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When community activists and organizers demand justice, the response from the City of Grand Rapids is further GRPD repression

November 2, 2021

On October 11, the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union (GRATU) sent a letter to the Mayor of Grand Rapids, all 6 City Commissioners and City Manager Mark Washington. 

The letter, which is included in its entirety below, was sent to Grand Rapids City officials because GRATU members were appalled at the ridiculous number of GRPD officers deployed because GRATU was holding a Press Conference with several tenants who live at the Grand View Place apartments. 

GRATU Letter

On Wednesday, September 29, members of the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union (GRATU) were invited by tenants of the Grand View Place apartments located at 936 Front Ave NW here in Grand Rapids. 

GRATU had been working with tenants on issues such as safety, sanitation and threats of eviction that the property manager was using against tenants any time they made formal complaints. 

GRATU was invited by tenants on September 29th to participate in a Press Conference to talk about the concerns mentioned previously. 

Shortly after GRATU members arrived and met tenants outside of the building, they were approached by the property manager and a GRPD officer. GRATU members were asked to leave the property, even though we were there by invitation of the tenants. GRATU members did move to the public sidewalk, where they planned on holding the Press Conference. 

Within minutes of being asked to leave the property, GRATU members witnessed 4 additional GRPD cruisers pass by, with one parking across the street next to a building, in order to observe what GRATU and the tenants were doing. 

The police officer who had been with the property manager was leaving the property in his cruiser, but before leaving, pulled up and asked what we were doing. GRATU members stated clearly that they were simply holding a Press Conference with the tenants who wanted to share their grievance with the news media. 

GRATU members are well aware of the ongoing discussion about GRPD funding and their claims of being short staffed. However, upon seeing 5 different GRPD cruisers show up to a GRATU/tenant press conference we have to ask why were so many police cruisers dispatched to a press conference? 

If the GRPD is so short staffed, why would they dispatch 5 police cruisers to a press conference, where tenants were sharing their grievances with Grand View Place apartments to news media? 

Several tenants expressed their frustration with having the police show up for something that was not only legal, but for something they had every right to participate in. Tenants from Grand View Place apartments also felt intimidated with such a heavy police presence. 

GRATU members are asking for answers as to why so many GRPD cruisers were dispatched to deal with tenants who were involved in a press conference. This incident not only made tenants feel intimidated, it demonstrated that the GRPD acted on whatever message that the property manager of Grand View Place apartments without considering the concerns of some of the tenants. 

Not only was the GRATU Press Conference purely an informational event, there was nothing about it that warranted police presence at all. However, as we have documented in recent years, anytime that activist groups hold meetings, press conferences or other informational events, the GRPD has been sending a significant number of cops to harass and intimidate activists. One example, is GRPD officers coming inside a church, where Movimiento Cosecha GR was holding a Press Conference in 2018.

GRATU sent the letter on October 8, some three weeks ago, and has only received one response so far. The one response, which came from Mayor Bliss’s office on October 11, was actually not much of a response. The message was from Mayor’s assistant who wrote, “I have relayed it to her directly and she has asked the City Manager to follow up with the Chief regarding this matter.”

GRATU responded immediately by saying, “We would like feedback, from the Chief and the Mayor on how they could justify sending so many cruisers to an event that was so non-threatening.”

Since the GRATU response of October 11, there has been no response from the Mayor, other City officials, not the Grand Rapids Police Chief.This lack of response has come to be the general response to City officials, when they are confronted by community-based groups that are making demands.

This kind of non-response is similar during City Commission meetings, where they have made it clear that City Commission meetings are not the time to have a dialogue about critical issues in the City of Grand Rapids. Activists are repeatedly told that this is how it has always been done. This means that the regular forum to practice participatory democracy, City Commission meetings, is not the time nor the place for dialogue. 

The question then is, when is the time for City officials to really practice participatory democracy? It seems to this writer that the answer is never. Sure, there have been a few commissioners who have said that they are available to meet and discuss issues with people before commission meetings, but those discussions happen behind closed doors. Those discussions are not public and are not recorded or broadcast through the same means that regular City Commission meetings happen. Again, my answer then is that the Grand Rapids City Commission is NOT interested in practicing real democracy, since they provide no forum for this to really take place.

This is one of the reasons why community activists and organizers have been engaging in a variety of tactics and strategies to confront City officials on their failure to meet the demands of the community. Activists and community organizers have confronted the City on issues related to immigration status & ICE, on the unhoused, lack of affordable housing and gentrification, and on the way that the GRPD practices policing in this city. In each of these cases the City has always had a clear response, which has been to send lots of GRPD officers to harass, intimidate, monitor, arrest and abuse those who have no other real options for which to make their demands known to City officials. The sad thing is, that this response from the City of Grand Rapids has nothing to do with democracy, it has to do with power, plain and simple.

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