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Mayor Bliss threatens to change public meeting rules, previous commission meeting disruptions, and the Justice for Patrick Lyoya Movement

May 12, 2022

Yesterday, MLive posted an article entitled, Grand Rapids leaders may make changes to public meetings following disruptions.

The article centers around the fact that since those protesting the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya have not practiced West MI Nice during the past two City Commission meetings, the Mayor of Grand Rapids decided to end those meetings. Earlier on in the MLive article, Mayor Bliss said: 

“I’ll be meeting with our city attorney and city clerk and we’ll be looking at what options we have under not just the Open Meetings Act but our standing rules and potentially making changes to those.”

Bliss doesn’t provide any additional information or thoughts on what sort of changes or options there are regarding City Commission meeting rules, but it would be safe at this point to assume that those changes would be punitive, restrictive and essentially anti-democratic. 

The MLive article then goes on to cite Mayor Bliss at length, who was expressing her dismay at how disrespectful people are and how they do not follow City Commission meeting rules. The article also mentions that there have been other instances during Mayor Bliss’s tenure that meetings have been disrupted, along with citing an example of when County Commission meetings were disrupted in 2018 and 2019 over the issue of the County’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Recent City and County Commission meeting disruptions

In late 2018, Captain Kurt VanderKooi, the GRPD’s liaison with ICE, while watching a local TV news story, contacted ICE to look into Jilmar Ramos-Gomez. The thing that VanderKooi didn’t know was that Ramos-Gomez was a US citizen and a former US Marine. After VanderKooi’s call to ICE, they detained Ramos-Gomez for several days, until it became public that he was a US citizen and former Marine. Grand Rapids City officials did not suspend VanderKooi, nor did they fire him, even though he also used racist language when talking about Ramos-Gomez to ICE.

In late February of 2019, members of Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE planned to disrupt the City Commission meeting, by standing in front of the Commissioners and holding signs while the Commission meeting was still in progress. Mayor Bliss adjourned the meeting.

Mayor Bliss was no doubt mimicking what the Kent County Commission had done in June of 2018, when Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE organized an action during their June 28th meeting. There were over 200 people who packed the County Commission chambers, with many holding signs. When public comment began, several activist moved into the area where the commissioners are seated and held up a banner and began to chant. The County Commission Chair adjourned the meetings shortly after that. Seeing that most of the Commissioners had left, people still got up and shared stories of ICE violence and how they live in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation. 

After that meeting, the County Commission then put up a barrier to deter people from coming near to where the commissioners were seated, so at the next meeting, activist sat down in front of the barrier and again began chanting for an end to the ICE contract. Once again, people brought signs and held them up during the meeting.

In late August, the same activists came to another Kent County Commission meeting after it was announced days before that people could no longer bring signs to the meetings. As a response, activist pinned large patches on their back and then stood up, with their backs facing the County Commissioners during the entire meeting.

In September, Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE activists again disrupted the Kent County Commission meeting, by holding their own People’s Commission, in an attempt to model the kind of meeting process that the public might actually benefit from. The Kent County Commission Chair once again adjourned the meeting shortly after the People’s Commission meeting had begun.

Over the next several meetings, the County Commission decided to have a closed meeting and only allow people to watch the proceedings on a TV monitor in a different room.

All of this is to say that it is possible that the Grand Rapids City Commission might follow the actions of the Kent County Commission. Mayor Bliss has already stated that to disrupt the meeting was a misdemeanor and people could be arrested. Whatever actions Grand Rapids City officials take, it will only embolden activists who are demanding Justice for Patrick Lyoya. The more that Mayor Bliss decides to adjourn meetings and not meet the demands of this movement, the more the resistance will continue. 

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