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Grand Rapids Pride Festival will have no police presence after asking GRPD to stay away

Typically, the Grand Rapids Police Department is required to be at city permitted events, but agreed not to be there after discussing it with event organizers.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Pride Festival announced it will no longer have a police presence at Saturday's event.

Grand Rapids Pride Center executive director Jazz McKinney made the announcement in a Facebook last Friday.

"It definitely wasn't a decision we took lightly," they say.

But it was one that's been years in the making. McKinney says people of color in the LGBTQ community have asked for police to be removed from pride events for a while now.

"This isn't something that just came up because of Patrick Lyoya, this isn't something that just came up because of George Floyd," says McKinney. "I am trying to center those voices that have traditionally not been heard."

McKinney points to the origin of pride events as protests, specifically the Stonewall riots in 1969.

"Pride is technically a protest. And you don't typically invite the people you're protesting to your protests," they say.

Last week, police in Idaho arrested 31 men in a white supremacist group attempting to break up a pride event. McKinney acknowledges some may be nervous to attend in Grand Rapids after that.

"That's okay. You know, I don't expect everybody to agree with me," says McKinney. "But they just have to know that the safety of the community and is paramount for me."

To address the safety concern, McKinney hired more than a dozen private security guards.

"These are professional, trained, some of them are ex-military members, professionals," says McKinney. "But not only that, they're also part of the LGBTQ community. So they understand, you know, the nuances of the safety and security for the community."

Typically, the Grand Rapids Police Department is required to be on hand at city permitted events, but agreed not to be there after discussing it with the GR Pride Center.

The department gave 13 On Your Side this statement:

"GRPD is committed to providing a safe environment across the city and aligning police resources in a way that accomplishes that in an effective manner. For all permitted special events, GRPD works with the City’s Office of Special Events and event organizers to determine safety and security needs based on a number of factors. Not all events need officers specifically assigned to them in addition to the regular patrol operations. For instance, there is another event that morning, a 5K race, that requires support for traffic control along the route. Patrol officers will be working the Central (Downtown) Service Area as usual and will be available for any calls for service or needs from the Pride Festival and/or its attendees."

McKinney says there have not been conflicts with police at previous pride festivals, but they have had complaints about the GRPD on other occasions.

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