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In their “one year after the riot stories” WOOD TV 8 doesn’t hold power accountable, fails to address Structural Racism and continues to center whiteness

May 26, 2021

As we approach the one year anniversary of the May 30th rebellion in Grand Rapids, the commercial media has been regurgitating the same awful narratives about what happened during the protests that took place in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd. 

I use the term regurgitate, because one week after the May 30th rebellion, GRIID conducted a 5 day study of the dominant local news sources – MLive, WOOD TV8, WZZM 13 and WXMI 17 – to see how these news sources were reporting on the rebellion. Our conclusion was that the local commercial news sources we looked at hijacked the narrative, whereby they: 1) diverted attention from the root causes of the rebellion and framed the news around rioting & looting; 2) gave more space for City Officials and the GRPD to have an opinion, and; 3) the four news agencies demonstrated that they have internalized the values of systems of power and privilege, through their failure to seriously questions structural racism and White Supremacy in this community.

In the past few days, there have been numerous 1 year anniversary stories in the local news, but most of those stories have aired on WOOD TV 8. In fact, on May 25th, channel 8 ran a total of six stories for their 1 – year after series, all of which continue to hijack a narrative away from Black Lives Matter and a narrative that centers whiteness.

The six stories cover the following themes:

  1. People involved in the downtown Grand Rapids cleanup the day after the rebellion.
  2. The art that was produced on the boarded up windows after the rebellion.
  3. Those arrested and charged for property damage during the rebellion.
  4. Black-owned businesses that were impacted by the rebellion.
  5. An interview with one activist on police reform.
  6. An interview with Police Chief Payne

In the first story, the channel 8 reporter begins by saying, “An incredible thing happened in the hours after rioters tore our city apart.” Never did channel 8 use the word incredible, referring to the thousands of people who took to the streets on May 30th, 2020. Also interesting is the fact that they said “our city.” The length of this news story was 3:01, with 1 Black woman and 2 white women being interviewed.

The second story aired by WOOD TV8, focused on the art that was created on the plywood of the boarded up windows on the downtown business and government buildings after the May 30th rebellion. The length of this story was 2:35 and center the voices of two white women.

A third story that channel 8 aired focused on those who were arrested charged with property damage and/or looting during the May 30th rebellion. The channel 8 piece began with his comment, “You’re looking at the faces of those charged with torching and tearing apart of the heart of Grand Rapids.” The primary voice in this story was that of a white prosecuting attorney and the length of the story was 3:17. The reporter was Susan Samples, who had done an awful story last year that used far right sources to demonize anti-racists and anti-fascist organizers.

A fourth story aired by WOOD TV8, focused on some of the Black businesses that were impacted by the May 30th rebellion. This news story ran for 3:33 and began with the reporter framing the story by saying, “There were police cars being set on fire, people were being hurt, businesses were destroyed.” The story featured interview with two Black businesses owners in downtown Grand Rapids and comments from Jamiel Robinson, founder of the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses.

A fifth story that ran on channel 8, featured a family member of Breonna Taylor, with a length of 3:53. The story was framed using the language of police reform and never mentioned defunding, nor did it discuss other non-police forms of community safety. This was the only story that featured a Black activist, but this activist was not from the two prominent groups that have been organizing for the past year, which are Justice for Black Lives and Defund the GRPD.

The sixth story that was aired by WOOD TV8, was an interview with Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. This story was 9 minutes and 42 seconds long, with one soft ball question after another. Chief Payne adamantly defended his officers in the interview and touted the “new” neighborhood policing model. The reality is that there is nothing fundamentally new about this model, since there have been specific police officers assigned to specific neighborhoods for decades, specifically the cops assigned to neighborhood associations. However, the channel 8 reporter never questions Payne, instead asking him things like, “what are you most proud of in your 35 year career?” 

WOOD TV 8 once again demonstrated that they completely embrace the values of systems of power in this community, refuse to look at larger structural issues at play, will not hold those in power accountable and continue to center white voices and white feelings.

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