Unity event meant to advance GRPD-community relations

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Organizers in Grand Rapids are hoping to see change following a unity event planned for Monday afternoon. 

Johnny Brann Sr. of Brann’s Steakhouse and Voice for the Badge says the Grand Rapids Unity Event is to show appreciation for law enforcement. He said officers risk their lives every day and shouldn’t all be lumped into the same category as those now facing charges in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“What they did is horrific … and so in doing that, he made it look bad for all law enforcement and there’s been outbreaks (of violence) all over the country. I think it’s unfair to our police,” Brann said.

The Facebook event page for Monday’s rally says Voice for the Badge does not support decreased resources or layoffs at any police agency, which some in Grand Rapids have pitched.

Brann said while the primary focus of his event is to recognize the work of law enforcement, he also recognizes the problems that have caused unrest across the nation.

“We’re looking for unity. We all understand that we need to work together to make improvements. It’s not meant to be divisive at all,” Brann said. “Nobody wants to be unsafe. Nobody wants to worry about their family’s health or life.”

The event will take place at Calder Plaza. Several speakers will address the crowd from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Organizers say the event is not a protest, but rather a way to bridge the gap between communities of color and police officers. 

“It’s absolutely critical that we build community relations. That’s so important. We just want to be equitable for all parties involved,” Brann said.

Organizers says there is a lot of distrust between police and communities of color.

“You get one bad cop and he does something. You never once heard another cop get up and testify against him. If a young Black kills another Black, it was 20 people around and nobody say nothing. We got the lesser of the evils and everybody is living by their own code simply because they don’t trust each other,” community activist Elijah Libbett said.

He said the nationwide outcry was inevitable after years of systemic racial inequity. 

“You got this virus going on, you got Black-on-Black crime, you got the police killing Blacks. So right now it’s like everybody is just tired and it came to a bubble and that bubble had to burst at some time,” Libbett said.

Organizers say Tom Norton, who is running for Congress, will be at the unity event but is in no way affiliated with Voice for the Badge. They say they extended an invitation to Grand Rapids Police Department but are not expecting any officers in uniform.