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Is it possible to get the local news media to really question the GRPD?

May 6, 2021

Yesterday, the grassroots groups Defund the GRPD and Justice for Black Lives, held a Press Conference at noon, inviting dozens of Grand Rapids-based news agencies.

The Press Conference by two of the groups that came out of the aftermath of the May 30th uprising in Grand Rapids, focused on the 2022 Grand Rapids City Budget proposal, how much the GRPD would receive and the undemocratic budget proposal process.

Unlike previous Press Conferences that Defund the GRPD has organized, both in person and online, yesterday’s Press Conference only had representatives from the Grand Rapids Press, WZZM 13 and WOOD TV 8. It’s always hard to know what drives local news coverage, but one would think that with the second largest city’s 2022 budget being decided upon in a few weeks and a well organized movement calling for defunding of the GRPD, the Press Conference would definitely be news worthy.

A representative with Justice for Black Lives spoke first, followed by someone with Defund the GRPD. Both speakers addressed the violent practices of the GRPD and Defund the GRPD laid out some clear demands (linked here) regarding funding for the GRPD and the City’s budget process.

After the comments made by organizers, there were only three questions asked by the reporters who took part in the Press Conference. The first two question came from a reporter with the Grand Rapids Press, which was followed by a question from WZZM 13. All three questions that were asked were basic questions or questions that still reflected the idea that the GRPD is becoming “more community minded.” For example, the first question asked by the GR Press was, “Does the GRPD Strategic Plan sufficiently re-imagine policing?

The responses from organizers were solid, but the point here is that the question implies that the GRPD is on the right track. We have seen this over and over again over the years, but especially since the May 30th uprising, where the local news acts either as a PR agent for the GRPD or they act as stenographers, just reporting back what the police said, without questioning or verifying the claims made by the GRPD. 

The lack of critical thinking was reflected in the three news stories about the Press Conference that each of the news agency that attended the Press Conference posted yesterday. 

In each of the three news stories the stories still utilize City official comments, like the WZZM 13 story, which includes a comment from Mark Washington, recycles previous related story content – as did MLive, or reflects that the news agencies have internalized the values of the systems of power that they report on, like how WOOD TV 8 framed their story. In other words, the dominant commercial media demonstrates a lack of imagination about how reducing the GRPD budget might actually be a huge benefit to the community. 

In fact, the dominant commercial media is pretty much incapable of critically examining systems of power and oppression in this community, mostly because they are part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, as we noted in our ten-part series from 2018. In that article we made the following observation about police and the dominant commercial media:

Another example is how the news media reports on police abuse, or more accurately, mistakes made by a few officers in the police department. The GRPD or any other local law enforcement agency is general presented as serving the public good and when there are issues that arise, it is usually just some aberration, since they are essential to public safety. In other words, the very nature and function of the GRPD is never questioned or investigated, despite the significant levels of mistrust and cynicism that exists in this community about police behavior and how policing impacted particularly Black and Brown residents. 

Sitting through yesterday’s press conference only affirms my view that the local dominant commercial news media is incapable of reflecting the aspirations of those working towards dismantling systems of power in this community, particularly since these news agencies are part of that power structure. 

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