GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the wake nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, including one in Grand Rapids that devolved into an all-out riot, city officials have upped their efforts to improve relations between police and the community.
One such effort took virtual form Friday. As opposed to the pre-COVID-19 community forums of the past, this time, residents listened in on the city’s various social media platforms and phoned in their questions.
One things was clear from community members’ calls: If the city wants to move forward with solutions for the future, it is going to have to deal with some current issues.
“There’s video that’s been viewed 5.3 million times of an unarmed individual being pepper sprayed and shot at with a tear gas projectile,” said one caller.
The incident happened Saturday during the protest-turned-riot downtown. The man in the video has filed an excessive force complaint and Grand Rapids Police Department Chief Eric Payne said GRPD’s Internal Affairs Unit is investigating.
“There are hours of video that has to be looked (at),” Payne said. “As much as I want that investigation, I don’t want to rush them.”
The virtual forum is one of the initiatives coming out of City Hall in response to the weekend riot.
“I know that we can do good work in recovering — and I’m not just talking about broken windows and broken glass, but I’m talking about the broken systems,” City Manager Mark Washington said.
One key to making sure reforms are put in place is the city’s new Office of Oversight and Public Accountability, which will review policies, procedures and have a seat at the table when it comes to police officer discipline.
“So this adds more oversight,” Washington said. “Ultimately, as decisions that occur with employees, even on appeal, land with me, and so the buck stops with me on personnel matters.”
There was a reoccurring theme among those who dialed in to the forum as they called for the creation of what they call the People’s Budget — with one line item slashed.
“I think that it is time to defund the police and fund programs that are proven to work,” one caller said.
“The mayor of LA just announced a cut of $200 million from their police department in response to the demands of Black Lives Matter and the People’s Budget of LA. We ask that you enact similar measures,” another added.
“If Grand Rapids officials do not take Black Lives Matter Michigan seriously with defending the police, elected officials are going to be voted out of office,” another caller threatened.
Washington outlined a number of changes to the city budget that have shifted money for traditional law enforcement functions to more community-oriented programs.
“But at the same time, I have to have a police department who’s prepared to respond to events, like what happened last Saturday,” Washington said.
The next forum is set for June 11.