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Human Rights was once again the focus of Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, with overwhelming support for Human Rights Ordinance

April 24, 2019

On the agenda of last night Grand Rapids City Commission meeting, there was a public hearing specifically for a revised and updated version of the City’s Human Rights Ordinance. This proposed ordinance came forward by staff from LINC and the numerous community meetings that were held.

While much of the news media has focused on the issue of people calling 911with an clear bias against people of color, as was headlined on MLive. However, the actual language of the ordinance does not just include biased reporting against people of color when contacting 911. The ordinance includes more than just people of color, stating:

No person shall knowingly or recklessly report to a City police officer, City dispatcher, or other City personnel that an individual who is an actual or perceived member of a protected class as identified in Sec. 9.935 of this Ordinance has committed, or may or will commit, a crime, if such report is based in whole or in part on the individual’s membership in a protected class and not on a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity in consideration of all available facts and the totality of the circumstances.

The opening language of the revised ordinance provides a list of those who are protected under the ordinance:

the actual or perceived color, race, religion or creed, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, genotype, age, marital status, medical condition, disability, height, weight, or source of lawful income (cumulatively known as protected classes).

While racial prejudice has certainly been a major concern in recent years, with the violence that the GRPD has inflicted against communities of color, but it is important that people understand that there are many other ways that people are being discriminated against.

There were numerous people who came forward to comment on the revised Human Rights Ordinance. LaDonna Norman asked the question about who is going to “watch the watchers,” where she specifically addressed the GRPD’s assault against communities of color.

Another African American man, who is a businessman and fought the GRPD’s pressure to post No Trespassing signs posted outside of business, an issue that the ACLU fought and won.

Elena Gormley, who is a member of Jewish community, made it clear that the issue of biased reporting should also apply to members of the GRPD, as in the case of Captain VanderKooi who used racist language direct at Jilmar Ramos-Gomez

Jeremy Moore, who is with Equity PAC, also addressed the bias demonstrated by the GRPD against Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. He also addressed increased oversight of the GRPD, which should be reflected in the new city budget and the upcoming police union contract.

Robin Jerome Benton spoke in favor of the proposed ordinance, but wanted to make sure that since it is named as a Human Rights Ordinance, that it have the power and work in conjunction with the United Nations Human Rights Council and to have the force of law beyond just what the City of Grand Rapids will use as an enforcement mechanism. 

Another young African American man who has been discriminated against by the GRPD. He stated that he has been handcuffed by the police, even though he was not doing anything wrong. He also addressed how the police will be held accountable and how this is an important first step, but it should not be the end point.

Lorena Aguayo Marquez addressed the significant fear that exists in the immigrant community, so she supports the ordinance based on the idea that it would help to reduce the existing fear that permeates the immigrant and undocumented community.

There were several people who came forward to just support the proposed revision of the Human Rights Ordinance, by simply affirming what is in the ordinance. Many of these people who spoke addressed police abuse as one of the more pressing aspects of current human rights violations.

There were also some people who were, in general, supportive of the ordinance, but had questions about how this might negatively impact those who make the calls, even if it means censoring them out of fear that they might be punished.

Lastly, one man got up to speak out against abortions being performed in the city of Grand Rapids and why the “unborn were not included in the ordinance.” He also displayed 2 large photos of aborted fetuses, but was quickly told that he could not show these because they violated the ban on signs during commission meetings. Towards the end of his comments he made the claim that the majority of women who came to the clinic for an abortion are black women, which received a great deal of push back from others who were also in attendance.

By the end of the public hearing on the Human Rights Ordinance, 33 people had spoke in favor of the ordinance, with 4 speaking in opposition to it.

Beyond the Human Rights Ordinance, there were several people who spoke during the general public comment period, specifically for those who are involved with Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE. A list of demands were read, which included the following:

  • Fire Captain Curt VanderKooi and the unnamed officer who beat the young man in the car.  VandeKooi has a long history of discrimination based on race and he is not safe for our neighborhoods.
  • Stop all cooperation with ICE and use no city resources to do the work of ICE.  There should be no police role of “ICE liaison.”
  • Support Driver’s Licenses for All in the State of Michigan.
  • Release the code of conduct for officers and the track record of each officer in following this code of conduct, including complaints against them.  Release the reports of their investigations so that the public can track their accountability processes. Create an accountability reprimand policy for all officers that stand by during instances of beatings or other harm.
  • Create subpoena powers and investigative powers for our Civilian Appeals Board.
  • Give a vote of No Confidence to Acting Chief Kiddle.
  • Create a program whereby GRPD pays for at minimum 5 years of trauma-related therapy especially for any youth interaction deemed inappropriate regarding harassment, profiling, excessive force etc.
  • Appropriate the million dollars a year that the city has set aside to deal with community police relations directly to the community instead of it just standing by while police incidents continue to separate our community.  The community knows best what to do with that money to make our neighborhoods safer. 

After the last person from Movimiento Cosecha GR spoke, they shared flyers with the City Commission, inviting them to the participate in the May 1st  march for immigrant justice and Drivers Licenses for All.

There were several people in attendance representing the Voice of the Badge group, who have been coming to City Commission meetings to defend the GRPD, often with unsubstantiated claims. Johnny Brann attempted to make the point that “the GRPD face a great deal of injustice,” even though he could not cite any evidence to support said claims.

Lastly, it should be noted that three of the four people who spoke out against the Human Rights Ordinance also spoke in support of the GRPD, spoke out against undocumented immigrants (calling them illegal aliens) or used anti-Trans  and homophobic language in their comments.

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