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New Public Safety Committee member, has also been a participant in the GRPD-created program, Clergy on Patrol

June 21, 2022

The agenda packet for the Committee on Appointments, which met today, states that the City Commission adopted a resolution to appoint Willie Gholston to the Public Safety Committee.

Willie Gholston is the pastor at First Community AME Church in Grand Rapids and has been a participant in the GRPD created program called Clergy on Patrol. In fact, the Clergy on Patrol page features a quote from Willie Gholston, saying:

“The Clergy on Patrol program provides an opportunity to enhance public safety initiatives as a means of accountability, partnership, and service to help make Grand Rapids Michigan one of the safest cities in the Midwest. We believe that by working together the spiritual and the secular worlds can build a collaborative effort to cause harmony and peace that we haven’t witnessed in a while.”

The Clergy on Patrol page states – Clergy on Patrol is a partnership between the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) and local clergy of different congregations and faith traditions to help build trust and positive interactions between the police and the neighborhood they serve.

GRIID wrote about Clergy on Patrol when it first began last year. We have a much different take on what the function of this project is. We wrote at that time:

For those who have been involved in monitoring and resisting US militarism abroad, the language that the GRPD is using to recruit faith leaders is the exact same kind of language that the US Army and CIA were using in manuals to train foreign soldiers in counterinsurgency. This may sound extreme to equate the GRPD’s recruitment of faith leaders to techniques that have been used in counterinsurgency, but to dismiss such a claim would be naive.

The GRPD sees the public, particularly members of the public who are opposing business as usual policies, as insurgents, as people who are a potential threat to order. In the Public Safety Committee meeting mentioned above, Chief Payne stated that he had reached out to the group Justice for Black Lives (JFBL) about getting a permit for their rally/march to City Hall. Chief Payne stated that groups like JFBL need to get permits if they want to do things in a lawful and orderly fashion. In other words, the GRPD wants to be notified, and therefore, have has much control as possible for when there is any demonstration, protest or act of resistance that challenges business as usual. 

This is why it is important for us to think about how dangerous it is for faith leaders to be part of the Clergy on Patrol program. We have to come to terms with what the bigger picture is for such programs, which are ultimately about inserting law enforcement – which is state violence – into neighborhoods and through community-based groups. In fact, the more they are inserted into our communities, into our schools, and places of worship, the result would be and increase in surveillance, the expansion of mass incarceration expands and increased justification for state violence. 

Six weeks ago, we noted in one of the GRIID posts that a members of the Capitalist Class had just been appointed to the Public Safety Committee. Adding Rev. Gholston, who has already built a relationship with the GRPD through a program they created, should be cause for concern about who sits on the Public Safety Committee and what that means for the future of police accountability and for the possibility of models of public safety that do not rely on violence workers, or what most of us know them as, cops.

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