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Local News Coverage of so-called unity rally in Grand Rapids makes it clear it was nothing more than a pro-police event

June 30, 2020

Yesterday, we posted an article that deconstructed a WOODTV8 story about a rally that was co-hosted by Voice of the Badge and GOP candidate Tom Norton. We made it clear in that post, that the rally had nothing to do with unity, and everything to do with presenting a pro-police narrative. 

Now that the rally has happened, we want to provide a deconstruction of the commercial news coverage from the rally that was held on June 29th at Calder Plaza in Grand Rapids.

There were three news outlets that reported on the pro-police rally, WZZM 13, WOODTV8 and MLive. There was mention of the rally on WOOD Radio, but it was essentially a like to the WOODTV8 story.

The WZZM 13 story, which was 1 minute and 38 seconds, began with a random white guy from out of town who came to show his support for the GRPD and then walked around with a sign, even after the rally was over.

Besides the guy from out of town, the other sources cited in the story were all speakers from the rally. The WZZM 13 did not have a dominant narrative, but it clearly demonstrated that the rally had nothing to do with unity and everything to do with defending the police.

The WOODTV8 coverage of the began with news readers stating clearly that the rally was to show support for the GRPD. The news readers then cut to reporter Leon Hendricks, who stated, “it was a rally to support law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line each day in service to the community.” By framing the news story this way, the channel 8 reporter already inserts the idea that the police are self-sacrificing, thus making the notion that any criticism of their policies and practices as wrong. 

The channel 8 story cited the Grand Rapids Police Chief, the mother of deceased officer Robert Kozminski, GOP candidate Tom Norton and a Latina mom of another police officer.

Chief Payne stated that he was hearing over and over again that the public supports the GRPD. While this may be true that he is receiving positive feedback from the community, we do know that there have been lots of calls to defund the GRPD at the policing town hall meetings that were held online, plus MLive reported on June 19 that: 

“Since May 31, a total 3,060 people have called and emailed Mayor Rosayln Bliss’ office advocating for some form of defunding or divestment from the police department, according to records obtained by MLive/The Grand Rapids Press. Only four people in that time period explicitly communicated their opposition to some form of defunding.”

Such a disparity in numbers suggests that most people who have bothered to communicate with City officials favor defunding.

The Mother of deceased GRPD officer Robert Kozminski, also spoke at the rally about the loss of her son and against defunding the GRPD, on the grounds that she doesn’t want any other family to go through what her family went through. However, the death of her son has nothing to do with how much the GRPD gets from the City’s budget on an annual basis.

At one point, the reporter does acknowledge that there were few people of color in attendance, but that observation was followed by a comment from GOP candidate Tom Norton who contradicts the reporter and said, “there were more (people of color) so than people would expect at an event like this.” The comment from Norton speaks for itself, in that the organizers didn’t expect that many people of color would come, since it was clear that this event was a space for whiteness. When I say it was a space for whiteness, I mean that it was not a safe space for Black and Brown residents, unless they fully embraced the pro-police platform. This was affirmed by the fact that the story ended with a brief comment from a Latina woman who had a son in the GRPD.

The MLive article, which was headlined as, Rally to support police, oppose defunding, held in downtown Grand Rapids, also affirmed the fact that this was a pro-police rally and had absolutely nothing to do with unity.

The MLive article cited Mark Gurley and identified his as the founder of the Make Michigan Great Again group. Gurley has as his Facebook page cover photo a picture from the American Patriot Rally that was held in Grand Rapids on May 18th. Gurley is quoted in the MLive article stating:

“Most of what’s happening here is not about police. It’s about a new ideology, an old ideology called Marxism trying to remove things from a free America.”

Gurley is followed by a retired cop, who said:

“We do have to hold these city leaders accountable. Have to. I don’t wish any of them, especially our chief and our sheriff, to ever have to kneel again unless it’s in prayer for our officers,” Moreno said to resounding applause.

Chief Payne was also cited, making the same claim he did in the WOODTV8 story about hearing from lots of pro-police supporters and never acknowledging the thousands of communications calling for defunding.

MLive does acknowledge the DeFund the GRPD campaign and that two City Commissioners are considering it, but ends the article with a comment from a woman from Ionia who also came to show her support to the GRPD.

After viewing each of the stories about the pro-police rally, it was clear that it had nothing to do with building trust between the police and the community. In fact, the coverage demonstrated that the Voice of the Badge rally was nothing more than a pro-police rally that was in direct response to the ongoing protests since May 30, the Defund the GRPD campaign and the countless stories that Black community members have been sharing about their experience of harm and violence at the hands of the GRPD.

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