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Grand Rapids shares stories of harassment, intimidation and racists encounters with the GRPD: Michigan Civil Rights Department hearing on GRPD police abuse

March 29, 2019

The following statements are based on the afternoon session from the Michigan Civil Rights Department hearing in Grand Rapids on Thursday, March 28.

Cle Jackson, with the NAACP, opened up the hearing, referencing recent incidents with the two latino youth and the black motorist who was punched some 30 times. These are however, on two cases that make up dozens of other documented incidents with the GRPD. Jackson, also said that this kind of police abuse & violence directed at black and brown communities, has been happening for decades, and it needs to stop.

A staff member of the Michigan Civil Rights Department (MCRD) then spoke and laid out both the process for those who wanted to speak and somewhat of a framework. The MCRD spokesperson did say that the framework for determining whether civil rights have been violated is the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, which currently does not include the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Depending on the testimony provided, the MCRD may begin an investigation of the GRPD. In addition, it was stated clearly that the MCRD will not tolerate any retaliation against those who speak out, and they specifically mentioned retaliation from an employer, an elected official or anyone else in a position of power against those who offer testimony.

At the very beginning, when people started giving testimony at 1:30pm, there were an estimated 200 people in the room. The people who spoke, filled out a sheet of paper and were called forward to address the MCRD.

