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We’re not going to question you: WZZM 13 interviews GRPD Chief Winstrom and never challenges a single thing he says

March 13, 2023

It has been a year since Eric Winstrom was hired to be the new Chief of Police in Grand Rapids. On March 9th, WZZM 13 did a story that essentially allowed Winstrom to create his own narrative about what has happened over the past year and want he wants to see happen.

Let’s be clear about this kind of news story, a news story that is a form of stenography, where someone says something and the news media simply presents that narrative with question, without a challenge and without voices and perspectives to counter such a narrative. 

The online headline for this story, a story which also aired on WZZM 13, reads: Shooting death of Patrick Lyoya, building trust | GRPD Chief Eric Winstrom reflects on one year in office. These kinds of headlines are important, because it creates a narrative and frames how news stories will often go. The headline is essentially a contradiction. How can you begin by saying, Shooting death of Patrick Lyoya, followed by building trust? This headline is also a play on words, since the headline did not say that the GRPD shot and killed Patrick Lyoya, which would have made it difficult to then say, building trust. 

In the WZZM 13 broadcast version of the story, the news reader begins by saying that Police Chief Eric Winstrom is reflecting on his first year as Police Chief in Grand Rapids. The framing of the TV version sets viewers up by telling them that the Windstorm has been reflecting on his year as police chief, but does he actually do that? The news reader then says that a channel 13 reporter sat down with Winstrom to talk about 3 things; the lasting impact of the shooting of Patrick Lyoya, building trust, and what he hopes to accomplish this year.

Before viewers get to hear from Winstrom, the reporter frames the interview around the “controversial officer-involved shooting of Patrick Lyoya.” Again, the news uses the language that the cops use, officer-involved shooting, rather than say that Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by GRPD officer Christopher Schurr, while Schurr sat on Lyoya who was face down on the ground. 

Instead of addressing the GRPD shooting of Patrick Lyoya, Winstrom, who has learned well from years of being coached by consultants, the GRPD Chief begins him response by talking about the 2020 riots that took place in Grand Rapids in response to the Minnesota police murder of George Floyd. Winstrom uses the riots to get viewers to sympathize with him on the conundrum he supposedly faced when releasing the video of the GRPD shooting of Patrick Lyoya. WZZM 13’s decision to show images of broken storefront windows from the 2020 uprising effectively gets viewers to think about property damage instead of the Patrick Lyoya being shot in the back of the head in the front yard of a house in the southeast part of Grand Rapids. For the majority white viewers in the West Michigan market, it makes a whole lot of sense to use riot images and damage to property, rather than to hear or see how the Congolese community and the Black community were traumatized by Lyoya’s death.

Winstrom then shits to talking about people “from outside of the city, people with bad intensions, who want to take advantage of an already awful situation.” Again, the well-coached cop makes the riots about individuals with bad intentions, instead of the thousands of people who protested in downtown Grand Rapids, who who were angry and enraged over the police murder of another Black person. Now stop for a moment, and ask yourself, if this was an honest interview, with a reporter that challenged people in power, what could they have done in this situation? A good reporter would questions these comments by Winstrom and provide facts, facts about the systematic murder of Black people by cops across the country or about the failures of performative politics that takes place every god damn time after another Black person is murdered by cops. However, we get none of that, and Winstrom gets to keep on saying that he wants to.

The news reporter than goes on to say that Chief Winstrom was proud that the GRPD was able to “keep the peace.” When people in positions of privilege say keep the peace, this is nothing more than code for maintaining the status quo, business as usual and allowing systems of power and oppression to continue operating without interruption.

We next hear from Winstrom who said, “We didn’t have one officer use force against a protester for these protests out there on Monroe Center. Not one. I’d say that was the biggest accomplishment of mine, but really it was a team effort of the department last year.” Again, the WZZM 13 reporter didn’t question or challenge this statement, despite the fact that there have been several incidents where cops used force on those protesting the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya, some of which were witnessed and recorded by other people protesting. 

The reporter then continues to go along with the well-crafted narrative that Winstrom was creating by saying that the Police Chief wanted to build trust in the community. “It takes consistent, ethical behavior,” he said. “Showing integrity and showing the police department’s doing the right thing over time. It’s a journey, not a destination to build trust. We’re going to keep doing it for as long as I’m here.” Again, the news reported did not question or challenge Winstrom, nor did they ask for evidence or data around the department’s practice of accountability or transparency. It doesn’t matter what Winstrom says unless he can produce evidence that trust exists with the community, especially the Black community and other affected populations that are regularly targeted by the GRPD.

The news reporter then gets to the third thing that Winstrom wanted to talk about, which was the future of the GRPD and their desire to recruit, retain and diversify the department. Winstrom is then give even more airtime to talk about how the GRPD is recruiting and why he wants increase the number of cops in the department. 

What the WZZM 13 reporter allowed Chief Winstrom to do was to essentially dictate the terms of the story, which came down to three over arching messages:

  • The GRPD protects the community from bad people with bad intentions.
  • The GRPD does not used force against people who are protesting, demonstrating they are accountable to the public.
  • The GRPD wants and deserves to increase the number of cops in the City, which will lead to more safety and security.

My Grandma would call this list a load of horse shit. In some ways you have to admire the spin by Chief Winstrom, since he was able to craft whatever narrative he wanted to, a narrative which essentially made the GRPD out to be the saviors of Grand Rapids. But this is exactly what happens when you have reporters who do not question and do not challenge people like Chief Winstrom. What’s even worse, is that there were no other perspectives presented in this story, perspectives could have countered the narrative from Winstrom and challenged his spin of what the GRPD has been doing under his leadership over the past year. 

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