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Perpetuating biased narratives about the murder of Patrick Lyoya and centering the voices of City Officials: Local Commercial News Coverage of graffiti at City Commissioner homes

May 17, 2022

The local commercial news media has all reported that there has been “vandalism” committed at the homes of three Grand Rapids Elected Officials, Mayor Bliss, First Ward Commissioner Jon O’Connor and Third Ward Commissioner Nathaniel Moody.

Now, there might be people who object to these kind of tactics, but it is important to point out that no one was hurt, no one was shot in the back of the head, and no property was destroyed.

However, this article is not about tactics, it is about how the local commercial news agencies reported on these incidents, which ultimately reflects how they practice so-called journalism in general.

First, there was a brief quote from the GRPD, where they acknowledged what had happened. More importantly, there is a statement that all of the four major daily local commercial news agencies included, which was a statement from Mayor Bliss, which said: 

“While I understand people’s frustration and anger, acts of violence and vandalism doesn’t get us to just outcomes. I’m disappointed in these most recent incidents of vandalism. Social activism is a valuable part of our democracy – but targeted vandalism designed to intimidate is not. The challenges confronting our city require respectful engagement so that we can reach thoughtful solutions. Intentional vandalism is an empty response to the important issues we face.”

None of the news agencies questioned this statement, nor did they report that they sought out any sort of response from the various groups fighting for Justice for Patrick Lyoya. How can the local news media not question the Mayor, when she says, “The challenges confronting our city require respectful engagement so that we can reach thoughtful solutions.” What kind of engagement is the Mayor referring to? People have been coming to the City Commission meetings, which are not authentic engagement. There is no dialogue, because that is how the Commission meetings are designed. Despite the inauthenticity of the Commission meetings, there have been hundreds of people who have stepped up to the mic during public comment and have made demands from this elected body, none of which have been met. In addition, there have been over 130,000 messages sent to these seven elected Grand Rapids officials, along with City Manager Mark Washington, which have included the same kind of demands, yet that information has been ignored by the elected officials and unreported on by the local news media. When people get belittled by City Officials, ignored, written off and gaslighted, then systems of power and people like Mayor Bliss better expect that other tactics will be used force the City of Grand Rapids to do right by the Lyoya family and to actually listen to the movement demanding Justice4Patrick.

Second, all of the news agencies presented a narrative about what happened when a GRPD officer shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head. In fact, the local commercial news agencies spent as much time, if not more, on the biased narrative than they did on the graffiti at Commissioner’s homes. Perpetuating this kind of a narrative is not only poor journalism, it feeds into the systemic racism that permeates Grand Rapids, whereby it blames Patrick Lyoya for his own death and makes those who are demanding Justice4Patrick out to be an unruly mob. What if it was reported on how much the FOIA’d documents on the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya were redacted? How would that change public perception?

Lastly, for those who think that the tactics used at the City Commissioner’s home violates “peaceful protest” protocols, I would say two things. First, those who disagree are people with tremendous privilege, specifically white privilege and class privilege. Secondly, the history of social movements/resistance movements in the United States have never been exclusively non-violent. The Abolitionist Movement wasn’t non-violent when those who were enslaved rose up against the plantation owners, sometimes killing them and burning down the plantation. Hell, even during the Black Freedom Struggle from the 1950s through the 1970’s, there were lots of examples of disruption and even armed self defense. It wasn’t all Kumbaya.

Links to the four local commercial news agency stories:

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