Skip to content

GRPD Narrative of the Protest to End the Kent County Contract with ICE

July 2, 2018

The narrative we create about events that happen is important, as narratives can help inform us about what we need to in certain circumstances or how to navigate power dynamics.

Last week Thursday, several hundred people came to the Kent County Commission meeting to demand that they end the contract they have with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

After effectively shutting down the commission meeting, we decided to go to the ICE office on Ottawa, just north of the 196 overpass. We remained there for only 15 minutes as ICE had their doors locked. Afterwards, the demonstration moved back down Ottawa towards Michigan Street. It was at this point that seven of us decided to walk out onto the Ottawa/Michigan intersection, at the crosswalk, going east crossing Ottawa.

The seven of us were carrying a banner that read, Kent County Separates Families, End the Contract with ICE. The traffic at that intersection had been shut down by police, but the GRPD officers told us as we began to leave the sidewalk and go east up Michigan in front of Ottawa, that we could not walk that way and if we didn’t leave we would be arrested.

Here is the narrative created by the Grand Rapids Police Department, posted on their Facebook page a few hours after the arrested had taken place on June 28th: 

The Grand Rapids Police Department was forced to affect 7 arrests this morning after protesters sat down in the intersection of Michigan St NW and Ottawa Av NW.

This morning at approximately 9:45 a.m. a group of 100 protesters left the County Commission chambers and began to march through the 400-600 blocks of Ottawa Av NW. Patrol officers monitored the crowd and were able to block traffic at intersections to allow for safe passage of the pedestrians.

At 10:00 a.m., the crowd began to gather near and within the intersection of Michigan St NW and Ottawa Av NW. The marchers were advised to move to the sidewalk to allow for the passage of motor vehicles. 7 adult marchers, all holding the groups banner, disregarded the officers repeated commands and proceeded to the middle of the intersection completely blocking traffic. When warned that their actions were putting themselves, motorists, and those seeking medical treatment in harms way and that they would be arrested if they did not move, all of them sat down further failing to comply with instructions. Those 7 individuals were all arrested for “Failing to Comply With a Lawful Order” as well as “Resisting and Obstructing Police”, both city misdemeanors. There was no force used in the arrests, and the remainder of the group complied by remaining on the sidewalk until the march moved back to Calder Plaza at 10:45 a.m.

“The Grand Rapids Police Department has great respect and admiration for the Constitutional expression that is a basis for our American freedoms,” Chief Rahinsky stated. “However, when demonstrators block a road that leads to facilities which provide emergency medical treatment for the City of Grand Rapids residents and West Michigan, they endanger the health, safety, and welfare of the community. At that point we are obligated to act in the community’s best interest.”

Deconstructing the GRPD Narrative

First, the very fact that the statement from the GRPD begins with the notion that those arrested “forced them” to do so is a manipulative way of reversing the power dynamics between police and members of the community. We didn’t force them to do anything. They chose to arrest us.

Second, the GRPD statement in paragraph fails to mention that they had blocked the on ramp for 196 off of Ionia, even though the demonstration never went in that direction. Motorists wanting to get on to 196 at Michigan and Ionia, we unable to because of a decision made by the GRPD.

Third, the cops stated they, “were able to block traffic at intersections to allow for safe passage of the pedestrians.” The demonstration had safety marshals who were directing traffic and keeping people safe. We didn’t need cops to keep us safe as they suggest.

Fourth, the police narrative states, “When warned that their actions were putting themselves, motorists, and those seeking medical treatment in harms way and that they would be arrested if they did not move, all of them sat down further failing to comply with instructions.” The fact is that the police never said anything about putting motorists and those seeking medical treatment in harms way. We were simply told that if we continued to walk across Ottawa that we would be arrested.

Fifth, the GRPD state, “There was no force used in the arrests.” Again, a slight manipulation in the narrative. You can see in the picture above that the cops was pushing into my chest, which was not painful, but it the cop did use force. Had I put my had on the chest of the cop, I would have been charged with assault. In addition, cops are heavily armed, with tasers, guns, clubs, pepper spray, etc, which naturally determines a power dynamic in their favor.

Sixth, the GRPD narrative ends with a couple of quotes from Chief Rahinsky, both of which also presents a false narrative. The GRPD, like all law enforcement agencies, do not respect freedom of expression. Organizers will tell you that any time there is a demonstration, a march or a type of direct action, the police will try to intimidate you, silence you or tell you what you can and can’t do. If you bring a megaphone they can stop you from using it, citing a noise ordinance. If you try to hold a sign or try to hand out informational flyers (for example) near the entrance of the Ford Museum, the GRPD will tell you that you need to move far from the entrance in order to do so.

The second point that Rahinsky makes is the most offensive.

“However, when demonstrators block a road that leads to facilities which provide emergency medical treatment for the City of Grand Rapids residents and West Michigan, they endanger the health, safety, and welfare of the community. At that point we are obligated to act in the community’s best interest.”

This statement is just another attempt to twist the truth. When Rahinsky says that they have to act in the community’s best interest, we have to ask ourselves, which community is he referring to? People living in poverty, those living on the streets, African Americans, most in the immigrant community are not the people that Rahinsky has in mind when he says he is acting in the “community’s best interest.”

As a member of the GR Rapid Response to ICE group and an active participant in Movimiento Cosecha GR, we come in contact with immigrants every week who are being targeted by ICE agents, who arrest and detain them. We hear stories regularly of local cops stopping people in the immigrant community and arresting them for things like driving without a license, since they cannot obtain a drivers license in Michigan. While Rahinsky likes to say they his department wants to improve trust between the GRPD and the immigrant community, the fact is that he has stated on numerous occasions that if ICE asks his department to get involved with ICE cases, he is obligated to do so.

The way many of us see it, is that local cops are doing harm to the immigrant community on a regular basis, they are not looking out for their safety. Is it in the immigrant community’s best interest to have the GRPD stop them, arrest them and then hand them over to the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, which notifies ICE agents once they are processed in?

Movimiento Cosecha GR has a saying, We will disrupt you as long as you continue to disrupt the lives of our community. The very fact that the police cooperate in the arrest, detainment and eventual deportation of members of the immigrant community causes tremendous interruption of that community and those families. Therefore, when we engage in actions to block traffic for a few minutes, we do so to make the the following point: We are going to inconvenience your life for a short period of time so that we can communicate to you that the police (and your silence) is causing tremendous harm to the lives, to the families and to the immigrant community.

Therefore, which narrative do you think you can trust? The narrative put forth by an institution which is designed to protect power and punish communities of color or the narrative from members of affected communities struggling to survive and to achieve some form of liberation?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: