This story is about a report by the Urban League that presents data suggesting that African Americans are arrested on charges on “hindering and opposing” and “obstructing and officer” at a disproportionally high rate. The reporter in this piece frames the story by focusing not on the Urban League report, but rather on the Grand Rapids Police Departments response to the report. Before talking about what the report creators have to say, the reporter presents video, provided by the GRPD, “showing police doing what they are supposed to do”. The footage is of two different incidents, one of police officers pepper spraying and arresting several African American males during a traffic stop and the other of a African American male in a restaurant fighting with a police officer and being shot with a stun gun. Neither of these video clips have a direct bearing on the report, which was about overall arrest statistics, not the individual cases represented in these video clips. By showing these video clips, the reporter is, either intentionally or unintentionally, prejudicing the viewer to think of African Americans as violent and prone to attack police officers. This is consistent with what GRIID has documented ove the past several years, which is that African Americans are over-represented in local media crime coverage.
The reporter reiterates several claims made by the GRPD without questioning them or providing contrasting opinions. At the beginning of the story the reporter states that the GRPD claims “that (the) Urban League leaders are out of touch with the real concerns of Grand Rapids area African Americans.” At no point does the reporter ask anybody in the African American community what their “real concerns” are and how the Urban League represents those concerns. The reporter also comments police say that they will not “stop the aggressive policing they say most people want.” Again, the reporter does not talk to any representative of the communities that supposedly want “aggressive policing.”
WZZM 13 was not alone in airing the police provided video of African American males “hindering and opposing” police officers, not did they air it only once. Both WZZM 13 and WOOD 8 aired this footage on both their April 11 and April 12 news broadcasts while WXMI aired it on their April 12 broadcast.
Newsreader – Today the Grand Rapids Urban League said African Americans are unfairly targeted by police in Kent County and compiled statistics over the last ten months. They say that Blacks comprise nearly nine percent of the countries population but they make up fifty four percent of people charged with obstructing police and most of the cases were in Grand Rapids. WZZM’s Peter Ross is live with more on the story.
Reporter – Lee, Grand Rapids Police reacted quickly to the report from the Urban League saying that Urban League leaders are out of touch with the real concerns of Grand Rapids area African Americans and police also released video tape showing police doing what they are supposed to do.
Police say this car is going sixty five in a twenty five mile-per-hour zone, a traffic stop that quickly escalated
(B-roll of police arresting African American males.)
Chaos erupts within minutes several cruisers converge. Police made several arrests here and another here, inside a restaurant where a man bothering customers refusing to leave assaults an officer before backup arrive and subdue the man.
Dr. Brame (Urban League) – When you look at arrests data, the African Americans are grossly over represented for in these data, for these charges.
Paul Mayhue (Kent County Commissioner) – These numbers are scary, they mean emergency.
Reporter – But the man who runs the police department;
Chief Dolan (GRPD Chief) – That does not in any way demonstrates any racist behavior on the part of the police.
Reporter – Says these numbers are more serious, ones that show blacks are over-represented in committing and being victimized by violent crime.
Chief Dolan – The disporportionality is what the representation of African Americans within violent crime. We have to approach that situation and it starts with children going to school and not dropping out.
Ross – the Urban League released its arrest data months after public hearing where people roundly criticized police behavior.
Dr. Brame – We stand ready to work at finding solutions to these complex problems.
Ross – The police will present its response to those complaints next month but have no plans to stop the aggressive policing they say most people want.
H and O, that means hindering and opposing an officer, a charge the Urban League says is vague and often overused. A charge that the police chief says protects his officers and the public.
Live in Grand Rapids Peter Ross WZZM 13 News.