Because the Grand Rapids Police Department has taken racial profiling to new heights, Black men have declared a "state of emergency" and are urging city officials to do the same. After a gathering of about 100 men on May 8 at LifeQuest Ministries, they took their grievances to the city commission.
Pastor Jerry Bishop, among others, spoke out about recent incidents that echo the results of a traffic stop study released in April. The report, which reviewed data from 2013-2015, revealed that Grand Rapids police are twice as likely to stop Black drivers and more likely to search them than any other ethnic group.
The need for this unified effort of community residents and leadership was sparked by a March 24 incident where five Black youths were approached by Officer Caleb Johnson and his partner Troy Cosgrove with their weapons drawn.
They proceeded to make the boys lie down on the ground with their arms outstretched, handcuffed them one at a time, and made them wait in the squad car until their parents arrived. They were unarmed and innocent.
City officials seem to agree that whether or not police officers have ill-intent, the results are the same. "Findings from the traffic stop study are very troubling," City Manager Greg Sundstrom said. "The city does not shy away from these disappointing findings. We own this."
Police Chief David Rahinsky seems to be in agreement that this pattern is a serious problem. "It's certainly not in our hearts to go out and police in a way that affects the community and portions of the population differently but ultimately that's the ultimate outcome," he said. "What we need to concern ourselves with now is changing that outcome."
But we don't believe that this is a coincidence, do we? Pastor Bishop doesn't seem to think so. "It's appalling that in light of the deluge of significant violence, mayhem, death, and economic failure among 16 to 25-year old males, as well as the stats that verify significant implicit bias by our police, that a state of emergency has not been called already by our community leadership to incorporate, invite, to address, and abate the list of explosive items before they ignite like other communities around the United States," Bishop offered in a statement to the commission.
Activists and concerned citizens are seeing this as a call to action. But change must be swift and effective. If not, the city of Grand Rapids will be in for a very long and very hot summer.