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Grand Rapids community members discuss race and policing at first public meeting

Community members talk about policing in Grand Rapids at the first of five scheduled public meetings scheduled for June.
Dustin Dwyer
Community members talk about policing in Grand Rapids at the first of five scheduled public meetings scheduled for June.

Police department leaders and elected city officials in Grand Rapids listened quietly today at the first public meeting to discuss police and community relations. 

It was the first of five scheduled public meetings on the topic. The meetings came about in part because of a study released in April that showed Grand Rapids police pull over black and Hispanic drivers at disproportionate rates compared to whites. And, there was an incident in March in which a police officer held five unarmed black boys at gun point.

The issue of race dominated the discussion at today's meeting. 

Sarah Hampton says there’s been progress from the police department on community relations, but she says there’s still a ways to go.

"Because the police officers are sworn to serve and protect," Hampton says. "And we have to establish that trust - which I don’t think we have that. It’s diminished."

Others at today’s meeting said they believe police officers have been unfairly criticized.  They worry the focus on increasing racial diversity at the police department takes away from other important qualifications.

Marion Vandenheuvel says the race of the police officers on the street shouldn’t matter.

"I think we should look for qualifications only," she says. "And we should really really try  not to have the bias of, 'Okay, if someone’s going to be policing a white neighborhood then they can only be a white person.' That’s ridiculous."

Four more public meetings are scheduled for this month in Grand Rapids. Here are the details: 

June 12, 2017 
6:00 p.m. 
Stocking School 
863 7th Street NW

Bilingual (Spanish/English) Session: 

June 16, 2017
6:00 p.m. 
Cesar Chavez School 
1205 Grandville Avenue SW

June 19, 2017 
6:00 p.m. 
Gerald R. Ford School 
851 Madison Avenue SE

June 20, 2017 
6:00 p.m. 
GRPS University 
1400 Fuller Avenue NE

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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