GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The state of relations between Grand Rapids police and city residents were under the microscope during Thursday meetings by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights.
The state’s civil rights watchdog called the meetings to hear from community members about their experiences with police as part of a possible investigation.
At the NAACP office on Madison Avenue SE, officials heard accounts from residents who said police are a source of fear, not comfort. People said they suffered mistreatment at the hands of police or watched as others were mistreated.
“I don’t feel at home, I don’t feel welcome, I don’t feel safe and I don’t have the ability to even prosper,” said resident Kimberly Otterbridge.
Residents said the problem is no secret to anyone in the minority community.
“You know what they call Grand Rapids? Racist Rapids. Racist Rapids. I mean, white truckers say this. Racist Rapids — that’s ridiculous,” said a man named Woody.
Residents spoke about having police target them and their family during alleged wrongful traffic stops and even when walking and minding their own business.
Deborah Clanton spent two decades as a magistrate at the Kentwood District Court where she says she saw the people who interact with police and heard their stories.
“People should not be afraid to walk around and have to worry about being stopped. But I can also tell you, over those 23 years, I have never, ever had a white person tell me they were picked up for just walking. Never,” Clanton said.
“I’d like to see the GRPD respect and serve all members of the community even if we happen to be minorities,” said resident and attorney Elaine Lewis. “We all have an equal right to feel safe.
Unfortunately, my experiences with the GRPD both personally and professionally through my work at the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) have made me feel unsafe and unwelcome in my home.”
Notably absent were members of the Grand Rapids Police Department. Leaders here say an invitation was offered through the city administration, but there was no response.
The Michigan Civil Rights Department is here to gather information. If the agency opens a formal investigation into the GRPD’s actions and substantiates violations, the police department could possibly face state sanctions and fines.
Augustin Arbulu, executive director of the Michigan Civil Rights Department, said the GRPD will get an equal say during the lengthy process.
Anyone who wishes to give written testimony to the department can do so online or by calling 1.800.482.3604.