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Community Updates: Friday, July 14

Grand Rapids City Commission meeting draws dozens of residents, activists to City Hall; Kent County Prosecutor, 17th District Court postpone People v. Christopher Schurr trial pending review by Michigan Court of Appeals; and more
Branches in front of the blurred lights of downtown Grand Rapids

Branches in front of the blurred lights of downtown Grand Rapids /Antonia Enos Burrows

Grand Rapids City Commission Meeting Draws Dozens of Residents, Activists to City Hall 

On Tuesday, the Grand Rapids City Commission held the first of its July meetings at City Hall. The meeting began with a moment of silence, the Pledge of Allegiance, and roll call. First Ward Commissioner Jon O'Connor was excused from the meeting due to a family emergency. 

Once that was concluded, Mayor Bliss opened up the meeting for the first round of public comment. Members of the community who wanted to speak on any items that had been brought up earlier in the day at the standing committee meetings were invited to speak. Two individuals, including Kent County Commissioner Ivan Diaz, took the podium to speak on item 6 under the Committee of the Whole section, specifically as it relates to the proposed downtown amphitheater. Both individuals expressed support for the project, but with some "asterisks." They encouraged the City Commission to address some of the concerns that the community has regarding the project, as well as ensure that they do their "due diligence."

Another individual took the podium to speak on item 4 under the Community Development Committee section (relating to affordable housing). A resident of the Second Ward also expressed frustration with the inaccessibility of the meeting and the lack of a virtual medium to include the rest of the community, saying that "I know at least 25 people who said they really wanted to be here to help and support our homeless population."

After the first public comment section ended, the City Commission moved quickly through the following agenda items: approval of the minutes, petitions and communications, reports of City officers, consent agenda, and ordinances to be adopted. The floor was once again opened to members of the community who wanted to participate in two scheduled public hearings for two proposed amendments to the City Code:

Kate Berens (Deputy City Manager) and Philip Strom (Deputy City Attorney), provided the Commission and members of the public with a brief presentation outlining the background and scope of these amendments. Commissioners Perdue, Moody, Robbins, Ysasi, and Knight all followed up with their own thoughts and questions about the proposed amendments. 

Most residents were opposed to these changes to the City Code, with many worried about the possible implications of these amendments. "I come before you disappointed, frustrated, [and] not surprised again," one resident stated. "These are people who are humans and instead of criminalizing them, we should be helping them." Another First Ward resident echoed this sentiment, telling the City Commission to "enforce the laws you already have [and] put your time, energy, and resources into real solutions to the crisis." Dayja Tillman of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also took the podium to speak out against these amendments on behalf of the organization:

"One really concerning aspect of the amendments is the proposed limitation on personal possessions to 32 gallons. Possessions that don't fit in the allotted 32 gallons are subject to seizure by the City. Imagine trying to fit your entire life: your clothes, your bag, your papers, your food, your memories, your odds and ends, your home into a container that's the size of a trash can. And when you can't, it's simply taken away from you. It's not feasible and it's not fair to ask people who have already lost so much to try."

However, there were some attendees that took the podium to speak out in favor of these amendments. "To not acknowledge the need for a safe, clean, and healthy city while [also] expecting the city's continued growth and the ability to provide for our most vulnerable is simply unrealistic and unproductive," one Second Ward resident stated. "To be clear, this is a behavior issue and not a housing status issue."

Mike VanGessel, the Founder & CEO of Rockford Construction, also took the podium to speak on this issue. "Businesses and residents are now considering the value of our City as a proposition for where they locate," he said. "We all need a city who helps with safety, cleanliness, and crime to create a positive experience for all our businesses, residents, and visitors." He acknowledged that this is a complex issue that will require a multi-faceted solution.

About three hours into the meeting, yelling could be heard in the back of the room. Officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department rushed into the crowd to respond. According to a few attendees of the meeting, a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce "antagonized" a resident who was at the meeting to speak against these proposed amendments. They also stated that GRPD intervened when the resident went to respond and that Chief Eric Winstrom "threatened to arrest" the resident if he did not "calm down." This incident created a lot of tension in the City Commission Chambers and Mayor Bliss ended up closing the second public hearing early.    

Overall, the meeting lasted almost five hours. To see the full meeting, visit the City's YouTube channel or watch below: 


Kent County Prosecutor, 17th District Court Postpone People v. Christopher Schurr Trial Pending Review by Michigan Court of Appeals 

On Tuesday, the Kent County Prosecutor's Office announced that the People v. Christopher Schurr Trial has been postponed.

On April 4, 2022, the City of Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) announced that one person was dead following a traffic stop that escalated into an officer-involved shooting. The victim was later identified as 26-year-old Patrick Lyoya. On Thursday, June 9, 2022, following an investigation by the Michigan State Police, Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker announced that he was charging former officer Christopher Schurr of the GRPD with second-degree murder. The incident incited anger within the Grand Rapids community, with many calling for accountability from the Grand Rapids Police Department.

In April of 2023, the Michigan Court of Appeals (COA) granted Schurr's defense team "leave to appeal." Now, a month later, the Kent County Prosecutor's Office and the 17th District Court must await a decision from the COA before the trial can proceed. According to Tuesday's media release:

"We respect the judicial process and we understand the community has a vested interest in the progress of this case. However, this adjournment was not a surprise given the status of the case in the Court of Appeals as it would not be possible to keep the dates set by the 17th Circuit Court as we await a date to be set for oral argument with the higher court reviewing the case. Additional updates on the progress of this case will be provided as warranted."

The Michigan Court of Appeals has not yet announced when they will review the case. 


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