their jobs — protecting the public — without feeling like they are the enemy because of the misconduct of some bad actors.

This statement contradicts the earlier statement about following procedure. There are not a few bad apples or bad actors in the police department, the police conduct within communities of color is a matter of policy. Why do you think that the GRPD spends more time actually patrolling neighborhoods of color, particularly low income neighborhoods of color, than they do in more affluence, white neighborhoods? In the first two chapters of Alex Vitale’s new book, The End of Policing, he makes clear that the police primarily do not exist to protect the public, particularly residents of color.

Vitale states in his book, 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.

The GRPD disproportionately spends more time in neighborhoods of color because it is by design.

The rest of the editorial talks about how the GRPD needs to spend more money to rebuild trust in neighborhoods of color, add more higher ranking officers and promote cultural competency amongst the rank and file cops. Again, as the research of Vitale and others has shown, these tactics are ineffective and are merely designed to make us believe that the police department really wants to be our friend.

The editorial ends by saying, This simmering trust issue requires deliberate and consistent attention from city commissioners to prevent this situation from escalating into a full-blown crisis.

For people who are members of communities of color, it is already a full-blown crisis. In fact, back in May, leaders in the black community were demanding that the Grand Rapids City Commission call for a State of Emergency. That demand was not taken seriously.

I agree that there is a state of emergency for the black community, in regards to police violence and harassment. Add to that the levels of poverty, discrimination and the effects of gentrification has had on the black community, one can see why they are calling for a state of emergency.

In early July of 1967, just two weeks before the riot in Grand Rapids, 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 City of Grand Rapids needs to learn from history or it is doomed to repeat it.

%d bloggers like this: