Reverend James Stokes remembers demonstrations turning into riots in Grand Rapids after George Floyd was murdered, damaging businesses and arresting scores of people.
Stokes and other leaders in western Michigan desperately wanted to avoid a similar outbreak of violence last April when a white Grand Rapids police officer shot and killed his black driver, Patrick Ryoya. was Anger in the community mounted after the shooting video was released, with some fearing a violent reaction. The building did not burn. No stores were looted.
City leaders say police reform and outreach to Grand Rapids’ black community, including clergy, helped keep the peace after Ryoya’s murder. Others see reform efforts as slow and their impact superficial at best.
Stokes, pastor of New Life Tabernacle Church, said: “As pastors, we were right in front of it, talking to the congregation, holding press conferences. I did.”
Grand Rapids police have a history of violent encounters with blacks, who make up 18% of the city’s population. Stokes said no one forgot that a cop held five black youths at gunpoint in 2017, and about 16 months later, the cops stopped and the 11-year-old was arrested. pointed a gun at his three black children, including two. .
The 2020 killing of a black man, Floyd, by a white Minneapolis police officer sparked demonstrations and riots against racist policing across the United States. In Grand Rapids he had over 100 businesses damaged and seven police cars set on fire. And the mayor declared a civil emergency.
Then on April 4 last year, 26-year-old Lyoya from Nigeria was pulled over by Grand Rapids executive Christopher Schurr. When Shul asked for his license, Ryoya ran, but Shul caught him and the two wrestled on the ground.
Schurr’s body camera footage appears to show Lyoya reaching for the officer’s taser. They quarrel until Schurr fires a shot in the back of Lyoya’s head. A passenger in Ryoya’s car filmed the shooting on a mobile phone.
There was collective anger and grief from “the majority of our community” after Ryoya’s death, said black mayor Kelsey Perdue. rice field.
“People are losing their patience a little bit,” Perdue said. “When a tragic strike occurs, is it always a kind of wake-up call whether we are prepared enough to prevent this from happening again?”
Schurr was fired last year and charged with second-degree murder. His trial is scheduled to begin in October.
Mark Washington, who is black and was hired as the City of Grand Rapids in 2018, said, “Law enforcement and police force us to feel like our country and communities are always two steps forward in reform and backward in the use of force. manager.
Public outrage over Grand Rapids Police Department interactions with black youth in 2017 and 2018 led to the introduction of officer training and youth interaction policies. developed and communicated between law enforcement and residents. The city rolled out a program to put black pastors and police officers in patrol cars to ease the instability in the neighborhood.
The city of Washington also said the city has invested about $1 million in the Cure Violence program. The program helps prisoners work with young people to avoid making similar mistakes.
“We look at policing differently,” he said. “Unfortunately, the challenges surrounding police cases have defined us more than any progress has made.”
Grand Rapids’ programs mirror efforts elsewhere to facilitate community relations.
The Baltimore Police Department began making changes in 2017 through court-ordered reforms following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015. Federal investigators have uncovered patterns of unconstitutional and discriminatory police practices, especially against black residents.
In 2021, in Connecticut, the State Police and Training Commission approved a mandatory use of force training program for all police officers.
The recent fatal assault of a black driver, Tyre Nichols, in Memphis, Tennessee, has sparked calls for police reform. Of the seven Memphis police officers fired in Nichols’ death, five have been charged with second-degree murder.
“We are seeing a lot of cities starting to create some kind of privately-led oversight committee,” said Kirby Gahti, program director for the Washington-based National Cities Alliance. “Those things are great, but missing teeth or not allowing residents and citizens to participate in decision-making from the start can be seen as more beneficial than helpful. ”
Eric Cumberbatch, senior vice president of Policy & Community Engagement at the Center for Policing Equity, questions the effectiveness of community outreach programs.
Cops meet black clergymen, play basketball with kids, and attend cookouts, but “they lack the real depth to create organizational and institutional change,” Cumberbatch said.
Grand Rapids police have never shot a community member since Ryoya’s death, but state police determined that black murder suspect Patrick Jones committed suicide in December after exchanging gunfire with officers. .
Jamal Crawford, a Boston-based community activist and former member of the Police Reform Task Force, says police training needs to continue.
“Human behavior is difficult to legislate or control,” says Crawford. “They’re not going to create a system that the cops won’t[mess up]. What they have to do is put in place systems and mechanisms for what happens when they do that — a transparent, independent investigation.” is to do.”
Police training and reform in Grand Rapids “isn’t revolutionary,” it’s “almost the same, looking for new ways to infiltrate communities, interrogate and impose themselves,” says Ryoya. Victor Williams, president of the neighborhood association, said. killed.
“People would rather have self-regulation. They don’t trust the police in this neighborhood,” Williams said.
Still, Frank Stella, director of the Association for Interfaith Dialogue in Grand Rapids, believes that “it was a small miracle that more sober minds prevailed” after Ryoya’s death.
“There are people who are against me, a very vocal, very destructive group who claim Grand Rapids hasn’t taken a step forward,” Stella said. “I understand their passion and frustration, but I see progress.”
Williams is a member of AP’s Race & Ethnicity team.
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