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When white people defend the actions of the GRPD

March 20, 2019

(This post was updated with new information at 12:23pm on March 20.)

Yesterday we shared some observations about the GRPD press conference that was held on Monday, a press conference that was held to respond specifically to the arrest of two Latino youth and a separate arrest involving an African American motorist.

People in the black and latino/latinx community have responded with outrage, frustration and more calls for police accountability. This reaction is completely understandable, considering the 2017 report demonstrating that the GRPD engages in the racial profiling of black and latino/latinx motorists at a disproportionately high rate. In addition, the black and latino/latinx community has been deeply impacted by numerous high profile cases involving the GRPD, with black youth being held at gunpoint in recent years, immigrants being arrested because of the GRPD’s cooperation with ICE, and now the most recent incidents.

The response from many white people has been just the opposite. There is a Facebook page called Friends of GRcops. There are over 1,700 people who follow the page. There are people from all walks of life who follow the page, several local politicians and even community organizers. The group even has a website, that pretty much mirrors the Facebook page, with commentary supportive of the GRPD, with regular sharing of posts from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association.

The Friends of GRCops was started by Ed Kettle. On Kettle’s website he states, “I am presently working with the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association to build their community and political profile. I formed Friends of GRCops, essentially a social media effort, to help solidify public support for our police officers and to create opportunities for public dialogue.”

The Friends of GRCops posted the following on Monday, in reaction to the GRPD press conference:

Interim Chief Kiddle did a great job handling the latest encounter incidents. He’s a by the book guy and stuck by his officers regarding the two young guys walking in the street and ignoring a direct order to stop and give their names. He also stood firm on best practices and behavior regarding the speeder pulled over and resisting arrest. Only those on site know what actually happened, but until all that is sorted out Kiddle presented the best possible response. The loyal opposition responded as expected. An earlier story regarding the young guys by Barton Dieters began with a description of the various conditions in that neighborhood. High crime, drug activity and gang tagging among others. What the ACLU and NAACP seems to forget is that there are hundreds of families and people who live in that area who are afraid for their children and the value of their property. Nothing happens in a vacuum. It would be nice if the opposition could take a broader view of what police actually deal with every day.

This response is not surprising, but it is instructive in terms of who they define as the “loyal opposition,” mainly the ACLU and NAACP. 

Then there was the comments. There were a few that didn’t fully agree with the above statement, but there were specific comments in support of the GRPD’s treatment of the two recent cases (the black motorist and latino/latinx youth), and those people were white.

One white guy wrote:

If these kids would keep their mouths shut and do what the cop asks their wouldn’t be such a problem. If I had talked back to anybody of authority I’m sure my punishment from my folks would be much worse than any I’d get elsewhere.

Another white person wrote:

I was also impressed by the Interim Chief’s response. He described the mutual responsibility of the officers and the community. I do believe the situation with the drivers arrest would have been much different if the driver had cooperated with the instructions given by the officers, but it also troubles me that one officer decided to continue to punch the driver. The other officers did not intervene, so I am unclear as to why that occurred. In the situation with the teens who refused to cooperate and follow directions, I fully support the officer. His safety is more important to me than the feelings of the teens who refused to follow simple instructions. They can complain after the fact if they feel they weren’t treated fairly, but instead they chose to create a dangerous situation for all. At the end of the day, we will only have the type of law enforcement that we accept. This community needs to step up and understand the men and women in these uniforms are human beings and they deserve respect…as does the community.

One last comment from a white guy stated, So good to see he stood by the Cop’s! Wait till City Hall back’s away though!!

In the first two longer comments and the original post, you can see the themes of obeying authority or obeying the cops would have resulted in no harm done to those involved in these two incidents.

The post I cited above had received 109 likes as of last night, with most of those liking the comment being white.

So what is it about white people defending the GRPD? Of course, such a question always results in an element of speculation. However, there are some things we can say that begin to answer the question. First, the reality is that for most white people, their lived experience tends to be one that falls on the more positive side of interacting with the police. This is in sharp contrast to black and brown communities, which have a very negative lived experience of police in the neighborhoods they are part of.

Second, there is a great deal of systemic and structural racism in Grand Rapids. From the founding of the city – with the theft of native land – to the red-lining and apartheid practices of discrimination and the exclusion of black and brown people, to the outright targeting of black and brown neighborhoods by the GRPD – Grand Rapids practices what Todd Robinson identifies as Managerial Racism. The same kind of defense of the police was reflected by white residents during the 1967 uprising, as we noted in the comments from the Grand Rapids Press at that time

Lastly, it must be pointed out that the pushback from black & brown residents of Grand Rapids (including some white allies) receives even more animosity from the systems of oppression, like the GRPD, and their supporters, which are disproportionately white. This push back from black and brown communities is necessary and important, because it will force white people to have to chose sides, thus often illuminating what Dr. King said in a 1967 speech entitled, Which Way Its Soul Shall Go:

I am sorry to have to say that the vast majority of white Americans are racists, either consciously or unconsciously.

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