GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Community response was split at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting on the heels of yet another video showing Grand Rapids police in a violent confrontation with citizens.
The Grand Rapids Police Department was once again the topic of discussion as its relationship with the Latino and black communities is at a low ebb. Some were unhappy with GRPD’s actions and others urged more respect for those who serve.
“If the neighbors had not recorded, would we have known? That should be a concern to everybody. Everybody,” one person said during the public comment section.
“Keeping GRPD accountable don’t work; the internal affairs, a bunch of cops investigating themselves,” another said.
“Why be so divisive? Aren’t we supposed to make things better, try to work together? … I don’t understand. I want to improve within our city and the police officers as well,” a man arguing the other side said. “I mean, they risk their lives every day.”
“The community needs to stop sending the wrong message to our young people that our police officers are against them because of the color of their skin. If we are honest, these incidents had nothing to do with race and everything to do with rebellion and disobedience to authority,” another commenter added.
It has been a tumultuous couple of months for GRPD and the local minority communities, starting with the wrongful detention of a U.S. citizen who is Latino after a GRPD captain called federal immigration officials. Then three times this month, citizens with cellphones captured police interactions that have sparked concern and outrage. The latest was video from Monday night that shows officers struggling with a resisting suspect who was wanted on a warrant.
Divine Booker, who as a self-styled community activist goes by the name Divine Reality, said he was “disappointed, disgusted” by the Monday video. He said it is emblematic of a larger problem with police and citizens of color.
“It’s very disempowering for any citizen to wake up and see these police actions within their community,” he said.
INCIDENTS LEAD TO CALLS FOR CHANGE
On Tuesday afternoon, before the meeting, Booker joined Gema Lowe, lead organizer for immigrant rights group Movimiento Cosecha, in a small protest outside Grand Rapids City Hall calling on the City Commission to demand change with GRPD.
For them, it’s about GRPD not serving as an arm of federal immigration authorities — namely U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, who Lowe argues is violent to the community and is putting children in cages and separating families.
“That’s just not true for all citizens and we just want justice for our immigrant community,” Lowe said. “We want for Grand Rapids Police Department to stop cooperating with ICE.”
She also said incidents like the one from March 11 in which a pair of Hispanic teens were approached by police while walking in the street instead of the sidewalk and then had guns pointed at them is an example of the problems police have in her community.
“It’s also true for our brothers and sisters in the African-American community,” Lowe said.
“The feeling is that public safety officers don’t keep them safe. That’s a major problem,” Booker said.
On Tuesday, GRPD Interim Chief David Kiddle addressed the issue of trust.
“There may be a trust issue with certain components of the community and we are certainly working on that through a variety of different methods, which we’ve talked about numerous times in the past,” Kiddle said.
The activists say they want more than community meetings and plans that never seem to change the reality on the street.
“They can have venting meeting sessions for the community to come out and vent, but at the end of the day, the community is really looking for some action and cultural change and those type of solutions only really come out of the department,” Booker said.
The city is in the midst of hiring a new police chief. Community relations may be the thorniest issue he or she will inherit.