As the military campaign against Iraq escalates, the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) is taking an aggressive approach to protests, showing up at all anti-war events with what many activists see as an excessive presence. Moreover, according to a news report aired on local NBC affiliate WOOD TV, the GRPD is making an effort to “know about events before hand”–intelligence which they are gaining by spying on activists and meetings.
A week and a half ago, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article in which they reported that the GRPD was preparing for anti-war demonstrations once the bombing started by increasing training–training which included observing other cities and learning how to handle “breakaway” protests and training to make mass arrests. In the past three days, local activists have seen this new “training” in action in the form of excessive police presence at events and the monitoring of meetings by the GRPD.
On March 20th, at an emergency anti-war rally at the Federal Building, the building was surrounded by police, and while there exact numbers were not counted, it was in the range of thirty to forty. All of the police present were deployed with gas masks and tear gas was on hand, in case the situation got out of control. In addition, numerous unmarked cars and regular cars circled the block. There were also at least three uniformed officers videotaping protestors. As was the case with the Bush demonstration, there were also undercover police deployed within the crowd. Along with the numerous police on hand at the Federal Building, there were also an estimated 30 officers on standby on the other side of downtown, all of whom were also equipped with gas masks. In addition, a small rally at Grand Valley State University’s campus was monitored by three to four police cars that continually drove around the block.
After a direct action planning meeting on the night of the 20th, a meeting that was infiltrated by police, local activists planned a funeral procession through the crosswalks of downtown Grand Rapids for the 21st at 4:30. Due to the infiltration of the meeting, activists were greeted by approximately 25 police at the intersection at which they intended to commence the action. Once again, the police were deployed with gas masks and tear gas was on hand. The number of police was completely excessive, as there were only about 15 people participating in the action. The GRPD made it quite clear that they were looking to arrest anyone who made even the slightest violation of the law. When activists changed it up a bit by moving to different intersections, five officers followed them on foot while others drove by the procession in their cars.
Despite the increased police presence and the efforts designed to intimidate anti-war activists, numerous events continue to be planned. Local activists say that they are not deterred by the fact that the GRPD is reassigning officers from their traditional patrols to cover protests and making efforts to monitor meetings.