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Police collaborators and apologists: The Acton Institute provides a platform for iCI Nation to promote their agenda

March 5, 2023

I have been monitoring the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty since the early 1990s. Most of what they talk about is a defense of Capitalism, the Judeo-Christian tradition, with a regular critique of all things that are politically left. 

It is rare for the Acton Institute, their writers, or those who host their podcast, the Acton Line, to address issues or topics that are specific to Grand Rapids or West Michigan. This was not the case with their most recent Acton Line podcast for March 1st, which has the following text included as a narrative to compliment the guest on the show.

When people think of interactions between the police and the public these days, for many, the first thoughts that come to mind are of horrific incidents like the deaths of George Floyd or Brianna Taylor. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the Acton Institute is headquartered, a police officer is currently awaiting trial in the shooting death of 26-year old Patrick Lyoya. 

These incidents, and the rifts they have created between members of the community and members of law enforcement, highlight some of the challenges of modern policing. How can we bridge the divide between the police, who serve and important and necessary function in our society, and the public, to whom they are ultimately responsible.

Enter iCI Nation, an organization based here in Grand Rapids that brings communities together by uniting citizens, law enforcement & community organizations to foster a healthy environment for community to build trust with law enforcement. iCI is lead by founder and executive director Jennifer Franson, who in just two years has facilitated over 100 connections with law enforcement and community building new relationships and trust.  This momentum has continued to snowball as her membership has quadrupled in size and now has the FBI coming to her to ask for help building relationships with their community.

GRIID has written several article about iCI Nation in recent years, specifically because of their role as apologists for the GRPD, plus the fact that the local news media doesn’t question or challenge the role they play and the racist nature of their work.  

The interview that the iCI Nation founder had with the Acton Line host wasn’t terribly engaging. Jennifer Franson talked about how she was going through a divorce 10 years ago, and that is when she decided to get involved in support cops. Franson also said that she wanted to organize activities to say “Thank you” to the cops and other acts of appreciation.

The Acton Line interviewer also didn’t ask challenging or engaging questions. In fact, his questions were so superficial that it almost seemed that he recognized that Franson didn’t have the capacity to articulate any of the complexities about the function of policing in the US. What follows are some of the questions posed to the iCI Nation founder and her responses.

Acton Line – What are some of the activities that you do to support cops? Franson talked about hosting events at the 4 largest police departments in the county, prayer meetings, connecting people with cops, and promoting all the good that cops do in the community. Like most of Franson’s responses she did not have any real evidence to support her claims, only anecdotes. 

Action Line – What are cops concerns? Franson said that Cops just want to connect with people. She also acknowledged the death of Patrick Lyoya, but used the phrase, “Officer involved shooting here in Grand Rapids,” without even mentioning Lyoya by name. She thinks that the cops get a bad rap in the news media, again without any imperial evidence. GRIID has been documenting how the local news media has been reporting on the GRPD, which is overwhelmingly positive, especially when the GRPD sends out Media Releases, where the local news media just parrots what the GRPD has to say. There was one thing she did say that was instructive. Apparently there are 35 Chiefs of Police in this area and they meet monthly to work to, “keep me blissfully ignorant of how they keep me safe,” said Franson. Franson also said that these Chiefs are already planning for how to respond to the outcome of the trial for the former cop, Christopher Schurr, who shot and killed Patrick Lyoya. 

Acton Line then asked about the current sloganeering, like defunding the police. What are communities in Grand Rapids asking from cops? Franson claimed that people in the communities she has talked with (she doesn’t name specific communities) if they want to connect with cops. Franson believes that they want to connect with cops. She then went on to say that the Defund groups don’t sit down with cops, they stay at odds because they don’t want to move forward. 

Acton Line – How are communities changing and how is policing changing? Franson believes that the police are much more into community engagement, that they are truly community based. She also stated that current policing efforts are more wholistic and valuing the life of everybody, even through she once again provided no evidence to support such claims. It is certainly true that the GRPD has been emphasizing more community engagement, but that is a direct response to the Movement for Black Lives, especially after the George Floyd uprisings and the GRPD shooting of Patrick Lyoya. In fact, cops always do the “we want to connect with the community” mantra when more and more of the public is questioning or challenging their functions as violence workers. Franson did say that the FBI has a “community outreach specialist,” which she met, who said they are interested in having the iCI working with them to build relationships. This is something that should concern activists and organizers who have been challenging the GRPD and the Kent County Sheriff’s Department in recent years.

Acton Line – Are we asking for too much from cops, by dealing with social and economic issues? Franson said that more staff is definitely needed. She then said that the cops play basketball with kids on the street, as if that addresses socio-economic issues. In fact, cops playing basketball is about two things. First, by playing basketball with them, cops want to normalize with marginalized kids that they too are just like them, which is of course ridiculous. The second benefit of cops playing basketball with kids is to win their trust, specifically so that they can get kids to share information, to snitch and assist cops in surveillance work.

Acton Line – What is one thing you wish from people, who have not had a positive experience of the cops, for them to see cops differently. Franson says she does ride alongs with the cops regularly and then said “real live violence is ugly. “People lie or act crazy when interacting with cops. I can’t believe how calm and respectful cops are when interacting with people who are lying or being crazy.” 

Acton Line – How did Clergy on Patrol come about in Grand Rapids? Franson said that Clergy on Patrol came about because of iCI Nation, who visited a similar program in Kalamazoo, and then bringing that information back to the GRPD. She said there are 5 Pastors and 2 Rabbis who serve as Clergy on Patrol.

Acton Line – What is the biggest thing you have learned from doing this work? Franson said she is a “big faith girl, so I just keep my eyes on God. Doors keep opening, like with the FBI.”  

Acton Line – For people in the community, people who are skeptical, what is one thing you want them to know and understand to change how they view cops? Franson said that she thinks that people need to know that they have a voice at the table. You have to be willing to put yourself out there in order to be at the table. People need to be moving forward and not just yelling. This last line, was of course a dig at the defund the GRPD types and those who have been in the streets in recent years either demanding greater police accountability, defunding of police budgets or calling for the abolition of policing. 

What we can learn about this Acton Line interview with a police apologist and collaborator with state violence workers, is that it is consistent with the anti-Black Lives Matter stance that the Acton Institute has taken in recent years. In addition, we should see the Acton Line interview as further evidence that they have a commitment to business as usual worldview and will support any group that normalizing state repression that comes from cops. Providing the founder of the iCI Nation a platform on their podcast means that will increase the likelihood that Franson’s group will not only gain moral support from the Capitalist Class members who make up the Acton Institute, it could lead to additional funding for the work that Franson does through collaboration with cops in Kent County and the FBI.

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