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FOIA documents reveal that the GRPD spent a great deal of time and resources on surveillance, monitoring and threats against the non-violent immigrant justice movement – Cosecha GR

June 4, 2020

In December, we reported that a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was submitted in September of 2019, asking the City of Grand Rapids to turn over all documents related to the 2019 May Day Action organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR.

A group of people obtained the documents in late 2019 and had made some of that information known in March of 2020, but then the COVID-19 crisis happened, so the urgency to get it out had diminished. However, now that the GRPD is under greater scrutiny for their repression of protests surrounding the murder of black people in other communities, it seemed appropriate to post all of the FOIA documents we received.

On Monday, we posted A Brief History of how the GRPD responds to protests and dissent, and the 2019 Cosecha GR May Day Action documents are the most recent example we wanted to cite. 

It should be stated that since Movimiento Cosecha GR and it’s ally group, GR Rapid Response to ICE, began organizing in early 2017, the GRPD has consistently engaged in surveillance, monitoring, harassment and intimidation tactics of this movement. On many occasions, when organizers engaged in specific actions, there were as many, and at times, more police officers present than there were those protesting.

In what follows, you will see that the GRPD spent a great deal of energy, resources and taxpayer money to monitor, harass and threaten a consistently non-violent movement for immigration justice.

The FOIA documents we obtained can be viewed at this link, with 271 pages of e-mail communication, text messages, photos, and other documents related to the 2019 May Day action that Cosecha GR had planned. 

On pages 269 – 271, you can see the final cost of the FOIA request, which was $551.01. However, if one goes through the pages, it is clear that 90-95% of the documents were redacted by the GRPD. Here is the explanation they provide on the redaction:

Your request for these records is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Please be advised that information has been redacted from the documents under MCL 15.243(1)(a)(information of a personal nature release of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of an individual’s privacy) and MCL 15.243(1)(b)(iii) (law enforcement records release of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy). It is the City’s position that the public interest in the disclosure of this information is outweighed by the public interest in keeping this information private. The core purpose of the FOIA is to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government. Requests for information that involve private citizens in government files that reveal little to nothing about the inner working of government do not serve the core purpose of the FOIA.

Apparently, the GRPD does not want the public to know what they did, and more importantly, how they operate. So much for transparency.

On page 255, the FOIA document states this:

One could certainly make the point that the work of Movimiento Cosecha GR is anti-fascist, but the idea that there are “professional protesters” is just plain ridiculous.

Even more disturbing in the document on page 238, which shows what the GRPD was threatening to do if people marched in the street:

Remember, Movimiento Cosecha GR is a non-violent movement, but this is how the GRPD planned on responding if people marched in the streets. with violent repression.

On page 240, they GRPD included pictures they took that day, but every single one of those pictures are redacted.

However, the bulk of the FOIA documents are from e-mails by the GRPD within the department. Again, most of what are contained in the e-mails are redacted, but there are some useful and revealing comments that were used, which we want to look at.

Page 17 – It states, “Just touching base to make sure we are up and running for tomorrow’s Movimiento event as Arrest Team 2.” The GRPD is always eager to arrest someone.

Page 28 – Here the GRPD is talking about a Crowd Management plan, which means they want to manage what those protesting do. The police are always trying to bend actions the way they want them.

Page 39 – “I believe the below link is the video, but it is Movimiento Cosecha explaining that they are going to march without a permit tomorrow and know that the march will disrupt people.I would like it maintained for evidence the event we end up making arrests.”

Pages 53-57 – Includes communication between Cosecha GR and the City of Grand Rapids. The question should be asked as to why the GRPD would include this communication?

Page 59 – The GRPD is trying to set up a meeting with “Hispanic Community Leaders,” but they were rebuked saying that Cosecha GR is the group that needed to be at the table. The GRPD uses the tactic here to marginalize on the ground organizers, by meeting with people who are considered leaders, but not doing the on the ground work.

Page 72 – Operations plan is completely redacted

Pages 82-84 – The GRPD provides numerous links to articles “of interest” about the planned May Day march.

Page 103 – The GRPD says, “Being May 1, that is the date of the Mayday March organized by Movmiento Cosecha, an immigrant rights group that seeks to disrupt traffic each year. Last year was a mess and we expect worse this year.”

Page 105 – The GRPD again talking about meeting with community leaders, but that they should not initiate, “as it may be seen by some as an attempt to interfere with march plans.”

Page 173 – The GRPD writes, “I don’t think he is a member of Cosecha but I think we can make him do whatever we want…doesn’t he work for you guys?” Seems as if they are trying to get someone to infiltrate and/or collect intelligence for them.

While these examples are not terribly revealing, they do provide a window into the mindset of the GRPD and their efforts to manipulate and marginalize social movements. More importantly, the GRPD clearly does not believe in transparency, since most of the documents are redacted, thus preventing the public from having any understanding of how the GRPD functions. The larger questions are; 1)what are they hiding?, and 2) what can we learn from these documents and this example in terms of how social movements can be best prepared to deal with state violence and repression?

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