‘It needs to stop’: Grand Rapids breaks record for deadliest year

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — 2020 is the deadliest year on record for the city of Grand Rapids.

A 23-year-old man was shot and killed Sunday night. Police say around 9 p.m., officers tried to stop a man who was driving erratically near Burton Street and Division Avenue. His car ultimately crashed into a building. Officers then found the victim, who was rushed to the hospital but died.

The death of 23-year-old Michael George Eastwood, of Plainfield Township, marks the city’s 35th homicide of the year. That breaks a 1993 record, making 2020 the deadliest year in Grand Rapids’ history.

“It makes no sense. These kids are killing each other and I always say you’ve got two sad days: you have a funeral and a court date,” community leader Elijah Libbett said. “You’ve got two families that are suffering and it needs to stop.”

Libbett said he was caught up in a violent lifestyle many years ago. Now, he works to curb the violence with the anti-gun violence group Mothers on a Mission. The group regularly protests gun violence by showcasing photos of victims.

“When we started Moms on a Mission, we said this is one club we don’t want no new members. We started off with about six (victims’ photos). Now we’re up to 50-something, not including what’s happened this year,” Libbett said.

The Grand Rapids Police Department says the pandemic could be a contributing factor to the violence.

In August, the police department rolled out a three-year strategic plan that included measures to combat violence. Among those: adding beat officers to neighborhoods to improve community relations, gun buyback programs and looking into new technologies like ShotSpotter gunfire detection.

Community leaders say the key to change will be relationships with those perpetuating the violence.

“I believe in prevention, stopping things before it starts and in order to stop it before it starts is to have a relationship with those at-risk kids,” Libbett said. “These kids are out here starving for attention. They do what they see. I believe if they see different, they will do different because I’m one (of them).”

News 8 reached out to GRPD Monday, seeking an interview with Chief Eric Payne, but he was not available. The department said the chief will instead make remarks during a presentation at a public safety committee meeting Dec. 15 via Zoom.

Anyone with information on Sunday night’s shooting is asked to call police at 616.456.3380 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.

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