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The GRPD arrest of a Black man going to a family wake was not because of flawed training, it was the result of a system of policing that is designed to do exactly what they did

May 9, 2021

On Friday, MLive ran an article entitled, GRPD training being questioned after Black man forcibly arrested despite police stopping the wrong vehicle

The article details a recent arrest by the GRPD of a Black man who was on the way to his his mother-in-law’s wake. Several GRPD officers forced the man to the ground, put a knee on him and then cuffed him while he was face down in a parking lot.

However, the man the GRPD physically assaulted and arrested was the wrong person. The GRPD was looking for a Black man in a silver pick up truck and the man they ended up arresting also had a silver truck, but it was the wrong person. 

Now, the Black man who was arrested was charged with resisting and obstructing a police officer, because “he was tensing his muscles in his arms.” Apparently, if the police force you on the ground and put their knees in your back, you should just relax, regardless of whether you committed a crime or not. Here is just another instance where the law supports police action, even if those actions seem to any reasonable person to be abusive, violent and just plain bullshit.

The Black man who missed his mother in-law’s wake, because he was arrested and taken to the Kent County Jail has every moral right to fight the GRPD for their wrongful arrest. However, the GRPD has the full force of the law behind them, since most laws are crafted from a pro-police framework and because the police will always be able to argue that they were justified in their actions, especially since the Black man they stopped fit the description of someone they were looking for.

The GRPD’s Internal Affairs is looking at the case, but will most likely side with the officers who falsely arrested this particular Black man, especially since he was tensing his muscles when they were trying to cuff him. The police were just doing their job and this particular Black happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or at least this is what the GRPD would have us believe.

Besides, the GRPD was quoted in the same MLive article, stating:

“The GRPD continues to be dedicated to transparency and accountability regarding police operations, particularly when it comes to using force. When it is appropriate, and allowable under law, we are committed to providing full context to our encounters and answering the community’s questions and concerns.”

This rhetoric sounds nice, but the important point here is to understand what is allowable under law. The GRPD can keep as much information as they want in house and can decide what to share or not share with the news media, with the Office of Oversight and Public Accountability or anyone else for that matter, because the law works in favor of protecting the state and the police are just an enforcement unit for the the state, meaning the government.

Therefore, the Black man who was assaulted by the GRPD, arrested and taken to jail, doesn’t have the force of law behind him. The GRPD charged him with resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, which by their definition is true. So, do you see how the system works here. Even if you did nothing that was illegal, as defined by the government, you can still get arrested for looking like a suspect. Plus, in the process of being arrested, if you resist, even though you did nothing illegal, you can be charged with a crime because your muscles tightened up while 3 cops forced you face down, on the ground and put their knees on your back.

Now, Kent County Commission Robert Womack is questioning how officers in the GRPD and being trained. What Commissioner Womack fails to understand is that this is exactly how the cops in the GRPD were trained and that the over policing in Black and Brown neighbors is the norm. Alex Vitale, author of the important book, The End of Policing, writes: 

Well trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that us how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstanding of officers. 

This is how the system of policing is designed to function. For the GRPD, it doesn’t matter that they stopped the wrong Black man, what matters is that they were doing their job and the wrong Black man still arrest arrested because he tightened his muscles while 3 cops were forcing him to the ground and putting their knees in his back.

Of course, the lesson we should learn from this case is that the system of policing is inherently oppressive, which is exactly why people are calling for defunding and the abolition of the system of policing, because it is a system of oppression. The GRPD and City officials can say that they are committed to re-imagining policing in Grand Rapids, but that is only because they are committed to maintaining the existing systems of power and oppression in this community, despite their well-meaning intentions. If you think that getting the right people elected to the Grand Rapids City Commission will fix this, then you don’t understand how power functions in this city. Only a popular, grassroots social movement that is calling for the defunding of the GRPD, a deep commitment to invest in Black neighborhoods and the abolition of policing will put an end to the GRPD assaulting and arresting more Black people.

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