Sent to: Grand Rapids Third Ward commissioners Senita Lenear and Nathaniel Moody, and Mayor Roslyn Bliss
Mayor and commissioners,
My name is Marjorie Steele; I live in the Third Ward, and I’ve lived in the city of Grand Rapids since 2008. I teach business as an adjunct at Kendall College of Art and Design, I’m a local independent journalist.
I was #4 in the call queue for public comment last night when public comments stopped being taken — even though I had called in long before the cutoff time.
Since I couldn’t give my comments last night, I’m sending them to you here:
I’m first asking the commission to fully defund the Grand Rapids Police Department, and to replace it with appropriate community-led services which are designed and implemented by the citizens of Grand Rapids.
Now, I want to tell you why. A year and a half ago, in the fall, when I was putting my daughter in the car to go to school in the morning on our residential street, I was met by a police officer whose first words to me were “do you see that bar on the top of my car? It reads license plates automatically.”
He proceeded to tell me that his reader had scanned my car — which was parked in front of my house — and registered it as having unpaid parking tickets, and that I had to pay the city the entire balance of the tickets right there on the spot, or my car would be towed. He wouldn’t let me take my daughter to school first — he left me with no other option but to pay or be stranded with my child. When pressed, he informed me that it was city council which had purchased the plate readers, and had instituted the policy of scanning cars and enforcing unpaid tickets in neighborhoods. I shouldn’t have to explain to the commissioners whose salaries my taxes pay that this is an odious, unscrupulous, and oppressive tactic to increase the city’s revenue.
Last month, on the day of the large, peaceful #GeorgeFloyd protest at Rosa Parks Circle, my husband and I were walking down South Division street with a protest sign, when we saw an armored police vehicle, then half a dozen police cars speeding away from us with their back doors open as if they were sniping us with rifles. My husband, who is in recovery from PTSD, was so shaken that he could hardly speak, and we had to walk back home immediately. We honestly feared for our lives in those moments.
I’ve seen cops speed past my house on motorcycles, on a small side street in a family neighborhood, going at least 50 miles per hour, only to be told by GRPD that it never happened. I’ve seen cops idle their SUV engines and pump carbon into the atmosphere for hours. I’ve never once in my twelve years in this city received help from a cop.
The saddest part of my story is that these encounters I’ve described, as a thirtysomething middle class white woman, are nothing compared to what my brothers and sisters of color have been experiencing in this city for decades.
When reporting on homelessness for RapidGrowth a few years back, I encountered an elderly gentleman named James McCoy who had recently been released from spending four months in jail for the crime of sitting on a street bench while black. He was 67 with diabetes, a cane, and a place of residence. He died shortly after our interview. This is just one example, in a galaxy of similar stories.
While many of your callers from last night seem to have deep fears about what they “think” would happen if the police were defunded, it’s clear that very few understand what that would actually entail. I’ve seen firsthand what the full funding of the police does outside of Karen and Ken’s cul-de-sac, and the current reality is terrifying. These Karens seem to be afraid of their own neighbors and shadows — one EGR grandma attacked peaceful protesters in the street with a metal bat. Perhaps these fearful residents would benefit from having access to the mental health and social work programs we’d all enjoy under a non-police state.
Police in this city are doing jobs they are neither equipped nor trained to do, and the jobs they are trained to do — to enforce the drug war and to act as Pinkerton guards for the city’s budget and wealthy elites — are bad jobs.
I’m ashamed of this city’s blatant racism — and I’m ashamed, as a woman, of you, Mayor Roslyn Bliss, for demonstrating that what this city values is not the lives of ALL its citizens, but the interests of the bourgeoise.
And I’m particularly disappointed in the politicking of my own Third Ward commissioners, whose mental gynmastics and bureaucratic behavior consistently block sustainable change.
Change the charter. Defund the police. Get the oil rigs off the sacred Anishinaabek land along Indian Mounds Drive. And stop taking bribes. We see you.