April 21, 2019
Barbecuing While Black? Grand Rapids Aims To Reduce Bogus Police Calls Directed At People Of Color

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is considering an ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor to call the police on racially-motivated grounds in response to people of color simply "participating in their lives," Michigan Live reports. The ordinance, known as a "bias crime reporting prohibition" is part of a broader series of adjustments being considered for the city code in an effort to reduce each of four primary categories of discrimination.

Jeremy DeRoo, executive director of the non-profit advocacy group LINC Up, says that as a community, Grand Rapids has been having ongoing conversations about disparities in how people are treated within the city. He points out that a human rights ordinance under consideration would help create thoughtful framework around policy changes that can help address those disparities. The proposed bias crime reporting prohibition would be a part of that framework.

According to DeRoo, Grand Rapids police in recent years have been frequently dispatched unnecessarily to address situations where 911 calls were made that were likely due to implicit bias. As an example, DeRoo cites a gathering in the summer of 2017 where police were called to break up a large gathering of black members of the community. Multiple patrol vehicles arrived at the scene, where it was quickly determined to be a graduation party taking place.

"Often times, the Grand Rapids Police Department ends up being caught in the middle of what is a bigger community problem," he said. "They look bad because they approach individuals who are people of color, and it appears the police department is biased when really they're responding to phone calls made by the community and it appears that a number of those are motivated by people in a discriminatory way."

The Grand Rapids Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Patti Caudill, says the ordinance is a new concept in Michigan. She reinforces that the rule isn't meant to discourage 911 calls, but rather to encourage citizens to"check their biases" before calling the police.

"Call the police, but if you're calling because your neighbors are having a barbecue and you're calling because of some implicit bias because they're people of color, we don't want to see that," she said.

A violation of the ordinance could be punishable by up to a $500 fine, with cases prosecuted by the city attorney's office.

Grand Rapids leaders could vote on the proposal next month after city stakeholders have a chance to weigh in during a public hearing.