Local Street Gangs Responsible For Spike In Gun Violence

February 20, 2020

Michigan’s spike in gun violence during the summer of 2019 was caused by warring local street gangs. According to Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, 13 individuals between the ages of 17 and 24 were indicted on crimes including assault with intent to murder, felony gang membership, carrying a concealed weapon, and perjury.

The Grant Rapids Police Department and Kent County Prosecutor’s Office convened a one-person grand jury with the 61st District Court because of a lack of witness cooperation and an increase in shooting incidents. This is the first time a one-person grand jury has been convened since 2004.

“It’s unfortunate we had to get to this point of [using a one-person grand jury] to compel the testimony but if that’s what it takes to stop this violence, we’re looking to do it,” Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne. “This is what we’re committed to do to make sure we don’t have a repeat of this summer.”

The one-person grand jury process gives the prosecutor the ability to petition a court to have witnesses testify in front of a judge confidentially. The judge decides whether a crime was committed and can then advance the case further to a circuit court if necessary.

The process is labor and resource-intensive, Becker says, but necessary because of the number of shootings and the hesitancy of witnesses to come forward or cooperate. During the first six months of 2019 alone there were 147 shootings. One incident involved the shooting of three teenagers on August 28 outside of Union High School. The teens, who were not students at the school, sustained non-life-threatening injuries.

When asked what led to the violence, Becker said there was no extraordinary reason for it. The shooters, who are teenagers and young adults themselves, resorted to violence over hearsay, rumors, and fights over partners. Approximately 50% of murder victims who are women are killed by a current or former intimate partner that was a man.

The one-person grand jury process lasted six months and included 100 subpoenaed witnesses. Up to 36 felony charges were authorized. A felony can’t be expunged in Michigan if an individual has more than one felony conviction or more than two misdemeanor convictions. Grand Rapids police recovered 10 guns that were involved in 15 of the summer 2019 shooting incidents and are currently being analyzed by the Michigan State Police crime lab.

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