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Deconstructing the news coverage of the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting comments on ICE, GRPD and the suspension of Captain VanderKooi

March 6, 2019

As we noted in our most recent post, there has been some pushback from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association and retired GRPD officers on the decision to suspend with pay, Captain Curt VanderKooi over his racist profiling of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. 

At last night’s Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, this was the focus of most of the public comment, just like it was last week. People can watch/listen to those comments themselves, which begin around 37 minutes into the video provided by the city.

After watching the City Commission meeting, it seemed clear to this writer that the local news coverage of last night’s meeting demonstrated a bias in favor of the police and those supporting the police. What follows is a deconstruction of that news coverage.

The headline of the MLive article demonstrates a bias in favor of those who offered support for the GRPD during the public comment, Residents call for Grand Rapids to support police after captain put on leave over ICE incident

After looking at the video of the commission meeting, I counted 10 people who spoke in support of the police and Captain VanderKooi and 10 people who were critical of the GRPD and VanderKooi, some calling for him to be fired. Thus, the headline should have read, Residents who spoke during the City Commission were divided over the suspension of Captain VanderKooi.

The first sentence in the MLive continues to demonstrates the pro-police bias, by stating:

A week after protesters shut down a city commission meeting demanding a police captain be fired, police supporters called on commissioners Tuesday to back the captain and offer greater support to the police department.

The MLive article cites two people who spoke in support of the GRPD and Captain VanderKooi, one (Johnny Brann) who said they will be starting a new group called, Voice of the Badge. No one who was opposed to police misconduct was cited in the story, which only said, that several protestors turned out Tuesday calling for VanderKooi to be fired. IN fact, if you listen to the public comment from those who opposed the racial profiling by VanderKooi of Ramon-Gomez, they had a great deal more to say than just calling for him to be fired.

Besides the biased demonstrated in the MLive article, the rest of the article simply was re-hashing the arrest of Ramos-Gomez and everything that happened afterwards.

The WOOD TV8 story was equally problematic, with how the reporter framed the story and the text version online, which ran the headline, Supporters criticize placing GRPD capt. on leave. The Wood TV 8 story begins with a comparison of how the previous city commission meeting was “interrupted by protestors,” to some context on why people were outraged over the GRPD’s role in assisting ICE. The channel 8 reported went on to say that while there were still calls for VanderKooi to be fired, the majority of those who spoke were critical of the suspension of Captain VanderKooi. Again, if one watches the public comment period from last night, this simply isn’t true. There were three pro-police voices and one critical of VanderKooi in the channel 8 story that aired last night.

The WZZM 13 story was much shorter and post this headline on their website, Commissioners ask for patience during police investigation. The channel 13 story included one pro-police voice and one who was critical of Capatin VanderKooi. However, like the headline of this story, the focus was primarily on what some City Commissioners had to say, citing two of them in the story.

The WXMI 17 story wasn’t much better, only citing one person who supported VanderKooi and Mayor Bliss. The online headline for Fox 17 was, GR Mayor: Wrongful detainment is an opportunity for growth

The only other coverage of the city commission meeting last night was WOOD radio, which just re-posted the story from WOOD TV 8. 

In addition to the pro-police bias in the local news coverage, none of the local news media chose to respond to the claims that the Grand Rapids City government is anti-police, a comment heard from several people during the meeting. There are ways to verify those claims. First, all of the current commissioners and the Mayor supported the last city budget, which allots a full one-third of the budget to the GRPD. Second, besides the GRPD itself, there is the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association, which always defends the GRPD and there is a group called Friends of GR Cops, which also support the Grand Rapids Police Department.

Now Johnny Brann and others want to create yet another group to support the police, the Voice of the Badge. As of this writing there is no online presence for this group. Also, with the news coverage of this issue in recent days, the local news media could be added to the “support the police” category.

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