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Cops and Licenses: Stories you will see and not see in the Grand Rapids News Media

August 12, 2021

On Sunday, MLive posted an article with the headline, “Grand Rapids police officer finalist for national award for innovative program helping teens get driver’s licenses.”

The article is a feel good story about someone from the GRPD who works with teenagers who are in the process of obtaining a driver’s license. However, there are two glaring omissions in this article. The first significant omission is contextual, since the article doesn’t address why cops are assisting teens in getting their driver’s licenses. 

As public school districts have been impacted by less state funding and the ongoing battle over students with Charter Schools and other private, mostly religious schools accessing public money, public schools have cuts numerous programs, like Driver’s Education. Students in public schools are forced to use private Driver’s Training entities, which often means out of pocket money. The very fact that GRPD officers are involved in working with teenagers in the process of obtaining a driver’s license, is a direct result of economic austerity measures that have negatively impacted public schools.

The second glaring omission in this article, is the fact that the GRPD, like most municipal cops, often stop people for minor traffic violations, only to find out the people they pull over are undocumented immigrants who cannot legal obtain a driver’s license in the state of Michigan. 

Undocumented immigrants who are stopped by cops, while driving without a license, often end up in jail or in court, which results in the GRPD (and other municipal police) contact Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Once ICE gets involved, undocumented immigrants often end up in detention centers and could then face deportation. 

The GRPD has a direct relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and has a history of contacting ICE when so-called suspects are viewed as Latino or latinx, as in the case of Jilmar Ramos Gomez.

In recent years, with all the organizing that has gone into the immigrant justice movement in Grand Rapids, led by Movimiento Cosecha GR and the GR Rapid Response to ICE, there has not been one story in the local news media about the role of the GRPD plays in stopping and often arresting undocumented immigrants who do not have a driver’s license. This fact is even more astounding, especially since for the past two years, Movimiento Cosecha has made driver’s licenses for the undocumented community their main priority.

For those who are interested in supporting the Campaign to get Driver’s Licenses for undocumented immigrants you can sign this petition.  For those wanting to volunteer with Movimiento Cosecha GR you can contact them via their Facebook page. 

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