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The Devil is in the Details 4/27/2021: How the GRPD responds to protests, or as they like to call them – expressive speech events

April 25, 2021

This is our latest installment of The Devil is in the Details, which takes a critical look at Grand Rapids politics and policies, based primarily on the public record, such as committee agendas and minutes.

There are two main issues we want to draw your attention to, with involving the GRPD and the other has to do with the City’s Legislative Agenda for the coming year.

On pages 6 – 7 from the packet for the Public Safety Committee, Police Chief Payne is providing a report to the committee on what he is calling, expressive speech events. This is the GRPD language for protests. It’s a bullshit term – expressive speech events, since it not only minimizes the seriousness of the issues being addressed during protests, but it works in there GRPD’s favor, since it provides them with an excuse to suppress protests that do not following city code.

According to the Chief Payne’s document, someone contacted the police on March 27, complaining about a noise ordinance violation, because members of Justice for Black Lives had gathered on the steps of the art museum, without a permit and were using amplified sound, thus violating the City’s noise ordinance. What Chief Payne does not disclose is that a cop came up from behind one of the protesters, knocked him down to the ground and then arrested him. There was no warning about amplified sound, the cops just tackled him and then tried to arrest other individuals.

Later in the document, Chief Payne then lays out 4 bullet points on what his officers will do related to expressive speech events:

Protect the Free Speech and Assembly Rights of individuals and groups within the parameters of the City Code. By including the words, “within the parameters of the City Code,” the GRPD then can chose to enforce whatever city code they want that they think is being violated at any time. In the past 40 years that I have organized or attended a protest in downtown Grand Rapids, the GRPD has always selectively enforced city code violations. There have been times when hundreds of people have walked in the streets and then GRPD has done nothing. And there have been times when smaller groups attempted to walk in the street and they arrested people. 

Then there is the issue of noise ordinances and sound amplification. You mean to tell me that flying helicopters in neighborhoods at night time is not a city code violation? The fact is that when the GRPD uses helicopters in neighborhoods, they are except from violating the noise ordinance, because they are supposedly promoting public safety. In other words, the GRPD gets to enforce the ordinances when they want, with whom they want, plus they can choice to apply these city codes if and when they feel that those protesting are disrupting business as usual. The GRPD has the power and they can do whatever the hell they want. 

Encourage all groups and individuals to follow the permitting process and expressive speech policies set by the City. It’s a fucking protest, so people do not need the City’s permission.

Only step in when there are violations of the expressive speech policies or other applicable laws, statues and ordinances. This is just to say they will arrest you when they want, with whatever justification they chose. 

Hold all members of the Department to the highest standard of accountability and transparency. Sorry, but the GRPD rarely does this and in the few incidents that they do hold cops accountable, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association will step in a file an appeal, which gets the cop off the hook. See the case of Captain Kurt VanderKooi.

On page 6 in the Public Safety Committee document Chief Payne said that he personally reviewed the Internal Affairs Unit investigation of the March 8th protest by Justice for Black Lives and found that his officers “followed policies.”

This is exactly why there needs to be an independent and autonomous entity to review these cases, with the intent to share this information publicly. When I say publicly, I mean with full transparency and not just something you say to a government committee.

As was stated earlier, there was a second issue, the City’s legislative priorities for the coming year, but since that topic is a bit lengthy, we’ll talk about in Part II of the Devil is in the Details. 

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