Over the last few weeks, the Grand Rapids Press and the local corporate TV news stations have been reporting on strained relations between the Grand Rapids Police Department and the public, particularly the African American community. Last month GRPD Chief Harry Dolan publicly noted that in 2004, every homicide in Grand Rapids involved a minority perpetrator, victim, or both. Dolan angered many in the community by suggesting that African American community leaders should focus more on stopping “black on black” crime rather than complaining of racial profiling by the GRPD.
This past Wednesday, the community had a chance to tell the city’s Community Relations Commission about the behavior of the GRPD. Many people, particularly from the minority community, spoke about instances of abuse and brutality by the GRPD. The GR Press ran an article on Thursday laying out some of the complaints voiced at the hearing. As is usual in mainstream reporting on these issues, police chief Dolan is given the last word in the article. The next day, the GR Press ran an article that was very sympathetic to the GRPD, containing multiple quotes from GRPD members and the city commission, but no voices from the community. While the Chief Dolan reiterated that “this is not a department that uses excessive force”, an indication of how seriously the GRPD took the citizen’s complaints could be found in the comments of GRPD officer Ed Hillyer, president of the Police Officer Labor Council:
“This type of a meeting is a joke. You’re asking for people to complain,” Hillyer said. “Every one of our officers knew this was going to be a b—-session. Let them b—-, and we’ll go out and do our job professionally. We knew exactly what was coming this time and there’s no way to satisfy everyone.
“What we’re wondering is when will there be a forum for people who’ve had positive experiences and can praise what we’re doing here?”
On a more positive note, the GR Press ran a thought-provoking guest editorial from Randy Flood of the Men’s Resource Center of West Michigan. In his essay, Flood points out that rather than focusing on the race of all the homicide perpetrators in Grand Rapids, it would be more useful to focus on their gender. In Grand Rapids, as in the rest of the nation, the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by men, and Flood argues that it is male socialization, more than race or class that determines an individual’s propensity for violence.