Urban leaders react to police video of arrests

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids police on Tuesday released video from two recent incidents in which citizens refused to comply with police orders and were dragged from their cars and hit or kicked by officers.

Police say the videos give context for officers’ actions, which were criticized by some members of the community. But leaders representing minorities say not so fast.

The Grand Rapids Police Department released about 11 minutes of video from the two incidents on its Facebook page and another 10 hours in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Dashcam and body camera video shows the chaos surrounding two violent arrests.

The first one happened March 17 on the city’s West Side and involved an officer punching Bronquel Brown around 30 times in the leg. Brown was pulled over for allegedly speeding and had a 2-year-old child in the car. The video shows that the situation got worse as Brown refused to get out of his car, honking the horn in order to get attention.

The officer who struck Brown is on leave as GRPD investigates whether he used excessive force.

The second incident happened March 25 after police stopped an SUV filled with people on the southeast side. Officers were investigating a report of a fight with broken windows nearby.

The video shows an officer kicking 30-year-old Jason Markal Matthews repeatedly as he lay on the ground, struggling with another officer. Grand Rapids Interim Police Chief David Kiddle said the man being arrested grabbed and scratched at the arresting officer’s face and attempted to get at the officer’s utility belt.

Matthews has been offered a plea deal. If he admits to resisting and obstructing police, charges of attempting to disarm a peace officer and malicious destruction of property will be dismissed.

GRPD representatives would not go on camera Tuesday, but released a statement via email that said in part, “We want to remain as transparent as possible by providing the heart of the encounter including our use of force involved.”

“The public should take away that each situation is different, dynamic, and usually quickly evolving,” the statement continued. “The officers are human too, often showing tremendous restraint but are certainly not perfect, and we recognize the need for an educational campaign in partnership with the community on mutual respect, cooperation, rights, and expectations.”

Jeremy DeRoo, who leads inner city outreach program LINC UP, and Cle Jackson, the head of the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, agreed that people should always comply with the lawful orders of police, but said there are reasons why people do not comply.

“What I saw in the videos were people who were weighing a decision about what is the safest thing for me and my family?” DeRoo said. “Everybody is less safe when there is not a trusting relationship between the community and the police department.”

Jackson said people have seen videos from around the nation of people of color who end up injured or killed by police even when they comply and that imagery is internalized, as is the belief that compliance will not necessarily keep them from harm at the hands of police.

“It is absolutely not a guarantee of safety,” Jackson said. “That’s probably a $100, $150 ticket at best and it escalated into this man (Brown) being hit 30-31 times. That is way excessive. It’s unnecessary.”

They said the newly released video does not detract from the fact that there was wrongdoing on the part of police.

“I think what the video shows is the consequence of the lack of trust that exists that creates unsafe situations for the officers and the residents,” DeRoo said. “…Residents feel they have to protect other residents from the police department as opposed to the other way around.”

The community leaders say that police need to work to de-escalate situations rather than demanding submission at all costs.

“Leadership has consistently said that our No. 1 priority is improving community-police relations and yet they have not given officers directions on how to go about doing that or tactics to use in pursuing that cause,” DeRoo said.

DeRoo and Jackson say they plan to go through the entire 10 hours of the video.

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