Skip to content

While well intentioned, MLive editorial is decades late and still relies heavily on the GRPD for reporting on Public Safety

July 25, 2022

On Thursday, MLive posted a Letter from the Editor, entitled, When we cover ‘public safety’ rather than ‘crime,’ we give a more accurate picture of our communities.

While I appreciate the sentiment, the Letter from the Editor is deeply problematic and reflects the fact that, like most commercial news media, they internalize the necessity of Police Departments. Let’s talk first about what is problematic in this post, then we can talk about what is missing.

First, the image that the MLive Letter from the Editor is deeply problematic and sensationalizes existing tensions in the Grand Rapids community. The image they used is June 10, where Justice4Patrick activists are seen confronting supporters of Christopher Schurr, the cop that shot and killed Patrick Lyoya on April 4. The setting in the Kent County courthouse, where we see the faces of Black activists, but only the back of a few white police supporters. The photo caption says (in part), “Supporters for Patrick Lyoya exchange words with supporters for Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr inside a hallway after Schurr was arraigned at the Kent County Courthouse.” The context is very limited, thus failing to honestly reflect the reality between how Black activists who have been deeply wounded and outraged by the murder of Patrick Lyoya, and the supporters of Christopher Schurr, which was an overwhelmingly white group that were there to offer support to the cop who killed Patrick Lyoya, but no sympathy for the grieving supporters of young Congolese man that Schurr had murdered.

Second, the Letter from the Editor begins by saying that they cover crime differently now, ever since the George Floyd protests in 2020. This is an admission that for decades prior to May 2020, MLive and the Grand Rapids Press had failed the public miserably when it came to reporting on crime and public safety. In the second paragraph, the writer confessed that, “In July 2020 I announced in a column that MLive was curtailing its routine use of police mugshots in crime stories. That column was my most-read ever and provoked an avalanche of reader emails questioning or supporting the decision.Therefore, the person who glibly used to cover crimes stories by posting mug shots, is only recently willing to shift his reporting from crime to public safety.

Third, the MLive post then makes an important statement, by writing: 

That change was just one facet of evolution of thought and practice within MLive, and journalism as a whole. What crime is covered and how it is presented creates perceptions, can perpetuate stereotypes about marginalized people or communities, and reflects power dynamics involving institutions like police agencies, prosecutors and courts.

Yes, it is about power dynamics from police departments and other institutions that make up the Prison Industrial Complex. However, after this important statement, the post then falls apart, since the MLive writer supports his position by talking about how well MLive has done on reporting since Patrick Lyoya was killed by the GRPD on April 4th. This is interesting, especially since we have written 10 Local News Dissection articles related to the Patrick Lyoya case, specifically because the reporting has been biased and just flat out bad. One article the writer highlights is the profile piece they did on Christopher Schurr, which we responded to. Our response was basically arguing that the MLive profile piece on Schurr not only normalizes White Supremacy, it perpetuates White Saviorism. 

Fourth, the rest of the Letter from the Editor, primarily talks about workshops and trainings that some of the MLive journalist have attended, but it is also self-congratulatory with comments like this: 

“Public safety’ provides a more holistic look at the criminal justice system, which goes from when the crime was committed to the police to the prosecutor’s office to the judges and all those support systems that exist to help people as they leave prison and reintegrate into society.”

Again, while this is an improvement, it is decades late and it is still limiting, since MLive still sees crime, public safety and violence in very narrow terms. Rarely is there any reporting on corporate or white collar crimes in Grand Rapids, plus the never acknowledge the structural violence that exists, which is way more insidious than the street level violence. For example, Structural Violence can easily be seen in how inadequate most people’s wages are in this society. If people are unable to make a living wage, this is no fault of their own, thus they are forced to live with the structural violence of poverty. 

Lastly, MLive, like all of the other commercial news outlets in Grand Rapids, still rely too heavily on the GRPD has the primary source on crime and violence. Not only do they rely on the GRPD as a news source, they rarely question the information or commentary that the Grand Rapids Police Department provides. In just one example, we dissect how the local news often ends up re-printing GRPD Press Releases as news, as they did in early January of 2022.

What the MLive Letter from the Editorial is missing

For years there has been a push to shift from reporting as stenography to investigative and community-based reporting. In addition, good reporters will recognize that there are numerous factors that impact issues like crime, such as political, economic, social and cultural factors that must be taken into account if we are to better understand what causes violence and crime, along with who benefits from it. It’s not enough to simply report that a man raped a woman somewhere in the city, which does provide people with some potentially valuable information to keep themselves safe. However, unless we come to terms with the larger factors that contribute to the normalization of male violence against women – how men are socialized to think about women and women’s bodies, the hyper-sexualization of women’s bodies, how misogyny is embedded in our institutions, etc -, just reporting the facts about a specific case are inadequate. 

In Zach Morris’s book, We Keep Us Safe: Building Secure, Just and Inclusive Communities, he acknowledges that we live in a failed state. What Morris means by a failed state, is that too many people do not have their basic human needs met – housing, health care, food, transportation, child care, employment/wages. The result is the Prison Industrial Complex, the War on Drugs, Gentrification, a health care system based on profits over human needs, a dysfunctional transportation system and employment that is based on exploitation.

What We Keep Us Safe advocates, in the face of a failed state, is a care-based strategy for public safety that overturns more than 200 years of fear-based discrimination, othering, and punishment. In addition, the book:

“We Keep Us Safe is a blueprint of how to hold people accountable while still holding them in community. The result reinstates full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized so they can participate fully in life, in society, and in the fabric of our democracy.”

Lastly, I think it is worth quoting from the final page of the book, We Keep Us Safe:

“Real safety happens when we bridge the divides and build relationships with each other, overcoming suspicion and distrust. Real safety comes from strategic, smart investment – meaning resources directed towards our stability and well-being. Real safety addresses harms that the current system is failing to tackle, and holds people accountable for those harms while still holding them in community. Real safety results from reinstating full humanity and agency for everyone who has been dehumanized and traumatized, so they can participate fully in society. If we are able to transform our old system and create a culture of caring and healing in its place, we may have an actual shot at creating real democracy for the first time.”

If the MLive writer of the Letter from the Editor is serious about fundamental changes to how journalism is done, then they will need to radically alter how they view public and community safety. This ultimately means they will have to come to terms with the systems of power and oppression in Grand Rapids that are often completely ignored when talking about crime and public safety. 

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: