GRPD policies get national attention, Saturday protest

A still image from a Grand Rapids Police Department body camera shows an officer pointing a gun at a group of boys as part of a search for an armed suspect. (March 24, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A national group plans to hold a demonstration in Grand Rapids Saturday to protest the Grand Rapids Police Department’s policies, which led to five unarmed teens being held at gunpoint last month.

Freedom First International SCLC demonstrates across the country and organized the rally after seeing body camera footage released by GRPD earlier this month.

Their Chicago-based president, Pastor Gregg L. Greer, has been an involved activist in cases like the deadly shootings of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

“We felt like we had to do something because the community violence issues and police brutality issues are not just local issues; now… they’re even national and international. So we need to start looking at things and connecting the dots,” he told 24 Hour News 8 by phone Friday.

While he acknowledges the March incident ended peacefully and the department has apologized to the families, he believes it’s an opportunity to continue the “what’s next” conversation. One of his biggest points was the lack of diversity within the department that he thinks hurts community relations.

“When (the department is) apologizing, we have to look at real solutions in order to bring about change for the future. And if we’re not including those components in our dialogue, then basically what it is is a window dressing,” Greer added.

For the second week in a row, Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky held office hours Friday to talk with concerned community members. 24 Hour News 8 sat down with Rahinsky during that time to ask about the pastor’s diversity concern. The two have not talked directly.

“Ideally, we would love this department to very closely mirror the community we police and we’re working in that direction. This week our most diverse class in the history of Grand Rapids Police Department started, so it’s a goal. I truly want and hear from the community consistently that that’s a priority with them and so it’s a priority with us,” Rahinsky said.

Rahinsky added that he respects the group’s interest in Grand Rapids, but wants the conversation with residents to continue well after Saturday’s demonstration.

“Although we appreciate their input, at the end of the day, they’re going to get back on that bus and return home. We want to hear from stakeholders. Those stakeholders are people we need to build relationships with, build trust with and the people we need to work with,” Rahinsky said.