Grand Rapids police reform activists say much still to be done

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids activists say they are still pushing for police reform one year after a riot in downtown Grand Rapids. 

In May 2020, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, protestors took to the streets of cities across the nation calling for police reform. 

Thousands of protestors gathered in downtown Grand Rapids calling for an end to racism. As night fell, tensions began to rise. By the end of the night, a riot had ensued. 

“I think that it started initially peaceful because they just had something to say, you know. We never get a break,” said Tawanna Gordon, cousin of Breonna Taylor, as she described what she saw of the 2020 riot. “It just seemed like it’s one police killing of an African American after the next. There’s never a period of time that we can calm down and we can reflect, that we can finally say we can breathe again.” 

Taylor was born and raised in Grand Rapids. Gordon is one of several family members that still lives in West Michigan. She said losing Breonna Taylor propelled her family into social justice work. As a result, Gordon has spent the last year working with city officials, including Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne, to reform policing.  

“We’re trying to make sure that Grand Rapids police officers don’t have that encounter, that they don’t have a traffic stop gone wrong that ends in a death, that they don’t have a police call that goes wrong and it ends in a death,” said Gordon.  

Gordon says despite the door being open for conversations, there is still lots of work to be done. 

“I think because of national attention with other cases and then the two cases that have surfaced, video footage that have surfaced here I feel like we’re moving backwards,” said Gordon. “Police Chief Payne is open to communicating, I think, with certain people and I think he needs to expand that to the community.”

Gordon says her family is working with members of the Michigan Legislature on a set of bills that would reform policing throughout the state. She said one of the changes she’d like to see is not allowing officers to kneel or sit on top of suspects during an arrest. 

“I think that they don’t understand the amount of weight that you put on one person when they’re on the ground when they cannot breathe. George Floyd should have been the precedent and the last person in this country that police felt that more than one police officer could lay on their back,” said Gordon.

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