An Important Issue Is Betrayed

April 26, 2002
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A real problem came to the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting last week, but it is cloaked in dangerous politics and stoked for personal gain. Nearly two dozen southeast city residents attended the meeting specifically to lodge public complaints against city police who are said to be targeting young, black men for harassment and arrest, and thereby "terrorizing" the neighborhood.

While ambushed Police Chief Harry Dolan defended the department and reported specific information about a Jan. 24 incident suspected to be the catalyst for the complaints, Mayor John Logie and Commissioner Rick Tormala promised each complaint would be investigated and addressed at the next Public Safety Committee meeting.

But they did not, nor could not, address the fact that Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue, who desires the mayor's office, organized the group for such a protest. It is not the first time a situation has been exacerbated by Mayhue's single-issue: racism in the city. It can be a deadly game when so important an issue is inflamed by rhetoric intended only to make the speaker appear important to potential constituents. Behaving in such a manner might also suggest he is bereft of leadership skills.

There is no doubt that Grand Rapids (and most every city in America) has unresolved racism issues. The debate on racial profiling by police is of national concern and consequence. But there is no doubt that hundreds and hundreds of Grand Rapids community citizens and leaders have organized new bridges to actually act and do something to address racism, rather than inciting showdowns.

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, led this year by H&H Metal Source President and CEO Brian Harris, has spent untold hours in discussion on the topic. It also formed the Centers for Healing Racism, which has seen the movement grow to dozens of businesses and public agencies. Grand Rapids Rotary Club joined the march and has organized such sessions, highly touted by every participant, regardless of race.

The annual Summits on Racism, hosted by area colleges, have grown in participation. Similar "summits" have been created of the Grand Rapids model in Holland and several other communities in and outside Michigan.

Mayhue has had years of opportunity to do something as a county leader. Is this issue a problem only for city police and not the County Sheriff's Department?

Where was Mayhue when critical issues regarding health care and minority access were studied? What of the mental health issues affecting the jail population?

If the city wants to make strides in addressing the issue of racism, in a particular department or in the community, it must call on those who have proven themselves to be leaders in making this change.

An outside group of proven community leaders should be called upon to share their expertise, not another city-run committee, and not Commissioner Mayhue, lest it become suspiciously steeped in political rhetoric from both sides.

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