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Black community leaders call for "state of emergency" in Grand Rapids

Downtown Grand Rapids
Public Domain

Some community leaders in Grand Rapids are calling for a state of emergency declaration over the conditions facing young black and Hispanic men in the city. 

Last month, a study commissioned by the city showed police stopped both black and Hispanic drivers at higher rates than whites in Grand Rapids. There was a dramatic incident in which police held five unarmed black boys at gunpoint. Parents of the boys demanded an apology. Police refused to give one.

Tensions are high. 

But Pastor Jerry Bishop says the problem facing young men of color in the city isn't just about police or even crime. He says young black and Hispanic men in Grand Rapids just don't have the opportunities they need to succeed.

"We're not talking about just violence," Bishop says. "I think that there's a misnomer about this. Our state of emergency is that we have a segment of our population that is just not prospering and thriving."

Census data show the unemployment rate for African-Americans in Grand Rapids was three times as high as it was for whites in 2015. Hispanic residents had double the unemployment rate of whites. 

Bishop, who works with young men at Lifequest Ministries in Grand Rapids, says the problem is worse for males. He says where there is hopelessness and havoc. He believes the city can do more to help.

"We live in an incredible community that's evolving by the day," Bishop says. "Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent to renovate everything but human lives."

Bishop says he's one of more than a hundred men who gathered to push for the state of emergency. He says the goal is for the city and its businesses and nonprofits to come together to create education and job opportunities for young men of color.

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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