GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The increase in gun violence over the last week prompted police to reach out to the community for an unusual rally Friday.
More than 100 people gathered Friday at Joe Taylor Park near Bemis Street SE and Diamond Avenue, where the most recent shooting took place. Among them were city and county commissioners, police, pastors and community activists.
They all called on residents to help police by breaking the code of silence.
“There have been 10 shootings in five days. Six people have been injured including a 10-year-old child, one arrest has been made and investigators are following leads on several of these cases,” said Grand Rapids Interim Police Chief David Kiddle. “Compared with the same timeframe last year, we’ve had a 57% increase in weapons firing, a 9% increase in assault with a gun, and a 37% increase involving robberies with a gun.”
“There’s suffering going on in our city and it’s affecting the safety and well-being of the entire city, whether it’s felt or not,” said Joe Jones, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Urban League. “To the residents who have information surrounding some of these recent shootings, please, please, please make a call to Silent Observer.”
ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
But many said the root of the problem needs to be addressed.
“In the absence of hope, is the presence of chaos,” said Rev. Jerry Bishop of Lifequest Ministries.
“One of the things that the village needs is economic power and capital. We have to bring back our community in a state of being where we have businesses that are flourishing that will hire our children,” said Rev. Nathaniel Moody, a Grand Rapids city commissioner.
People living in the community agree.
“Y’know, this is the problem. Once it calms down, people just walk away. You can’t walk away. This is an ongoing thing. There’s a lot of systemic issues that are driving some of these things,” said Marian Barrera-Young, crime prevention manager for the Baxter Neighborhood Association.
“The system is broken right now and this is consequences of the system,” said Baxter Neighborhood resident and mother Reyna Garcia. “We need to not cut the budget for education, for arts, for those activities that the kids need. Kids need to do something.”
PICKING APART MOTIVES
The chief said these shootings, while frightening, are not indiscriminate.
“These shootings are not random. Investigations suggest some may be retaliatory and others have definable motive. This is not a case of people driving around the city and shooting randomly at homes and individuals,” Kiddle said. “We are by no means under siege. We are, however, going to take swift action to end this serious and unacceptable conduct.”
Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington made it clear that Grand Rapids is still a relatively safe place to live.
“I will not allow the city of Grand Rapids to be mentioned in the same sentence or breath or vein of other mid-sized or large-sized communities that have violent crimes that they cannot solve,” Washington said.
PLAN OF ACTION
There are plans in the works police hope will help.
“Starting today, residents will see an increased presence of police in the affected neighborhoods,” Kiddle said. “They will be there for engagement and to ensure the safety of everyone living, working and playing in those neighborhoods.”
Grand Rapids Public Schools security will provide additional patrols in parks, and the parks will expand summer recreation and job opportunities.
“We are working with the faith community to help address these issues and are considering a relationship that will put pastors on patrol with us,” Kiddle said.
Washington said that just as police officers are held accountable for their behavior, the community needs to hold itself accountable for how it reacts.
“What you allow, you encourage. By staying quiet we send the message that this behavior is acceptable in our community, it is time to send a message that this behavior will no longer be tolerated,” Kiddle added.
Anyone with information regarding the shootings can anonymously share information to Silent Observer at 616.774.2345 or on the organization’s website.