Grand Rapids and the Worst Growing Pains

Here is the blog post I never wanted to write. I would like to keep this blog only to pure real estate things related to Grand Rapids and the West Michigan area, but sometimes big topics can’t be ignored, even on a platform like this. I have no intention of getting political and I don’t have answers or solutions to these problems, but they are problems happening here, big serious problems. Big city problems some people might say. 

Many people are quick to share all the good news about how great the city and metropolitan area grows and accolades it receives in the news. For example, In February 2022 a study from Rocket Homes listed Grand Rapids as the number one city to raise a family in the country after reviewing the largest 150 metropolitan areas.  However, this good news of being ranked number one is sandwiched between all the worst reasons to make national news as a city, especially one where families are being raised. In August of 2021, a well known black real estate agent, Eric Brown, was showing his client and son, also black, a residential home with a for sale sign in the yard in Wyoming on a Sunday afternoon and left in handcuffs after the home was surrounded by police with guns drawn. Earlier this month, Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old man who immigrated here from the Democratic of Congo, was fatally shot and killed by a white police officer following a traffic stop on a residential street on a Monday morning. 

There are no videos that were released regarding Eric Brown’s situation. I don’t know why. I don’t know if the police in Wyoming have body cams or dash cams that were on at the time. As for Patrick’s death the videos have been released. Stating the video is hard to watch is an understatement. A black man is killed by a white police officer on someone’s front lawn while his friend is standing by. I don’t think any person in their right mind wants to watch a video like the one’s of Patrick’s final moments that were shared, but I personally felt a duty to watch it. A duty to him, a duty to my community and a duty to develop (or attempt to develop) my own thoughts about it. 

Until incidents like those that I described have happened recently, I don’t think a lot of white people could even imagine something happening here in West Michigan. Myself included. We are known to be “West Michigan nice” after all, people help their neighbors, shovel each other’s driveways in the snow and for the most part our growing downtown is safe, easy to navigate and full of friendly staff and business owners. But it did happen here. Grand Rapids is now on the map with the likes of Baltimore (Freddie Gray), Chicago (Laquan McDonald), and St. Louis (Michael Brown). I will not pretend that each of these deaths are the same because they are not. Each situation is uniquely different, with various circumstances leading up to the end result. But the end result is the same, a black man is killed at the hands of the police. 

We do not have a big city with a long history of distrust and corruption within the police like Chicago does. We do not have a massive police force with police vans that stop and pick up those that are arrested like city busses the way they do in Baltimore. We still feel like a small city most of the time. According to Experience Grand Rapids “In 2018, Headlight Data ranked Grand Rapids the 7th fastest growing economy in the U.S., based on Gross Regional Product (GRP) over the previous five years. In the same study, Grand Rapids ranked 2nd only to Las Vegas in most improved growth rate over that same period. And, according to research released by U-Haul earlier this month [July 2021], Grand Rapids had the 5th highest growth rate of any city in the United States in 2018.”

I like to think the Grand Rapids will be different. Freddie Gray was killed in 2015, Laquan McDonald was killed in 2018, Michael Brown was killed in 2014. But here we are in 2022 with Patrick Lyoya. The police released the video of Patrick’s death, relatively quickly compared to that of Laquan McDonald. McDonald was killed October 20, 2014, and the video wasn’t released until a judge ordered it’s release, which was released on November 24, 2015, more than a year later. Lyoya was killed on April 4, 2022, and the city along with the police department released four videos related to the killing on April 13, 2022. I like to have faith and believe that believe the things that were said at the April 13 press conference will ring true, that the Michigan State Police will conduct its independent investigation and the Kent County Prosecutor’s office will review and file the right charges against the officer involved. I don’t know what those charges are, I don’t know if any of us as private citizens do, which is exactly why we are not all investigators and prosecutors. As I think about this and how if we disagree with the conduct of police, prosecutors, and those in power we do have the power to change those in office and power. 

Following the death of George Floyd when protests and riots were breaking out all over the country, including here in Grand Rapids, well known rapper Killer Mike made a very powerful and emotional statement in his home of Atlanta at a press conference that has resonated with me now more than ever. This is a portion of what he said back in May 2020: “I am duty-bound to be here to simply say: That it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house, so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize. It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs. Atlanta is not perfect, but we’re a lot better than we ever were, and we’re a lot better than cities are.”

Grand Rapids is not Atlanta. Grand Rapids is not Chicago. But we have a chance here to be the city that learned from what many will say is one of the worst days in our city’s history. We still have a chance to learn from Eric Brown and his client and their experience. We still have a chance to re-train our police. We have the chance to be transparent and act swiftly in the name of justice. We do not have the chance to speak with Patrick Lyoya, but it is our duty to make sure his two daughters will feel safe growing up here in the number one city to raise a family, a family that will forever be missing someone at their table. 

Posted by Ariel Christy on
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