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MLive perpetuates the same narrative from the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, without ongoing reporting centering those most impacted by harm of policing

March 2, 2021

Last week, MLive posted a story with the following headline, 2 people enter pleas for roles in Grand Rapids riot.

The MLive article is short and very clinical, since it simply provides a legal summary of what two of the people who are facing criminal charges after the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids.

At the very end of the article, there is also mention of four other people who are facing “riot charges,” with a sentence about how, if found guilty, will have to pay restitution for Wyoming police cars that were set on fire.

Just below the article, MLive provided two links to “related” to this post, Looking back at Grand Rapids riot, the damage and charges in ‘unprecedented’ melee and Grand Rapids riot costs now exceed $2.4 million, per rough estimate. The second article is primarily about the costs to property destruction, whereas the first linked article is about others who were charged in the May 31st rebellion. More importantly, the article Looking back at Grand Rapids riot, the damage and charges in ‘unprecedented’ melee is not a real reflection on what took place during the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, since the only sources cited in the article are the County prosecutor and the President of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. 

It is appropriate for the only daily print/online news source in Grand Rapids, to cite the County Prosector and the President of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, since they represent the legal enforcer of State Violence and one of the primary spokespersons for the Grand Rapids Power Structure. 

This is all to say that, the problem with this type of reporting is that MLive not only centers the voices of those in government and those with economic power, it completely excludes the voices of Black organizers, who called for demonstrations on that day. The MLive article also excludes the voices of the thousands of people who participated in the May 30th rebellion, thus excluding the myriad of reasons why people rebelled that day.

Part of the problem with MLive doing this type of reporting is because MLive, like all dominant news sources, is that they internalize the values of the systems of power. This means that MLive looks down on May 30th rebellion, especially because they believe, like politicians and cops do, that expressing grievances publicly are acceptable, as long as you do it in a manner that those in power find acceptable. Those in power were happy when Chief Payne took a knee with protesters in June and they are happy when protestors are content to march, hold signs and chant. However, when those protesting the way policing is done in this community disrupt business as usual – block traffic, occupy offices of those in power or engage in property destruction – then, those in power demonstrate their contempt for those protesting.

In fact, the City of Grand Rapids adopted a resolution on June 2nd, just days after the May 30th rebellion, a resolution which reads:

Based on this resolution, it is clear that the City of Grand Rapids was more interested in maintaining “order”, protecting property and use the full force of the law – cops and Michigan National Guard – to suppress any rebellious actions that would have taken place since then. In addition, the City of Grand Rapids has undermined the efforts of Defund the GRPD to get a vote from the City on reducing the police budget, as we saw in early July when the City Manager and City Attorney stepped in and halted a vote from City Commissioners to reduce the police budget.

One week after the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, Michigan Senator Gary Peters condemned the action and stated, “While I understand and respect anyone who wants to demonstrate peacefully to bring attention to this injustice, it is discouraging that what was clearly intended to be a peaceful protest quickly devolved into a riot instigated by extremists with an anarchist ideology.” Such a statement is hypocritical coming from someone who consistently votes for hundreds of billions in US military spending, which is often used to destroy people and property around the world.

Then there was the reaction from co-CEO of CWD, Sam Cummings, who made this statement after the May 30th rebellion, “The peaceful gatherings are a justified, honorable and rightful thing to have occur,” Cummings said. “Those things should be protected, but when they escalate to damaging small businesses — we got guys who have had their entire inventory wiped out — when they escalate to damaging other people’s property or their employees, it’s not acceptable.” This coming from a man who has consistently looted public funds for years through his business ventures.

These sorts of sentiments from politicians and members of the Capitalist class are expected, since rebellions and other forms of revolutionary activity is a direct threat to their power. 

Add to this the fact that the MLive article from last week, was accompanied by 35 photos, almost all of which features images of property destruction, with no serious effort to provide context. This kind of imagery only perpetuates the “bad protester” image in the public mind and never addresses the serious grievances that Black and Brown communities have over how policing impacts their lives on a daily basis. 

Lastly, it is important for all of us to put riots, rebellions, uprisings, or whatever else you want to call them, into proper historical context. The same kinds of condemnation from those in power and the white community in general, was what we saw in the 1967 riot in Grand Rapids.

In Vicky Osterweil’s book, In Defense of Looting: A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, the author provides a robust investigation of when and why riots occur, along with the looting that often accompanies the rioting. Osterweil states:

Rioting and looting similarly redistribute and reduce the wealth and the surplus, leveling material power differentials. The potlatch was outlawed by the Canadian government as a part of its ongoing genocide of the First Nations: the potlatch was considered one of the most important obstacles to their becoming civilized and Christian. Like looting, this nonwhite, noncom modified communal approach to property was seen as a dangerous threat to capitalism and “civilization.” 

It’s easy for the local dominant news sources to paint those who are calling for a defunding of the GRPD as being violent or desiring chaos. However, what we know is that those involved in Defund the GRPD is that while calling for the defunding and eventual abolition of policing, they are also calling for community control of public safety and a redistribution of police funds to communities directly affected by policing. This means that while groups like Defund the GRPD are calling for a dismantling of systems of oppression, they are simultaneously calling for a redistribution of wealth, resources and a re-imagining of what community safety could look like. Unfortunately, the dominant news media doesn’t provide us with this sort of a narrative.

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