“What we saw was horrific” — Groups demand protocol change after police hold innocent teens at gunpoint

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A video allegedly showing teens being held at gunpoint by Grand Rapids Police is sparking outrage in the community.

The video taken two weeks ago shows the teens laying on the ground surrounded by police and later cuffed and put in the back of police vehicles. Police say a witness saw suspects matching their description with a gun.

Police are justifying their actions while local social justice groups are condemning the department's protocol, saying it was taken too far.

Five boys ages 12 to 14 were walking home after playing basketball when they were stopped by police. They allegedly matched a description given by a witness that had seen one of them with a gun.

Grand Rapids Police approached the teens with guns drawn, ordering them to the ground, searching them one by one and cuffing and apprehending two of the boys. Grand Rapids Police say the officers did nothing wrong and were following protocol.

The teens were walking home from the Kroc Center on Division Avenue when they were stopped. A witness told police they saw a large fight happening there and saw someone with a gun. Police spotted the boys matching the description of the suspects and attempted to make contact.

"He ordered them to the ground at gunpoint and then one by one as other officers converged and descended upon the area, each one of those individuals was called back to the officers and checked for weapons," said Sgt. Terry Dixon with Grand Rapids Police. "Shortly thereafter, their parents were called and they were released."

When no gun was found, the boys were released to their parents with a full explanation of what happened, but that wouldn't be the end of it.

"What we saw was horrific," said Cle Jackson, president of the Grand Rapids Chapter of the NAACP.

Cle Jackson is one local leader condemning the incident after reviewing body camera footage by one of the officers. He says police took it too far.

"The concern is the level of resistance or force if you want to say, that was used by GRPD in respect to these young men, even after they realized that there was no longer a threat," said Jackson. "These young men were still handcuffed, searched and two of the young men were detained and put into police vehicles."

In video taken by a witness, you can see one of the teens laying on the ground before walking backwards towards police with his hands behind his head while police surround him. Sgt. Dixon says the officers were following protocol used by police agencies all across the country.

"Once we have a report of a weapon or a firearm, it literally changes what could be the outcome," said Dixon. "They are acting within procedure to pull or draw their weapon and order the individual to the ground until they sort out what is actually taking place."

Jeremy Deroo with LINC UP wants this policy to change, saying it's harmful to building trust between youth and their police.

"I think there are opportunities for officers to approach the boys not with a gun drawn on them at first, but to first ask them to stop and not put themselves in harm's way," said Deroo. "Don't approach them immediately, but at least make some contact with them that's not overly guns pointed at them, but be able to ascertain whether these are individuals they are actually looking for."

Jackson says the conversation would be different if the five teens weren't African American.

"Our concern as an organization is if this would've happened if these were five young white youth, would it have played out the same way?" said Jackson. "Quite honestly, we don't think that it would have. These are youth. These are babies, and you're literally asking them to walk backwards with their hands in the air. Just imagine what was going through their heads."

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky met with the teens and their parents last week to explain the policy and discuss any of their concerns.

"It's a serious situation, but at the same time in this particular case the officers did act with due diligence and acted appropriately," said Dixon. "There needs to be a discussion and that is currently taking place."

The parents of the teens asked the officers involved to sit down and meet with them to apologize for the incident, but Sgt. Dixon says that's likely not going to happen because the officers in question were following protocol.

Dixon says Chief Rahinsky sat down with the families and explained that it's upsetting and was apologetic. He plans on meeting with them in the future to do positive activities to restore trust with them.

The social justice organizations plan on attending the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting on Tuesday night and urge the public to attend to voice their opinions on the incident and share any stories of interactions they might have had, positive or negative.

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10 comments

  • Old Bob

    The police department doesn’t need to build trust with the youth or anyone else. They need to do their job, if they ruffle a few feather too bad. The silent majority wants to feel safe again !

    “Jackson says the conversation would be different if the five teens weren’t African American.” Jackson is right, if they weren’t African American the subject would have been closed when the children parents were called.

    On the bright side, Chief butt kisser Rahinsky sat down with the families and explained that it’s upsetting and was apologetic. Rahinsky needs to go.

    I had a few run in with the police when I was young. No one bother to cry because the police were discriminated against me, because they weren’t. They were doing their job. When my parents were called, I got a stern lecture and grounded weather I was guilty or not.

    Grow up and stop crying about nothing.

  • tracyd112

    I Understood what the 3 People were saying until they brought up RACE MOTIVATED the actions.I have seen several times this done to Whites Hispanics .It happens to any and everyone when Guns are involved. What would These 3 People say if it were them that where with their Family and seen a gun?Who is to say that they did not ditch the Gun?Police are there to do a Job and No matter the age race religion sex or anything else they must treat everyone in that type of situation the same.It is People like the 3 that had issues with this that cause the real trouble in Society always looking at and blaming it on Race.How Many guns have been took off the streets in just the past 3 months and 6 days?Stop blaming race on everything .They were called to look 4 5 teens possibly carrying a gun bottom line.

  • Not in my neighborhood

    Maybe the community should work at helping to stop the violence and crime in their neighborhoods, instead of blaming the police for following established policy that police departments all over the United States use when told that a suspect has a gun.

  • Noah Salakk

    Almost everyone has heard the story about “The Boy who cried Wolf.” I can’t help but think that there’s a HUGE similarity between that and the modern day Cry of Racism……. It may have taken decades, but the race card is torn and tattered from overuse and doesn’t really fit into the deck anymore.

    • Old Bob

      When FOX prints stories like this they encourage people to play the black card.

      I don’t want to see anyone discriminated against, but I am past tired of have someone in the African American community cry discrimination every time they have any interaction with the police.

  • G

    There was a suspect with a gun, They matched the description, Nothing wrong with what they did. They are looking our for their safety. No one was shot so How was it Race motivated. All these stupid groups are just harassing the police force for no reason. They would not be saying what they are if the tables turned and they were in Danger.

  • steve

    Horrific? More than a little loose with your adjectives, Mr. Jackson. Stop trying to aggravate an already awkward situation by using words that in no way represent what truly happened.

  • Charity

    I wouldn’t want to be a police officer because you have to put your life on the line and your under so much scrutiny. Are there injustices imposed on civilians? Yes. But there are also injustices imposed on police officers. Kid or not, you can still shoot and kill me. I don’t care what your racial background is, I am going to be ready for anything.