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Grand Rapids Police Union goes on the defensive, attempts to present City officials as cowering to immigration protestors

March 1, 2019

In a clear attempt to divert attention from the racist practices of cops like Curt VanderKooi, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association held a press conference yesterday to claim that Grand Rapids City officials are cowering to the will of immigration protestors.

The Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association first criticized the GRPD’s decision to put Captain Curt VanderKooi on administrative leave, but spent most of the press conference time criticizing city officials for not allowing the GRPD to arrest people who did not obey the police during the May 1, 2018 march organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR, according to a story by WOOD TV8

According to a prepared statement used during yesterday’s press conference, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (GRPOA) stated: 

Furthermore, it has become perfectly clear to all members of the Grand Rapids Police Command Officers Association that over the past two years the elected officials and appointed leadership within the City of Grand Rapids will dismiss any actions by members of the Grand Rapids Police Department that are in compliance with established laws, policies, and recognized best practices in law enforcement and will instead cower to any “mob rule” behavior of any organizations that raise vocal opposition.

More importantly, the GRPOA is making the ridiculous claim that Grand Rapids City officials are in collusion with Movimiento Cosecha.

As an example of this reality, we were previously made aware of the collusion between our elected and appointed officials and several of the groups currently calling for the termination of Captain VanderKooi. On May 1, 2018, during a large protest, leaders of Movimiento Cosecha GR intentionally overran a police position for the second year in a row. Warrants were sought, sworn to, and issued by a judge for the arrests of two individuals. Shortly thereafter, the Acting City Manager and the Mayor became involved and the warrants were squashed. There is no clearer example that our city leadership would rather appease these groups who intentionally violate the law to purposely disrupt businesses and residents in Grand Rapids while endangering the lives of our officers, the general public, and their own protestors. Having known about this obstruction of justice, of which the current City Manager has also been notified, we are only left to believe that support for our personnel while acting with great restraint and being overrun by law breaking individuals does not and will not exist.

This is a rather outlandish claim on the part of the GRPOA, for several reasons. First, as someone who has been directly involved in the work of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, there is no collusion between these groups and the City. On the contrary. When these groups pressured the city in October of 2017, to adopt what were called the Equal Service Policy, the city altered the language of this policy at the eleventh hour to exclude the GRPD from the policy. 

Second, it has been our experience over the past two years that the GRPD has been closely monitoring the actions of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. Whenever there is an announced action on social media, the GRPD sends numerous officers to harass and threaten members of these two groups who have made in clear in word and practice that their efforts are non-violent.

Third, in terms of the actions of the May 1, 2018 march, where the GRPOA claims that people overran a police position, the GRPOA omits some of the facts. While it is true that the march did not follow the GRPD-determined route, it is also true that the GRPD and Kent County Sheriff’s Department presence during the May 1, 2018 march was the real threat. Their use of horses was threatening and in several instances put those marching non-violently at risk. GRPD officers in cruisers have also demonstrated a lack of concern for people non-violently protesting by hitting them with their cruisers or threatening to run people over if they were not compliant.

Lastly, the GRPD has demonstrated over the past two years that they have been both cooperating with ICE, thus leading to the separation of families and the GRPD has been racially profiling motorists, which also has led to immigrants ending up in ICE custody because they do not have driver’s licenses, which the state of Michigan denies them.

GRPD protects the status quo

Towards the end of the GRPOA statement yesterday, they claimed there group,  is hopeful that the silent majority of residents who support the daily efforts of the Grand Rapids Police Department to keep them safe will communicate their support to our elected officials and our city management.”

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people who support the daily efforts of the GRPD, but those efforts are primarily meant to defend and protect the status quo. Whenever, residents stand up and challenge systems of power and oppression in this community, the GRPD is always there to defend those systems of power and oppression. Not surprisingly, this is the history of policing in the US. Any time social movements have sought to challenge power – the abolitionists, the labor movement, the suffrage movement, the civil rights movement, the farmworkers movement, the various anti-war movements, the LGBTQ movements, etc – the police have always been there to protect power and privilege.

I am not at all surprised by the statement from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association. I am also not surprised that they attempted to get arrest warrants for people who were not compliant during the May 1, 2018 march. What I think is important for those who are involved in the current immigrant justice movement, is that we need to be extra vigilant of the oppressive nature of any law enforcement agency and we need to pay extra attention to how vulnerable the immigrant community is in this political moment.

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