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Stateside Podcast: Perspectives on Grand Rapids policing

Door to the Grand Rapids Police headquarters
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio

For years, community members in Grand Rapids have been demanding action when it comes to use of force by the police. The 2022 death of Patrick Lyoya at the hands of Grand Rapids police officer Christopher Schurr led to massive protests in the city and calls for reform. Schurr has been charged with second-degree murder, but has yet to stand trial.

Calls for action have again been renewed after two recent incidents in the Grand Rapids metro area. Within the past few months, two men have been killed in Grand Rapids by law enforcement officials in encounters that involved injuries from the officers’ vehicles. 

This year, on April 8, 17-year-old Riley Doggett was struck by a Kent County sheriff’s deputy’s cruiser during a police chase. He died weeks later.

Less than two weeks later, on April 17, 25-year old Samuel Sterling was struck by a trooper in an unmarked Michigan State Police vehicle. 

We reached out to the Kent County Sheriff's Office about Riley Doggett’s death, and they declined to comment. A spokesperson instead referred us to the Kent County prosecutor's decision not to pursue charges against the deputy involved.

Grand Rapid's current police chief—Eric Winstrom—began his tenure not long before the killing of Lyoya. He said the years since have been challenging, but he maintains that the department is committed to building trust with the community by being present and having tough conversations with critics.

"I'm not looking for police cheerleaders ..." Winstrom said. "I'm looking to have interactions and conversations with people who want to challenge us, want to hold us accountable, and want to have sincere conversations about policing."

Since he began his tenure in March of 2022, Winstrom said the positive interactions they've been having with community groups have led to a "night and day" difference in GRPD's relationship with the citizens of Grand Rapids.

Aly Bates lives, works, and is raising a family in Grand Rapids. She’s been involved in direct action protests since the shooting of Patrick Lyoya. You might have seen her referred to online as Aly Thee Activist.  She and other activists have also been organizing around the recent deaths of Sterling and Doggett. While a proponent of open conversations, Bates nevertheless has some reservations about working with police.

"It is hard to have conversations with a [police department] that has historically brutalized people who look like you, or who have brutalized you personally or people that you care about (...) I'm not sure how productive having conversations with them would be because of how much harm they have done to the community."

Hear our full conversations with Aly Bates and GR Police Chief Eric Winstrom above.

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Aaron Bush is a production assistant with Stateside and a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan's joint program in English and Education.
Ronia Cabansag is a producer for Stateside. She comes to Michigan Public from Eastern Michigan University, where she earned a BS in Media Studies & Journalism and English Linguistics with a minor in Computer Science.