  • The first speaker was a lawyer with the ACLU, who recently moved to Grand Rapids, specifically the Heritage Hill neighborhood. She shared her experience where the GRPD followed her home in a cruiser, while she and her son were walking home. Then suddenly, a black man was walking in the other direction and the GRPD stopped that man. She ended by saying Grand Rapids is a great place to live, if you are white.
  • The second speaker, also with a non-profit advocacy group, addressing two specific cases of police abuse in Grand Rapids, the two latino youth who were held at gunpoint in the southwest part of GR and the black man who was punched nearly 30 times while driving on the westside.
  • A black man, who had two relatives who were police officers, said those officers told him that the GRPD is a racist city. He then talked about the two boys who were arrested for walking in the street. He said that, “students from a local high school in his neighborhood always walked in the streets and the track team always ran in the streets, so why were the two latino boys treated the way they were?”
  • Another black man spoke, who said he was arrested this past Tuesday by the GRPD. He said there were three police cruisers involved in his arrest. They made him take a sobriety test and one officer said that he appeared to “be on something.” He was detained for 7 hours, since that is the time length to sober up, even though he was not high and never has been.
  • A black woman then talked about an incident from February of 2018. She lives in the Adams Park area. A white woman was drinking in her car and making a great deal of noise and this woman and another neighbor asked for her to keep the noise down. This woman called the police and when the police arrived they spoke with the white woman first who told the officer that the woman who called was the problem. The GRPD officer yelled at the black resident, who also said at this point that she felt her safety was in jeopardy. She called 911 a second time and said the officer didn’t even speak with the her, but the response from the dispatcher was to make her feel like she was the problem.
  • Another lawyer from the ACLU then spoke, specifically about the GRPD’s relationship with ICE. She read a statement that was released earlier in the day by the ACLU, along with numerous other documents to support their position on several other cases involving Captain Kurt VanderKooi.
  • Another black man shared his story about how the GRPD came to his house and one officer forced his way into this man’s house, resulting in his eye being split open. The GRPD tried to get him to not pursue the complaint against them. He also said that bad cops needed to be weeded out and then says that he think there are some good officers.
  • A black man who is a small business owner, then spoke about a friend of his who was harassed, intimidated and accused of being part of a murder. He said he was tired of this happening over and over again, where the GRPD harasses and intimidates people. He said because he has spoken out, he has been stooped by the GRPD 106 times in recent years.
  • A black women then shared a story about being intimidated as well. She feels that the GRPD always wants to justify whatever they do and that the black and brown communities feel this is nothing short of abuse. She also brings up the two youth who were stopped for walking in the street and said that there are so many neighborhoods where it is not safe to walk on the sidewalks.
  • Another black woman then spoke, sharing stories about a race relations forum in 1991, but felt like nothing good came out of it. She is a criminal justice major and has been pulled over numerous times, for what she stated was “just being black.” The GRPD does not follow their own policy and she shared numerous examples of use of force. For instance, she saw a guy in his wheelchair, who was stopped by the GRPD and forced out of his chair and searched. She also addressed the GRPD pulling of guns on youth in this community.
  • A black woman spoke, who lives in Grand Rapids and has raised her kids in this community and feels that they are at risk from the GRPD. She said that body cameras do not work for the public. The GRPD is racially profiling people, and acknowledges that she doesn’t know what to do to keep her children safe.
  • A white woman then speaks about what has happened to her. She owns a business on the westside and has witnessed members of the GRPD that has removed people from her store. The GRPD always treated people fairly, no matter who they were. This woman was defending the GRPD. One guy sitting next to me said, she’s at the wrong meeting and numerous people who visibly angered that this white woman not only ignored the previous testimony, but that she felt so entitled to come for the purpose of defending the police. This woman’s testimony was the perfect example of white privilege and white arrogance.
  • Another black woman then spoke and said she does not feel safe and has never felt safe whenever interacting with the GRPD. She called the GRPD when she thought someone was trying to break into her home. When the cop arrived she felt unsafe and like he was questioning her, instead of empathizing with her concerns. She recently called the police after her granddaughter had been abused by her daughters boyfriend. The GRPD wanted her to call Children Protective Services and seemed disinterested in the violence against her granddaughter.
  • A black man then shares his story about something that happened in the Madison neighborhood. He has been pulled over numerous times and been told by the GRPD that they have been waiting to pull him over with no clear reason. He owns rental property in the neighborhood and that the GRPD has intimidated him, frisking him and physically threatened him, sometimes trying to provoke him so that they could use force. He then told a story that about being given a ticket by the GRPD, and while he was in court to pay a fine, the judge said he swore in the courtroom. When this man said he didn’t and that could he play the courtroom recording back and the judge said no and sentenced him to 10 days in jail.
  • A white woman spoke next, sharing two incidents in the past month in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood. The first incident dealt with someone blowing their horn and a neighbor had to move his car. A GRPD officer came and pulled the woman’s neighbor out of the car by force and was then detained by the cops because of how disrespectful he spoke to the cops. The GRPD then dropped the charges and said that their body cam footage was deleted. In the second incident, there were 5 cops with guns pointed at 2 black teenagers.
  • A latino man spoke about how his experience with the GRPD is that they want to escalate the situation, not de-escalate. The GRPD was called by his ex-girl friend, even though he had not harmed her, but the GRPD said in these cases, “someone has to go to jail.”
  • Another older black man spoke and began by stating that he didn’t think this hearing will result in anything. He wanted to see change and not just a fact finding opportunity. “Nothing has changed over the years,” he said.
  • Another black man spoke about a department of justice case, which he believes the charges were completely fabricated. He said he is moving soon and will never live in Grand Rapids ever again.
  • A black woman who is a member of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church in the SE part of town, spoke next. In recent weeks, members of her church have been targeted by the GRPD for parking violations, in a neighborhood with numerous churches that have high attendance. Just a few blocks away where there are white churches, where members park on both sides of the street and no one is getting a ticket. The same thing is the case, “with the white gentrified area on Wealthy St, where there are always lots of people parking on the street, but these people are not being targeted for parking violations by the GRPD.”
  • A 65 year old black man then talks about it being 2019 and this stuff is still going on. An incident he mentions was in the Oakdale neighborhood, where a car crash had taken place. He says there was clear discrimination. His wife has a nice car and she is always being stopped by the GRPD in the area, “so you can’t have a nice car in this neighborhood without being pulled over? The GRPD has no respect for our community. We pay their salaries. They don’t know us and don’t even try to know us.”
  • Another black man who has lived here for 70 years, then spoke about a lack of representation and no organizational representation for black people. He was critical of the NAACP, since he doesn’t think it works for them. He says he is tired of seeing black kids having guns pulled on them, especially since he never sees this happening to white kids. “This is not gonna change until a white kid gets killed by the GRPD.” This guy is a truck driver and he says that truck drivers call this city Racist Rapids.
  • A black woman makes the observation that on the same day this hearing is being held, the racist President is in town. She doesn’t take shit from people, so she knows that as a confident black woman she will be targeted by the GRPD. She spoke about having the GRPD called on her in certain businesses. For example, she was arrested in the front of her home, with three cruisers being called and then pulling her out of her car and arrested for no apparent reason. The charges were later dropped, but the damage had been done, especially since her daughter witnessed this abuse.
  • Another black woman, who is a retired court magistrate, talked about in her work experience of people of color being arrested for walking in the street. People should not be afraid to just walk around. During her 23 years on the job she, never heard of a white person being arrested for walking in the street.

If people were unable to attend either the afternoon or evenings sessions they can submit written statements electronically now, through 1 p.m. on Friday, April 5, 2019. Statements must include a name, address and a telephone number or email address for contact. Statements can be emailed to Community Engagement Liaison Gwendolyn Moffitt at MoffittG@Michigan.gov

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