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Republican candidates demonize, while Democrats undermine the Defund the Police Movement in Grand Rapids and across the country

October 12, 2022

In May of 2020, the largest, spontaneous protests erupted all across the US, protests that were rooted in a collective outrage about policing in the United States. 

In Grand Rapids, there were thousands of people who had gathered during May 30th, to march and to protest against the police murder of George Floyd, but also to protest the abuse by the GRPD of several African Americans living in Grand Rapids. We documented that action in 2020, how the Grand Rapids City Officials and the GRPD sought to control the narrative about what had happened and how a massive call to Defund the GRPD had emerged out of the May 30th uprising. 

It is instructive to read the demands of the Defund the GRPD Coalition, which were presented during their Press Conference in late June of 2020. Those demands included: 

  • The GRPD has a long history of intimidation, harassment and violence against the Black community in Grand Rapids. Those of us who are part of this coalition have experienced this harm and have heard from countless others who have been victimized by the GRPD. There have been numerous efforts to reform the GRPD, but we know it is now time to DeFund the GRPD.
  • We are demanding that the City of Grand Rapids hold an emergency meeting by June 30 to adopt a Defunding the GRPD position, wherein the police budget will be reduced to the 32% City Charter mandated level for the upcoming fiscal year.
  • We are also demanding that the money from this budget cut should be refunded to the Black community and the Black community should have complete control over how this money will be used.
  • DeFunding the GRPD and Refunding Black Communities must happen if there is to be any trust built with the Black community.  It is one of the few things that will work to actively promote equity in the Black community, which is so desperately needed.
  • The DeFund the GRPD Campaign Coalition believes that there are better ways to practice community safety and that Grand Rapids needs to begin the process of having deep conversation about how to practice community safety that does not rely on policing.

These demands were similar to what communities were demanding all across the US, demands that were particularly coming out of Black communities/organizations. These demands were somewhat solidified by the Defund the Police toolkit, which was created by the Movement for Black Lives. In fact, the Defund the Police Movement, which emerged from decades of the Black community being deceived about so-called police reforms, was a natural extension of the Black Freedom Struggle, a struggle that had its origins in the Abolitionist Movement. 

So, just a little over two years ago, we have the largest protest movement in US history, a movement that was calling for the Defunding of the Police, and in many cases the abolition of policing as we know it. With this context, how did the political establishment respond to one of the most powerful social movements in recent history? We know that the GOP, led by then President Donald Trump, demonized the movement and lumped them in with antifa and referred to them as domestic terrorists. 

The Democrats, who were in the midst of a campaign to beat Donald Trump in the 2020 Election, responded to the Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police Movement by calling for more funding for the police. Sure, there was some rhetoric around better police accountability and more training, but one thing was consistent, the Democrats were calling for an increase in funding for the Police.

Jump to the current electoral cycle and in West Michigan, particularly the 3rd Congressional District race, State Senate and State Representative races, and we find that in virtually every instance the Republican candidates or Republican committees are accusing Democratic Party candidates of defunding the police. Those that are funding ads for 3rd Congressional District candidate John Gibbs, are accusing Hillary Scholten of wanting to defund the police or being sympathetic to rioters. The same is the case with GOP State Senate Candidate Mark Huizenga, who is accusing David LaGrand of defunding the police, and State Representative candidate Lynn Afendoulis has been making the same claims about her opponent Rachel Hood.

The fact of the matter is that in each of these three cases, the Democratic candidates are all calling for an increase in funding for the police and both LaGrand and Hood have already voted to do just that. This dynamic is underscored by a recent MLive headline, which reads, Whitmer, Dixon duel over who supports Michigan law enforcement most.

However, the facts about bipartisan support for providing increased funds to police departments get buried in the rhetoric of electoral politics. The GOP keeps claiming that Democrats want to defund the police, while Democrats consistently vote for an increase in funds and an increase in the number of police officers. GOP supporters believe that Democrats want chaos or anarchy and Democratic supporters believe that funding for cops are necessary, since without cops people wouldn’t be safe. It’s like the standard tough on crime/soft on crime claims during electoral cycles. Candidates from both parties always support tough anti-crime laws, but it doesn’t matter if the perception of people is that – fill in the blank candidate – is soft on crime. 

The result of the larger electoral strategy about Defunding the Police is that Republicans get to demonize Democrats and Democrats end up trying to convince voters that they too are committed to police funding. In the end, both parties completely ignore a growing number of people who are calling for defunding of police departments, alternative mechanisms for public safety, and even the abolition of policing. 

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