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The Ferguson Effect, handling protesters and other fallacies at the GRPD Press Conference on Friday

June 26, 2022

On Friday, Grand Rapids Police Chief held a Press Conference to talk about an “officer involved shooting”, which took place earlier that morning. Chief Winstrom claimed that a GRPD officer, who was in his cruiser, was shot at by someone in a car.

Like the case involving the murder of Patrick Lyoya, the Michigan State Police is now conducting an investigation. 

A 15 minutes video of the Press Conference can be viewed online. Much of the Press Conference had to do with specifics about the shooting, but what I want to focus on is some of the question that were asked by the local news media and the responses from Chief Winstrom.

At around 2:40 into the video, a local reporter asked the question whether or not the shooter was targeting the GRPD cruiser. Winstrom’s response was that he felt that was probably the case, since the GRPD cruiser was not an unmarked vehicle. However, this is all speculation, since there is no evidence of motive as of yet.

At 7:10 into the video, another reporter asked whether this shooting might have been retaliation for the Christopher Schurr (now an ex-cop) shot and killed Patrick Lyoya. Winstrom responded by saying, that was his concern, and they he goes on to use the phrase, the “Ferguson Effect.” Winstrom then refers to the Michael Brown incident – he was also shot and killed by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri – and claims that there is a correlation between police killings of Black people and an increase in violent crime. Winstrom say this happened after the police murder of George Floyd, with “record levels of violent crime.” Winstrom then says this, was his concern after the April 4 police shooting of Patrick Lyoya – again referred to as the “April 4th incident.” Throughout all of this commentary by Chief Winstrom, he offers no evidence that there is a clear correlation between police murdering Black people and an increase in violent crime.

The phrase “Ferguson Effect”, was coined by Heather MacDonald, which Chief Wonstrom named during the Press Conference. What Winstrom didn’t mention is the fact that Heather MacDonald is a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute. The use of the phrase, the “Ferguson Effect” was looked at in an article by the media watchdog group, Fairness in Accuracy & Reporting in June of 2015.  The article states: 

The point of the “Ferguson effect,” though, is not to be accurate. It is instead to distract us from the growing evidence about the magnitude and extent of police use of lethal violence in the United States—as powerfully documented just this week by the Guardian and the Washington Post—and to besmirch the #BlackLivesMatter movement. 

It’s a strategy that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater inaugurated in his campaign in 1964, almost single-handedly turning crime into a political weapon against the civil rights movement.

This is exactly what Chief Winstrom was doing, which the local media seemed to be eating up. WOODTV8 repeated the Ferguson Effect claim in their coverage on Friday.

In addition, the national recognized organization, The Sentencing Project, which looks at racial disparities in crime and sentencing, has written several articles and conducted several studies that debunks the who Ferguson Effect theory. One article in particularly, concludes, In the absence of credible and comprehensive evidence, sounding alarm bells over a “Ferguson effect” or any other putative cause will not help.

At 8:30 into the video, Chief Winstrom states that he thinks that “the criminal element feels emboldened” after the GRPD killing of Patrick Lyoya, since there is a lot of scrutiny of the police and the police tend to “back off” a bit from their work. Again, Winstrom offers no concrete evidence to this claim and no reporter asks for any data to support such a claim.

At 10:45 into the video, another reporter shifts the conversation to the Supreme Court’s ruling to dismantle Roe v. Wade and whether or not the GRPD is prepared to deal with protests. Winstrom says they have been having discussions about this, but that, “we (the GRPD) are very good at handling protests.” As we, and so many others, have noted over the past two years, when the GRPD says they are good at handling protests, they mean they have spent a great deal of energy doing surveillance of protest organizers, suppressing dissent, targeting protest organizers and arresting organizers on bogus or trumped up charges, as they did with two Black organizers during the protest against the Supreme Court ruling on Roe v Wade, Friday evening. 

The GRPD Press Conference ended with a few words from Brandon Davis, who had nothing to add to Chief Winstrom’s comments, other than to say that he was praying that the GRPD officer who was shot at on Friday morning was ok. 

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