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ACLU to bring conversation on police practices to Wealthy Theatre

[FULL VIDEO OF EVENT] In an effort to better understand and defuse the potential for injustice at the hands of police in Grand Rapids, this panel discussion on October 28 brings together city, federal and community stakeholders to discuss the relationship between the police and the public.
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What: "Is Grand Rapids the Next Ferguson: A Conversation on Police Practices"

Where: Wealthy Theatre (1130 Wealthy Street SE)

When: October 28, 6:30 p.m.

Free and open to the public

 

/Courtesy of ACLU

Clifford Washington, ACLU of Michigan Western Branch board member and author of this article

Clifford Washington, ACLU of Michigan Western Branch board member and author of this article /Courtesy of Clifford Washington

On October 28 at 6:30 p.m., the Western Branch of the Michigan ACLU, along with our friends and partners in the fight for justice, is hosting an event at the Wealthy Theatre, titled “Avoiding the next Ferguson: A discussion on policing and community relations.

In an effort to better understand and defuse the potential for injustice at the hands of police in Grand Rapids, this event brings together city, federal and community stakeholders to discuss the relationship between the police and the public.

More than a year has passed since Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Mo., helped remind us of a dirty truth about far too many police interactions with minority communities. The killing of this unarmed teen by the authorities epitomized the mistreatment and brutality many disenfranchised people, especially in communities of color, have experienced for decades. 

The resulting protests embodied a long-simmering anger at the history of mistreatment and marginalization. After years of being abused, imprisoned and ignored, the people spoke up loud and clear- this time with social media and citizen journalism assisting traditional media to make sure their voices were heard, for the entire world to see. 

The uprising in Ferguson left many outsiders horrified and confused. Having been lulled to sleep, the sight of an average American city filled with unrest along with a media portrayal of a city burning, further alarmed and confused the general public. Much of white America was faced for the first time with the frustration bubbling up after years of mistreatment in minority communities. The rest of the country finally had a real opportunity to reflect on the causes of the community disempowerment that gave rise to the Ferguson protests. 

Seeing the people rise up to defend their lives and dignity changed how police/community relations were viewed from the outside. 

Significantly, the attention these uprisings brought to the issue of police abuse of power and mistreatment also gave us an opportunity to connect the dots between Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray and Milton Hall in Saginaw – our own backyard –  not to mention the countless other victims who’ve suffered or died in anonymity. 

It is this connection between police brutality and the inevitable community reaction that we at the ACLU of Michigan are seeking to explore at the Wealthy Theatre on October 28. Our goal is to advance the conversation that grabbed the headlines in Ferguson by providing a forum to concretely address the root causes of police abuse of power and community frustration.

Ferguson forced us to ask whether Grand Rapids has the conditions that could lead to the death of an unarmed teenager. We are forced to ask what would the community response be if were we to experience a similar situation? And how can we, as stakeholders in this community, prevent the police mistreatment, brutality and violence towards people of color and address the widespread community frustration that has been building for years?

With these questions in mind, Grand Rapids Chief of Police David Rahinsky will join our panel to speak to what the GRPD is doing to improve its relationship with underprivileged communities. U.S. Attorney for the Western District Patrick Miles Jr. will be in attendance to address the federal role of oversight and his priorities in guaranteeing community protection. In addition to these government officials, we have brought together key community members to help give voice to their neighbors' concerns. Darel Ross, Co Executive Director of LINC and Pastor Jerry Bishop of Lifequest Ministries have the experience and knowledge to address the most pressing concerns of the community. Leslie Mac, founder of the Ferguson National Response Network and a recent Grand Rapids resident, brings a national understanding of racial justice and the actions country-wide to raise the issue. Putting them all together, we expect a robust and informative discussion.

Grand Rapids is a city that has experienced a lot of economic growth over the last few years. But unfortunately, that growth has not benefited everyone. As a result, many of us will simply ignore the problems created by gentrification, over-policing and inequality. Some too easily forget that our prisons are overflowing and that about 38% of the black residents in Grand Rapids live in poverty. We are hoping this conversation can lift us out of our malaise and help us understand what needs to be done.

This is not the first attempt to have this conversation, nor will it be the last. That’s why the discussion is critical: We are at a stage in public consciousness where these conversations are becoming increasingly common, and increasingly important. And that is why we need our fellow citizens to attend, to help sustain this conversation and help us prevent Grand Rapids from becoming the next Ferguson.

 

By Clifford Washington

ACLU of Michigan

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