GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the midst of a pandemic, violence is on the rise as Grand Rapids is on pace for one of its deadliest years ever.
On Friday, Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Payne, joined by community leaders, made a plea and a promise to put an end to the violence. The stress and distress over the inexplicable plague of gun violence was evident from the chief as he spoke about incidents both deadly and not.
“It’s frustrating, it should be frustrating to everyone,” Payne is talking about the homicide rate in Grand Rapids.
The number of homicides in 2020 has already exceeded the number of homicides in all of 2019.
“I was on my way to a unity basketball event down in Martin Luther King Park, instead I went to my 19th homicide of the year,” Payne said, referencing the Wednesday shooting that killed 23-year-old Martell Phillips.
In 2019, Grand Rapids saw a total of 18 homicides, already a significant increase over the last several years, when the homicide rate was going down.
But if the current rate continues, Grand Rapids is on pace to have the most homicides since 1993, when there were 34 in the midst of war between street gangs over the influx of crack cocaine.
The deaths come from virtually every part of the city.
Also on the increase are reports of gunfire citywide, including one instance where a 2-year-old was struck by gunfire and wounded Thursday.
“A 2-year-old is our future and for that baby to have to experience gunfire, senseless gunfire, it’s not acceptable,” Payne said.
Community leaders stood by the chief, calling on people to combat the violence.
“it’s very clear to me that that secondary trauma and that tertiary trauma is very, very significant in our community,” Magdalena Rivera, executive director East Hills Council Neighbors, said.
“Your silence is as wicked of a violence as the violence that’s the end product of a bullet leaving the chamber and leaving a dead body,” said Rev. Jerry Bishop, pastor of LifeQuest Ministries.
Grand Rapids is not alone. According to CNN, homicides are up by 24% in Philadelphia, an alarming 95% in Milwaukee, 23% in New York City and 34% in Chicago.
Payne said he believed a big part of the reason for the increase in gun violence in Grand Rapids is the prevalence of legal guns that are stolen from homes or gun stores and then make their way into the hands of criminals.
“Kids do breaking and enterings of homes, not to take a television; they’re looking for guns,” he said.
He also believes that adults are not as involved in the lives of young people in order to guide and influence them.
“There is a mistrust in the community with law enforcement. I think that we’ve got to do something — we being police — we’ve got to do something to break down those barriers to make people more willing to understand what we’re doing,” Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker said.
He said the flat numbers cannot adequately account for the human cost of violence — and not just for the victims.
“If we hold these people accountable, there’s probably 19 people who will go to prison maybe for the rest of their lives or at least for a long time and that, in essence, ends a life there,” Becker said.