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The GRPD was monitoring the Civil Disobedience Training in Grand Rapids on Sunday, attempting to undermine it

July 11, 2022

On Sunday afternoon, I was co-facilitating a workshop on Civil Disobedience in Grand Rapids. 

The training was designed to provide skill sharing to those who attended on the purpose of Civil Disobedience and how it can be used as an effective form of Direct Action to push for social change within any movement for collective liberation.

This particular training was primarily for allies who are involved in or want to be involved in the Justice4Patrick Movement. The GRPD has been targeting Black organizers, so if allies can be trained in direct action tactics, it can take some of the heat off of Black organizers who are at greater risk of State Violence in Grand Rapids.

There had been a Facebook event for the training for the past three weeks, but Friday, the location host of the training received a voicemail from the GRPD. Here is a transcription of that voicemail:

This is Captain Terry Dixon of the Grand Rapids Police Department. Hey, just giving you a call in reference to your event, taking place on Sunday regarding civil unrest. Just have a few questions about it and if there was anything that law enforcement can do to come along side that in anyway. My telephone number is 616-456-4489. Have a blessed day.

There are several things worth mentioning in regard to this message from the GRPD, which I will address here. First, the fact that the cop referred to the event as “civil unrest” is either willful ignorance – since the event page clearly stated this was a Civil Disobedience Training – or it was a feeble attempt to reframe the intent of the training from civil disobedience to civil unrest.

Second, the phone call from the GRPD Captain is a clear sign of the fact that they are monitoring the activities of grassroots dissident groups and movements, particularly those that are making demands for radical social transformation. 

Third, the monitoring and surveillance by the GRPD of dissident groups is nothing new in Grand Rapids. Since the 1980s, I have been directly aware of this dynamic, where the GRPD is either monitoring dissident activity or has sought to infiltrate it. In the 1980s, while being involved in the Central American Solidarity and Sanctuary Movement, the GRPD was constantly monitoring our activity, both our literature (there was not internet then) and our public acts of resistance, which often involved Civil Disobedience. During the US invasion and military occupation of Iraq, we were able to submit a Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) to see what the GRPD was doing in response to anti-war organizing, which involved monitoring, surveillance and infiltration.

In 2018, during an action organized by Movimiento Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE, the GRPD did nothing to stop or pursue someone who have driven their car into protesters, significantly injuring one. A few weeks later, Movimiento Cosecha GR held a Press Conference about that action. While setting up for the Press Conference, two GRPD officers showed up asking if we needed any assistance. Organizers with Cosecha told them to leave, which they promptly did. After the Press Conference the GRPD was waiting in the parking lot and corralled one of the news reporters so they could give their version of what took place during the action where the cops allowed a motorist to run into protesters. 

One last example, if from another FOIA request having to do with the lead up to and the day of the May 1st, 2019 march that Movimiento Cosecha GR had been organizing since 2017. From that FOIA, you can see that the GRPD was threatening to use chemical agents and other non-lethal munitions on the mostly immigrant population that showed up that day. 

Fourth, the voicemail from the GRPD is not only an act of intimidation, it is an act of State Violence. The intent of the GRPD cop’s call to the training host was to send a message that they are watching, monitoring and will likely have a presence at or near the training that day, possibly even attempting to infiltrate the skill sharing event.

Lastly, the fact that the GRPD left a voice mail, based on a Facebook event post – and possibly the monitoring of communication between the groups involved – provides further evidence that the GRPD serves to protect the interests of the systems of power and oppression that run Grand Rapids. Any threat to those systems, whether it is a march, a training or various forms of direct action, will not be tolerated. The GRPD, like all police departments, are not primarily interested in preventing crime, they are interested in suppressing acts of dissent, which threaten business as usual in Grand Rapids.

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