African-Americans Targeted for Arrest by Grand Rapids Police Using “No Trespass Letters”

Saturday, April 18, 2015
Grand Rapids Police Chief David M. Rahinsky (photo: City of Grand Rapids)

The second largest city in Michigan has come under criticism and legal action for targeting blacks for arrest using “No Trespass Letters.”


The letters authorize police in Grand Rapids to arrest anyone who trespasses on commercial property owned by someone who has signed the legal document, usually at the request of police.

Fifty-nine percent of those stopped between 2011 and 2013 by police under the policy were black, although African-Americans make up only 20% of Grand Rapids’ population. “Perhaps even more telling,” Jason Williamson wrote at Salon, “is the fact that African-Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested, rather than simply ticketed, when the police bring charges for trespassing on the property of an open business in Grand Rapids.”


Williamson also said police are able “to stop and search people immediately based on nothing more than a gut reaction to the way someone looks or acts—without bothering to determine whether the person is actually trespassing.” Some are harassed by police even when patronizing a business where the owner had signed one of letters.


Even some who have signed the letter didn’t realize the power they were giving away to police. “It’s a little messed up that they are able to do things like that,” Samuel Perez, who manages a store for which a letter was signed, told Wood TV.


The policy is being challenged in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU says the No Trespass Letters violate the Fourth Amendment. “Grand Rapids police are riding roughshod over the Bill of Rights by using these letters as a blank check to arrest anyone they don’t believe ‘belongs’ in a neighborhood,” Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney, said in a news release. “Any one of us who pulls into a gas station in Grand Rapids to check a map or make a phone call could be arrested under the GRPD’s illegal policy.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

The Orwellian Police Tactic that Targets Black Americans Just for Existing (by Jason Williamson, Salon)

ACLU: GR Trespassing Policy Targets African Americans (by Heather Walker,

Black Youths in Oakland Study Arrested More Often, but Often Not Charged (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Intimidation of Minorities Said to be Intent of NYPD “Stop and Frisk” Program (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)


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