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Grand Rapids Police union wants us to celebrate National Police Week, while thousands in this community are calling for Defunding the GRPD

May 12, 2021

On Monday, the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association, the union that represents the GRPD, posted an image on their Facebook page for National Police Week.

National Police Week was first instituted during the Kennedy Administration, with a Congressional resolution that referred to cops as Peace Officers. This should not surprise us, since the system of power in the US has always celebrated the police as an important and necessary component of state power.

However, we know that the police were created in the US as a form of slave patrols, then shifting to policing black bodies under the system of Jim Crow. Police Departments were also heavily relied on to control disgruntled workers and stop worker tactics like strikes, acting as sort of an enforcement tool for the Capitalist class.

During the Civil Rights era, the police were used as enforcement mechanism to defend the structural aspects of White Supremacy, making sure that Black people knew their place in a society constructed on systemic racism. 

Today, however, with a growing number of people questioning the very existence of police, the celebration of National Police Week by the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association seems like a desperate attempt by the local cop union to legitimize their existence, especially in the face of a growing movement that is calling for the GRPD to be defunded.

The political and media systems in Grand Rapids have done everything they can to defend the GRPD, along with their attempt to co-opt the language of the larger defund/abolish policing movement, a movement that Black scholar Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has documented so well in her recent essay entitled, The Emerging Movement for Police and Prison Abolition.

In addition, the resistance upon the part of Grand Rapids officials to even consider a minor reduction in the funding for the Grand Rapids Police Department, has been both instructive and expected. Despite the claims of Grand Rapids City officials, that the City is committed to racial justice and equity, they have demonstrated over the past year that they are deeply committed to maintaining a form of policing that is centered around protecting property and power.

The GRPD and City officials have attempted to use reformist language and to re-brand what the cops do in this city, yet many people are not fooled by their re-branding based on their continued attacks against members of the Black community.

The recent response from City officials to community opposition to the proposed 2022 Budget, especially how much is allocated for the GRPD, has also be interesting to observe. Both City Manager Mark Washington and Mayor Rosalynn Bliss have shown that they are completely unwilling to even entertain a reduction in the GRPD’s funding. Bliss and Washington have both dug their heels in by attempting to present the GRPD as a force for good, along with the claim that police staff is too low for Grand Rapids. All of the rhetoric coming from City officials has made it clear that they do not care that there is a growing opposition to the GRPD in this community, which means they don’t care what their constituents want.

What Grand Rapids City officials are hoping for is that people will “move on” from any talk about defunding the police and eventually get things back to normal. However, this is not likely to happen, since there is growing opposition to the function and existence of the GRPD.

Within the past two months, there have been numerous protests against the GRPD, which has resulted in the cops targeting Black organizers.

The GRPD initiated Operation Safe Neighborhoods, where they used helicopters to harass mostly 3rd Ward residents, resulting in hundreds of messages being sent to the City condemning Operation Safe Neighborhoods.

When the City of Grand Rapids announced their plans for the 2022 City Budget, both Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD organized a series of actions, along with clear demands that not only call for a reduction of police funding, but a rejection of the 2022 City Budget, particularly to allow more time for public input.

In addition, Defund the GRPD has been inviting people to re-imagine how public money could better be spent in this community, by re-directing it from the GRPD to meet urgent community needs. The responses that the community have presented are both thoughtful and amazing.

Lastly, both Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD will be hosting a Defund the GRPD Rally and march this Friday, May 14, starting at 6pm at Calder Plaza. 

All of this is to say that this movement will not go away and it will not move on. Those calling for the Defunding of the GRPD are passionate, articulate and committed organizers that the City of Grand Rapids will have to reckon with. This is a historic moment and history will not be kind to those who have sided with power and privilege. As the old organizers song asks, which side are you on my people, which side are you on!

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