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Grand Rapids City Commissioners weigh in on Defunding the GRPD: What the MLive article doesn’t tell you

April 6, 2021

On Tuesday, MLive posted a story with the headline, GRPD likely won’t face significant ‘defunding’ cuts from city commissioners.

The article begins by saying:

Despite some city commissioner calls for a discussion and a push from some in the community, significant cuts to the Grand Rapids Police Department’s budget are unlikely for the upcoming fiscal year.

“A push from some in the community?” This is not only inaccurate, it minimizes the efforts and all of the hard work that community organizers have put in and continue to put in on the issue of defunding the police. Also, the use of the word some denies the fact that there were over 3,000 individual messages from people in the community calling for defunding the GRPD back to the City Charter mandated 33% of the budget. Three thousand people is not only a substantial number of people, it is one of the highest number of people taking an active role on an issue that we have seen in more than a decade in Grand Rapids. In fact, besides the group Defund the GRPD, here is a list of groups that have been actively involved around a larger GRPD funding conversation – the NAACP, the Urban Core Collective, Equity PAC, Together We Are Safe, the People’s Budget GR, Justice for Black Lives, Movimiento Cosecha GR, the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, GR Rapid Response to ICE, the ACLU and the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union. Again, rarely have we seen this kind of a coalition working on a singular issue in some time.

However, the other thing that is problematic about the MLive article is the singular focus on where Grand Rapids City Commissioners stand on this matter. The article does note that Commissioner’s Reppart and Jones did not respond, but why did MLive exclude City Manager Mark Washington and Police Chief Payne? The reality is that the City Manager has more power than elected officials, and both Payne and Washington have made it clear for months that they do not support any funding reduction for the GRPD.

The more egregious problem with the MLive article is the fact that they do not include community voices in the story, particularly voices from those who have been organizing around Defunding the GRPD since June of 2020. How significantly different would the MLive article look, had they provided commentary from community organizers who have been doing work with Defund the GRPD since last summer.

Equally problematic is the failure of the MLive journalist to provide a clearer and more robust exploration as to what the Defunding the Police movement is all about. Here is a link to one of the many Defund the Police toolkits that have been used by this larger movement for the past year and here is an excellent summary of what the movement is really calling for.

#DefundPolice is a strategy that goes beyond dollars and cents—it is not just about decreasing police budgets, it is about reducing the power, scope, and size of police departments. It is about delegitimizing institutions of surveillance, policing and punishment, and these strategies, no matter who is deploying them, to produce safety. It is a strategy (part of the HOW) to advance a long term vision of abolition of police through divestment from policing as a practice, dismantling policing institutions, and building community-based responses to harm, need, and conflict that do not rely on surveillance, policing and punishment.

This gets to the root of much of the problem is that too many people have reacted in knee-jerk fashion to the phrase defund the police, without taking the time to investigate the larger vision for what defunding the police really means. Of course, the news media has played a significant role in misinforming the public on this critical issue as well.

The bulk of the MLive article, however, is the responses they got from Mayor Bliss and Commissioners O’Connor, Ysasi, Moody and Lenear, which we summarized in the graphic below. What the MLive article doesn’t tell you about some of the responses from commissioners are the following:

Both Mayor Bliss and 1st Ward Commissioner O’Connor have received thousands of dollars from the Grand Rapids Police Officers Association PAC in recent years.

While the MLive article does quote Commissioner Moody about not supporting the defunding of the GRPD, which were comments he made during a City Commission meeting in March, is that he also spoke ill of the group Justice for Black Lives, saying that he hasn’t seen them doing anything positive for the community. His statement is patently false and it was a condescending example of respectability politics

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