No more waiting for action

Call or email the City Manager and City Commissioners today and ask them to reduce the current Grand Rapids Police Department budget from 38% of the budget, down to the minimum 32%. We know that crime has been going down in Grand Rapids for decades, and that what the people need is more economic security, affordable housing, and behavioral and public health resources - not police resources that devalues Black bodies. On Tuesday, June 16th at 7pm the Grand Rapids City Commission is holding their regular commission meeting. Ask your city commissioners to make a bold commitment this Tuesday. 

[email protected] Mayor Rosalynn Bliss

[email protected] Manager Mark Washington

[email protected] Jon O’Connor, 1st Ward Commissioner

[email protected] Kurt Reppart, 1st Ward Commissioner

[email protected] Joe Jones, 2nd Ward Commissioner

[email protected] Milinda Ysasi, 2nd Ward Commissioner

[email protected] Rev. Nathaniel Moody, 3rd Ward Commissioner

[email protected] Senita Lenear, 3rd Ward Commissioner

Don’t live in Grand Rapids? You can also email your County Commissioner to defund the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. 

Equity PAC leadership stands behind and unapologetically supports local organizers and movements such as Justice for Black Lives, the People’s Budget, the youth-led Minorities Movement 2020, Movimiento Cosecha and Together We Are Safe, as they call for immediate action to decrease funding to the police. The City of Grand Rapids has been slow to take action in valuing black lives over the years. We ask the City Commission to make a bold commitment during their meeting on Tuesday, June 16th. 

We know defunding police is one policy and institution, and it does nothing to change the hearts and minds of those that justify racism and inaction in the many other institutions in our community. However, we also see re-imagining police and re-allocation of those resources as a clear and necessary tangible step forward to reduce violence against the people. 

As of this writing, we are three weeks removed from the May 25th murder of George Floyd. Black people have endured too much suffering and death while police and city leadership across the country keep community requests, asks and demands safely stowed away in committees and procedural dead-ends that are only awakened when the next procedural dead-end is proposed. 

Grand Rapids is no different. In the past 5 years alone, 130 total recommendations have been made to the City on policing that range from accountability to transparency to procedures and oversight. Yet during this time, as this article from GRIID points out, Black people are still repeatedly and consistently harassed, intimidated and brutalized by the Grand Rapids Police Department. Despite promises of reform and policy tweeks, we see incident after incident of brutality continue. We see the Grand Rapids Police Department still is handed 38% of the overall budget (6% over what is required in the charter) by the City Commission. It wasn’t until the last few weeks of protest and riots until the City committed to revisiting those recommendations and assessing what they’ve done, haven’t done and will/won’t do moving forward. 

Many will recall that in 2015, it was the final vote by Mayor Bliss in her role as City Commissioner that alerted and inspired the creation of Equity PAC. Mayor Bliss was the swing vote in a 4-3 decision to allow for 65 more rifles to be placed in police cruisers without the opportunity for community input. 

Since then Mayor Bliss has run her campaigns on issues of equity. In March of 2017 the Mayor’s State of the City focused on racial equity. Despite touting the work the city was doing with Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), the police chief was never directly involved. Three years later nothing has changed despite the Mayor understanding the issues as demonstrated by her interview with GARE in their “People Behind the Movement” segment:

The most rewarding is having an opportunity to serve our community and bring voice to a critical issue. Knowing that people who have historically been excluded now feel that someone is listening, that we are committed to bringing about change and that we are dedicated to ensuring that all those who live in our city have access to opportunity – that is important and extremely empowering. – Mayor Bliss

Three years later on May 30th, 2020 the Mayor, in response to hearing those voices that have been excluded, declared a state of emergency and asked the military to occupy our city. This is not listening. The “people who have been historically excluded” (people of color) in our city deserve an apology from city leaders that allowed this to happen, despite public outcry, and who continue to lead while brutal incidents  continue at the hand of our own police department.

Despite the outcry of people in the community against the Mayor and city leadership’s actions, City Manager Mark Washington still recommended to extend the curfew and ensure the national guard was on stand-by. Thankfully, commissioners Milinda Ysasi and Senita Lenear stood against any form of continuing the presence of the guard, curfew, or any other extreme measures. The community strongly pressured the remaining city commissioners to reject Mr. Washington’s recommendations, and the commission responded by sending the national guard home and ending the curfew. The only commissioner remaining in favor of maintaining the curfew was Third Ward Commissioner Rev Nathaniel Moody. 

A few days later a closed-door meeting was called by City Manager Mark Washington with different community leaders. The list of invitees was not made public or available, even to the invitees, nor was it clear upon arrival why this specific group of leaders was invited. Organizer Eleanor Moreno live streamed the meeting to bring transparency to the event. The meeting was disappointing in that it recommended more training and more committees.

On June 10th, the City of Grand Rapids announced reforms to the police that addressed peer accountability for excessive force and requirements to de-escalate and warn prior to the use of force. While these measures are a small step in the right direction, they do not address the deeper problem of whether it is necessary to deploy armed individuals to every call to 911. For example, we know that 75% of the time a police officer is deployed to a situation, the alleged crime has already taken place; and there is a lack of evidence proving that police presence prevents crime. However, we do know racism, segregation, poverty and defunded institutions are problems in cities that need to be addressed. We need a larger, re-imagined public good that people trust to address these issues. 

Equity PAC has historically committed to working closely with our public leaders, including those in the City of Grand Rapids, to reform policing and re-allocate policing resources. We are disillusioned by so many of our city leaders’ disorganized response to such a clear issue: Black people and allies demanding justice need investment in public institutions, police resources to decrease and our police model to be re-imagined. These actions support Mayor Bliss’ statement of "ensuring that all those who live in our city have access to opportunity”.

We continue to fully support the demand that Grand Rapids Police Chief Payne urgently bring forward an accountability plan that will eradicate the injustices by the GRPD within 30 days (July 4). 

Now is the time.  The pace of change has been too slow. Equity PAC will continue to support any public leader that will effectively and urgently work to shift resources away from militarization. Furthermore, we will continue to align and work closely with other organizers and activists in the community as a primary focus. We hope those that are part of the Equity PAC movement will support protests, organizers and activists until we have dismantled and re-invented policing.

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