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Rally in Grand Rapids confronts GRPD’s complicity with ICE, organizers release major statement

September 17, 2019

Last night, about 25 people participated in an action that was specifically in response to the recent decision by the City of Grand Rapids to only give Captain VanderKooi a 20 hour suspension for his egregious behavior, where he contacted ICE on Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a US citizen and former Marine, using racist language and racial profiling.

The action was designed to confront the GRPD directly, so protestors marched around the GRPD headquarters, most carrying signs and using chants like, “Cops and ICE go hand in hand.”

The organizers of the action timed their protest during the GRPD’s shift change and greeted roughly a dozen patrol cars that were exiting the station garage around 6:45pm, as seen here in the photo below.

After greeting GRPD officers outside the exit that police cruisers use, the rally then moved to the front on the GRPD station, where organizers attempted to get into the station itself, but were limited to only accessing the main entrance, where they continued chanting to send the message to those inside in the station.

Besides engaging in a public demonstration over the 20-hour suspension of Captain Kurt VanderKooi, the action organizers released a statement, which they read in both English and Spanish in front of the GRPD headquarters. The statement not only addressed the VanderKooi situation, it also addressed the ongoing harassment and intimidation that Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE has experienced at the hands of the GRPD over the past two years while organizer for immigration justice. The full statement can be read here below:

In December of 2018, Captain Curt VanderKooi was off-duty and saw a news story about the arrest of Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a U.S. citizen and a Marine veteran, after Ramos-Gomez had trespassed on the helipad of a local hospital in the midst of a post-traumatic episode.  VanderKooi notified ICE asking about Ramos-Gomez’s status, and though GRPD had several forms of ID for Ramos-Gomez verifying his citizenship, ICE detained him for three days.  This is after the officers working the case had already clearly identified Ramos-Gomez as a U.S. citizen and a veteran living with PTSD.

After months of delay, having been found guilty of biased policing by the Civilian Appeals Board, VanderKooi was allowed to choose 20 hours of unpaid suspension as his consequence –  less time than Ramos-Gomez was wrongfully detained by ICE. Although other GRPD officers were complicit in the wrongful detention of Ramos-Gomez, no other officer has received any consequences for their actions.

Yet in response to VanderKooi’s suspension, the police union issued a statement that never acknowledges the harm that was done to Jilmar Ramos-Gomez or his family or close community in any way, instead centering the person who did the actual harm, Captain VanderKooi.  In addition, the police union statement makes false claims about the lack of due process and places the blame on the members of the community who have raised their voices in concern, accusing them of doing so for some nebulous “political gain.” In fact these people, particularly those from vulnerable communities, are simply speaking up in an effort to reduce harm to themselves and others.  

The police union has shown no interest in accountability, but instead acts with impunity and continues to hide behind the shield in a cowardly way when it comes to taking responsibility for the harm done.  Unfortunately, the police union has shown us time and time again that hiding behind the shield is what cops do – it’s part of their structure.  If they had any interest in truly protecting the community, this would include taking responsibility as any community member would when they have caused harm.  The evidence shows they are interested only in protecting themselves from any criticism, and they work outside of and against the community by doing so.

It has been the experience of organizers and volunteers with GR Rapid Response to ICE and Movimiento Cosecha GR that the GRPD has monitored and attempted to suppress our efforts toward immigrant justice – they show up at our public actions in numbers that are meant to be intimidating, though we always provide our own crowd safety at our actions.  Police officers have also physically intimidated our participants and have attempted to dictate what the movement for immigrant justice can and cannot do.  Our participants, particularly our vulnerable and affected folks, do not feel safe with the presence of police.

We know that not only do Cops and ICE go hand in hand, but that cops are more interested in protecting institutions built on white supremacist values than in truly reaching out for needed social change and community connection.  This is why GR Rapid Response to ICE, in solidarity with vulnerable communities, advocates not only an #AbolishICE strategy, but an #AbolishPolice strategy.

The largest part of both city and county budgets go to police instead of to communities who, given the same funding, could find proactive and healing solutions to the root causes of neighborhood violence, family separation, and more.   A police system based on incarceration is not helping our neighborhoods heal – it is destroying them and destroying the pillars of support that should be in place for them.  We call on all communities to come together and claim these resources for building better neighborhoods without police and without relying on police for enforcement of human rights. 




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