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Residents urge GRPD to change policy after recent incident with unarmed black girl

Residents standing outside police station
Bryce Huffman
Michigan Radio
Residents gathered outside the GRPD station in downtown Grand Rapids.

Grand Rapids residents gathered on Sunday to talk to the police chief and other city officials about incidents involving innocent and unarmed black kids being put in handcuffs or held at gunpoint.

Community members showed up outside the Grand Rapids Police Department downtown to protest the department's actions, but it later became an open community forum to talk with representatives from the department and the city commission.

Several residents are upset with the department’s Youth Interactions Policy,which went into effect this March to address what residents see as excessive use of force by police officers.

Eleven innocent and unarmed children have either ended up in handcuffs or with a GRPD officer’s gun pointed at them in the last two years. All of them are black.

Rennae Wooten, the mom of a 12-year-old black girl who was handcuffed and searched by GRPD officers earlier this month, says her daughter is still shaken up by the incident.

“I can say she’s feeling a little bit better over it, but now she’s got to go through counseling so she won’t be afraid of the police,” Wooten said.

Wooten says that something needs to change with the department.

“Justice needs to be done, because there’s too many kids going through this,” she said.

Juanita Ligon, the mom of 11-year-old twin boys who were held at gunpoint by GRPD officers and handcuffed back in August, says she has to deal with the aftermath daily.

Ligon also says she wants the department to be more transparent in how it deals with families and children after these incidents occur.

“If I can’t trust you, then I can’t teach my child to trust you,” Ligon said.

Ligon says the chief of police, Dave Rahinsky, never directly reached out to her after the incident with her sons. Chief Rahinsky says people with the department’s internal affairs office contacted Ligon, but he says talks were halted after Ligon expressed the desire to contact an attorney.

According to the department, it is standard to halt talks with residents once they mention speaking to an attorney so that both parties can have an attorney present before talks continue.

Chief Rahinsky says these types of conversations are necessary, even if they aren’t always easy.

“I think it’s hard to tell sometimes during conversations like these, but there’s progress being made,” Rahinsky said.

Some residents did call for the chief’s resignation. One such resident was Elaine Howell.

“How many more times are we going to have this same talk about black kids getting stopped and having guns put to their heads when they haven’t done anything wrong? The chief has got to go,” Howell said.  

Not everyone was so quick to say the chief should be fired.

Tavion Moore, the President of the Youth Council for the Grand Rapids chapter of the NAACP, actually stood up for the chief. However, he thinks the policy is too vague.

“The policy is not written in a way that changes anything, and when the outcomes are still the same, then it’s a problem and something needs to change from it,” Moore said.

Chief Rahinsky urged residents to report any complaints they have about the department to internal affairs. He also invited community members to meet with him in his open office hours this Friday.  

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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