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Grand Rapids news media acts as a conduit for the GRPD, twice in the same day

July 13, 2020

It is rare for commercial news outlets to challenge the policies and practices of local police department, since commercial news media has always internalized the values of the dominant systems of power in this community.

Local news outlets believe that the GRPD functions to “protect and to serve” the people of Grand Rapids, The local commercial news media never questions the integrity of the GRPD and often acts as a conduit or a mouthpiece for law enforcement.

This loyalty that the local commercial news media has towards the GRPD was in full display on Sunday, July 12, with two separate stories.

First, the GRPD fed the local news agencies with pictures of banners hung in Grand Rapids recently, along with images of what appears to be the stenciled phrase Defund the GRPD, along with other words that appeared at City Hall and according to the GRPD at the homes of several city officials.

In addition to the images that the GRPD provided to the local news media, the GRPD provided a statement, which read as follows:

“These bullying and intimidation tactics are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. This crosses the line,” Grands Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said in a statement. “There is a process in place for determining our department’s budget, and we must let that process play out. There are more productive ways to exercise your right to free speech and have your voice be heard. Vandalism and violating the law are not the answer.

“We are committed to mutual respect and trust as we work with the community to build stronger relationships. If we’re all in this together, let’s show it.”

This exact same statement or portions of it, was used by MLive, WOODTV8, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17. In addition, to the photos and the statement from the GRPD, the police asked the local news outlets to publish phone numbers for people to call the GRPD if they have information on to assist the cops to catch the “vandals.”

All of the four major commercial media outlets did not bother to seek out any other opinions on this matter, but they did affirm the GRPD’s position on this issue, since the news agencies never questioned whether the banners or the stenciled statements were anything other than vandalism. Such conformity is astounding, especially in light of the fact that there has been a large community call for Defunding the GRPD in recent weeks.

A second example of how the local commercial news media acts as a conduit for the GRPD – also on July 12 – had to do with a peaceful parade/procession that was organized by the family and friends of Breonna Taylor. Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville police in March, and the parade/procession was held in Grand Rapids.

WZZM 13 did report on this event, but their story on covered the beginning of the event, before the parade/procession left Mackay-Jaycees Park on Sunday afternoon. 

The parade/procession, which was mostly done by people in cars, went to downtown Grand Rapids later on Sunday, with the GRPD arresting several people. WOODTV8 calls the action a “pop up event.” 

The channel 8 story then provides most of the content directly from GRPD Police Chief Payne, who says:

“I, along with the community, continue to be saddened by the death of Breonna Taylor and understand the concerns about how her life was lost,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne said. “That is why I am actively working to improve community safety in Grand Rapids. I want this to be a city where all people feel safe and are safe at all times throughout our community.

“Public safety is our top priority,” Payne continued. “Blocking traffic at major intersections is not safe for participants or motorists. The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt or to arrest anyone for trying to exercise their right to free speech. Such gatherings should be coordinated with our special events office. A special event permit can help avoid confusion and protect the public’s safety.”

Again, there are no other voices and no questioning from WOODTV8 on the statement from Chief Payne. WOODTV8 merely acts as a stenographer for the GRPD, publicizing just what they said, along with providing ways to contact the police station. This in no way constitutes journalism, especially when there were other sources that were easily accessible on social media.

We found several videos from people who had recorded the police arrests during the event for Breonna Taylor, both this short video and a longer one that shows how disrespectful the GRPD were to Black community members.

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