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WXMI 17 talks to cops, museum curators, anybody but the people who organized/participated in the May 30th Rebellion in Grand Rapids

March 10, 2021

The way that journalism, particularly commercial journalism, is produced in this community is both baffling and infuriating.

On Monday, March 8, WXMI 17 posted a news story, in both a broadcast version and a print version, about related to the May 30th Rebellion that took place in Grand Rapids after the police lynching of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The WXMI 17 story is problematic in numerous ways, but let’s do a simple deconstruction that exposes what is wrong about how commercial journalism is often done. 

First, the premise of the story is that the Grand Rapids Art Museum is now hosting and curating art that was created by a variety of people, art that was created on the plywood that was used to board up windows of buildings in the downtown area the morning after the May 30th Rebellion. Ok, so I get the intention of the story, but that doesn’t make it a good story. First, we never find out anything about the artists who created the images and whether or not they participated in the May 30th Rebellion. Also, there is no indication that the Grand Rapids Art Museum will hold an event or a forum to discuss the images created or what took place the day of the Rebellion. In addition, the story excludes the perspective that says, painting images/messages on the wood used to board up windows in the downtown area was just another way to cover up the realities of what happens during a rebellion. One could argue it is the epitome of West Michigan Nice.

Second, the imagery that the broadcast version of the story uses is deeply problematic. Most of the images are of burning cars and other forms of property destruction, without any context. For instance the cars that were set on fire were cops cars, which was deliberate, since the cops in this context are the perpetrators of violence, both incident specific violence – the lynching of George Floyd – and structural violence, which clarifies the way policing in done in general as a form of violence. Then there was the imagery of the Chief of Police kneeling with protestors. Not only was this a staged PR opportunity for the GRPD Chief, it completely omits the reality that the GRPD had prepared to suppress any serious dissent on May 30th, with cops in riot gear, along with the fact that the police used deadly projectiles that were shot into the crowds on May 30th.

Third, why does WXMI 17 even give Police Chief Payne space to tell his side of what took place, all of which is biased. Payne says, “it began as a peaceful protest and then quickly evolved to a situation where a lot of lives were put in danger.” If the police are present, there is no such thing as a peaceful protest. (See our post from last Summer entitled, Is there really any such thing as a Peaceful Protest?)  Chief Payne’s comments ignore the fact that people had been marching from different parts of the City, while others had been having open mic opportunities at Rosa Parks Circle for several hours. The larger march, which began at 7pm, took the streets and then came to the Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters, where they were greeted by dozens of cops in riot gear. Verbal exchanges took place, but at some point more cops were called in and then fired deadly projectiles into the crowd, thus provoking people. This narrative is not included in the WXMI 17 story, since they didn’t even bother to speak to any of the organizers of the protest or anyone who participated that day.

Lastly, the WXMI 17 story then provides Police Chief Payne with even more air time to talk about how the May 30th impacted the police department and his family. What about how policing in this community impacts the lives of Black, Brown, immigrant and homeless people? Why they hell does channel 17 centered the perspective and feeling of someone who is responsible for perpetrating so much harm on the community on a daily basis? 

None of this is surprising, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic. As we wrote back in November, the GRPD and other Grand Rapids City Officials have been attempting to control the narrative about what happened during the May 30th Rebellion, along with trying to counter the narratives that community-based organizers have been presenting, particularly those seeking to Defund the GRPD.

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