We don’t wanna be friends: GRPD and the bullshit goal of “Building relationships”

Clip of Chief Rahinksy on “Mutually Inclusive”

Near the end of July, I was a guest on an episode of “Mutually Inclusive” with host Mariano Avila. The episode was on “Policing” and it also featured Chief Rahinsky of the GRPD, Darrel Ross from LINC Up. I was speaking as one of the co-founders for Grand Rapids’ chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Despite the coaching I was giving on the dynamic and all my preparing, throughout the show I wasn’t given much space to speak. The first question after the clip of Donovan Braswell’s mother, Natalie Thompson played was thrown to me, and immediately Rahinksy cut me off. He called Thompson’s narrative of a mother whose son was beaten by police biased and, because he’s the soley authority on reality and the arbiter in perceiving and naming facts, his perspective as the chief of police isn’t. He sounded off for almost two minutes.

He spent the entirety of the show similarly defensive, ignoring points made and refusing to engage critique, repeating the PR bullshit he has been programmed to say, and dominating the conversation. He responded or whispered and chatted to Darrel Ross who sat in between us and refused to say my name or acknowledge my presence.

I’m a community organizer under a slogan that police have come to hate, so the whitemansplaining was expected. And yet, to be so thoroughly talked at and by authority is always demoralizing and frankly, gross. Despite the efforts made to present an equitable stage and give everyone a leg in the conversation, I was left out. I’ll take partial responsibility for this and say I regret having held back for strategically not wanting to be dismissed for my blatant dislike of the cops and no investment or faith in the institution, but fuck it, I’ve got all the reason for it.

I’ve been in community conversations with Rahinksy present and I’ve given him words. So I’ve never been under the naïve impression the chief and I would have a decent and honest conversation regarding policing, or that he’s a respectful human being who cares about the people and engages questions and concerns sincerely. That’s not who he is nor is it his goal. The whitewashing of the police’s predatory place in community was the role he was given and honestly, he played it well.

The way that Rahinsky behaves himself is always controlling. He speaks over, interrupts, dismisses and derails. He will physically walk towards and charge community members in conversations, respond with the same PR nonsense he is trained to say, ignore people’s concerns and fears to repeatedly assert that his department and police at large do a good job and follow the law and are there for the people, then slap some manipulative propaganda piece of kids playing baseball over it like that fixes or heals everything.

From a basic human point of view, never should a grown man be justifying an unarmed scared Black teenager being beaten with a flashlight on the head by an authority figure. Never should a grown man who claims to be a defender of the community not see the various violent racist abuses by his peers and stay silent. But there we were nonetheless. The coldness and inhumanity is blatant.

At the 4unity rally a few weeks ago, Rahinsky behaved similarly. He did not name the victims of police brutality that inspired the rally, or admit they were brutalized by police. He didn’t acknowledge the anger, fear, hurt or humanity of those in the crowd and community.

If he is under the (often touted though thoroughly debunked) impression that police brutality is just about “a few bad apples” in an otherwise A-OK system, what does it then say about him, an alleged good cop, who doesn’t call out or hold accountable the other abuses as committed by bad cops? How does that set the stage up for this “relationship with the community” shit that he is on?

In reality, the police are not here for community or for justice, much less to be your friend. They are here for American standards of law and order, and those are to maintain the white status quo and their wealth and power, and has always come at the greatest cost to working-class Black folks of many nations of origin and ethnicities.

The King Park incident of last summer, the physical assault of Donovan Braswell, as well as the racial and sexual assault of a Black woman at the hands of former GRPD officer Ryan Bruggink are all examples of the issues that we know of disproportionate, racist policing in Grand Rapids. There has been no acknowledgement of this trend in policing. Being that I understand the police for what they are, I don’t believe a lack of publicized stories means a lack of incidents, it just means there’s a ton of shit that we do not know, that is hidden whether by scared families and victims or police.

Regardless of local incidents, a police department with a chief of police who claims to care about community and transparency should, in my opinion, be very vocal about not wanting to be like other departments of officers, not just gaslight people’s concerns by telling them “We don’t have a problem here, we’re not Ferguson”. He would be intentional about naming other incidents of brutality and saying he wants to do differently. But he doesn’t, and one has to assume that’s because he doesn’t believe police brutality happens or is an issue, let alone one he has to speak out against.

He offered little tokens of “solutions” without actually engaging that there was an issue to be solved in the first place, or that police are the ones to blame for it. Solutions for a problem he says we don’t have doesn’t make much sense, but hey, let’s roll with it.

The concerns regarding him and other department’s poor solutions abound: Does implicit bias training work and how thorough is it? Will cops who fail be made to step down so as to protect citizens? What does it matter if we have body cameras when time and time again we’ve seen that proof of the brutality doesn’t change much as far as the police (or even lots of the media and public) are concerned? Why are we spending so much more to arm and further militarize our police with automatic rifles (almost $69,000) than we are to test for their bias ($46,500)? How were you sincerely able to implement GRPD’s proposed 12 point plan so quickly? What are the numbers regarding police brutality and race in this city? What are the systems of accountability and transparency set in place for the police? The chief only mentioned the internal inquiry system they have in place, AKA “Police check to see if police are misbehaving”. But if I rob a bank I’m not allowed to judge myself and rule that I didn’t do anything wrong. So why are police allowed to be the ones to determine whether or not they’re behaving unjustly?

In the end, what the hell does “Community policing” even mean? Being down with the people who won’t look you in the eye or say your name, who still won’t listen to you, don’t respect you, who will harass and accost you and think it is within their rights to abuse you with no oversight, who don’t understand or acknowledge the role police have in white supremacy? Taking more tax payer money to enact violence in a more family-friendly way?

In discussing this subject today, my friend Elizabeth brought up a good point she wrote down while in the audience at the Mutually Inclusive taping: a relationship or friendship between police and communities of color is not the goal, nor is it the prerequisite for police not abusing or mistreating those communities.

As it stands, no strides have been made to even acknowledge ills, let alone apologize, give reparations and heal. The dynamic between police and many communities is that of predator/prey, abuser/victim and survivor. Thus, friendship and community policing in the way police envision it likely won’t happen and it doesn’t need to for me to be respected and liberated. I’m not trying to hold hands with cops or have conversations, I’m trying to alleviate the suffering and hurt of those in my community.

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Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com

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Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Briana L. Urena-Ravelo

Writer. Community organizer. Errant punk. Ne’er do well. Fire starter. Email: Dominicanamalisima@gmail.com

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