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GRPD’s recent detaining of black youth was just following procedure and it was racist

September 5, 2018

In late August, the GRPD received a call stating there were black youth with a gun seen in the area of Alto Avenue and Griggs Street SE. Several blocks later the GRPD stopped three black youth, at gunpoint, then handcuffed them and put them into a police cruiser. It was then determined that none of the black youth stopped had a gun and they were no longer suspects.

This incident took place just a few days after GRPD officers surround the house of a Latino family, detained and handcuffed the father for an hour, even though it was eventually determined he did nothing wrong.

On August 30th, Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky responded to questions from local media about the police stopping at gunpoint 3 black youth in the southeast part of Grand Rapids. You can watch the video of the news conference with Rahinsky by going to the GRPD’s Facebook page pasting for August 31st at 2:38PM. 

The video doesn’t reveal a great deal, but it does demonstrate that Rahinsky has received a great deal of training in how to deal with the media. Rahinsky was questioned about racial profiling and the mother’s reaction to the way her son was treated. Chief Rahinsky kept referring to the mother’s response as “emotional” and that once she sees the video the cops have, she will better understand what happened.

Like so many people in positions of power, Rahinsky is dismissive of the mother’s reaction to the way her son was treated and labeling it as “emotional” is patronizing and arrogant.

In the press conference, Rahinsky essentially defends what his officers did in this situation and says that it follows the GRPD’s Youth Interactions Policy. Looking at the policy, it seems like the GRPD officers did act accordingly. In fact, I would say that based on the history of policing in the US and how policing actually functions, that Rahinsky is right to support how his officers responded to this incident.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not agreeing with how the youth were treated by the GRPD. I loathe and detest the kind of harm and trauma that people in this community experience at the hands of the GRPD on a regular basis, particularly people of color. However, let’s be honest about the behavior of the GRPD in this case, as they did follow procedure. But just because someone follows procedure, doesn’t make it right.

The GRPD officers were doing what they are supposed to do, because this is exactly what police departments do. Alex Vitale, in his important book, The End of Policingstates: 

“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 apprehension of the black youth in the southeast part of Grand Rapids because they fit the description of someone who had a gun, is what they do. The police behavior is the norm and it is normalized because it is based on a long-standing historical practice of white supremacy, which means that communities of color are more heavily policed than other communities.

What we need to do is stop being surprised when this kind of harm by the police is done to people from black and brown communities. We need to organize and resist this kind of state violence, but we need to stop believing that their actions are abnormal. The hyper-policing of black and brown communities is the norm, because this is the function of state violence within the framework of white supremacy.

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