Daytonians joined activists around the country at the end of May in rising up against police brutality following George Floyd’s state-sanctioned murder in Minneapolis over Memorial Day Weekend. All of this led to an awakening of sorts, wherein white people rather suddenly seemed to come to an understanding that racism hadn’t, in fact, been eliminated in the 1960s and anti-Black racism continues to be a driving force in every imaginable sector of American life.
In the absence of a robust organized resistance, Dayton city leadership and police were able to squash local discontent by Sunday, May 31st, when a 7 PM curfew enforced by armored military vehicles, helicopters, and eerily fascist police announcements threatening arrest cleared the streets, paving the way for Mayor Nan Whaley to declare “Black Lives Matter” even after her city government used the very tactics activists have been marching in the streets to dismantle.
It was against the backdrop that I wanted to speak to someone who’s been at the forefront of trying to solve the problem of municipal police states since well before white people began paying attention. Jared Grandy is the former community-police relations coordinator whose resignation coincided with the national unrest over police brutality. The story he told me over a nearly 90-minute talk holds stark lessons for how high the mountain is that we must climb in Dayton if we care as much about equality and justice as public proclamations and social media say we do.
Grandy was the type of civil servant every Daytonian should want out of a city worker. Born and raised in Dayton and a graduate of our public schools who found his passion for learning at Sinclair Community College before undergraduate studies at the University of Cincinnati and law school at Northern Kentucky University, he represents the best of who we can be as a city.
What he found, however, when he assumed the community-police relations coordinator role, however, wasn’t a welcome mat rolled out for someone with deep roots, a solid legal understanding, and a passion for the city. Instead he ran face-first into Dayton’s bipartisan white supremacist foundation.
Jared Grandy: The reason I was interested in that particular position [community-police relations coordinator], is because at the time I was naive enough to think that, you know, there was a difference that could actually be made locally.
By that time, I mean, that was 2016, so we’ve seen Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, John Crawford, on and on and on, and I just thought this was an opportunity to make a significant difference in my local community, in my hometown, the town I know and love so much, and you know over time it just became apparent that it wasn’t the case that we were there to make any significant change.
Jason Harrison: What made you think that? Well, how quickly did you make that realization?
Grandy: Relatively quickly. Within a few months I realized that [Dayton Police] Chief [Richard] Biehl and the Commission to a certain extent wasn’t interested in having the difficult conversation. You would hear Chief Biehl even say to this day that the CPC (community-police council) was about mutual accountability which is another way of saying that you know the community is responsible for ending its own gun violence and we’re here to help with that process. And I don’t necessarily disagree with that, right? That idea of mutual accountability, yes, we are responsible for our community but don’t make that assumption that there aren’t people working on those issues. You know there’s pastors and youth leaders and private organizations that’s been working on gun violence in the urban environment for years across the country.
Harrison: It’s the old trope about “black on black crime.” Just because you’re not aware of the work that’s being done—
Grandy: Correct. That’s exactly it. And Chief is smart enough and savvy enough to not say “black on black crime,” you know he just says “mutual accountability” instead.
Harrison: It’s rebranded.
Grandy: Yeah. It’s just rebranded. That’s my issue with Chief Biehl specifically is he’s so good about using the same old tropes, rebranding them, sounding progressive, sounding liberal, and I think the community gets confused about what they got. With Trump, we know exactly what we have. When you tweet “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” that’s a pretty clear message, right? But when you say, you know, we’re working on this issue, we care, you think you have somebody who’s listening and progressive but in reality the policies that are implemented are no different than what a conservative like Trump would implement. And that’s what we get stuck with.
The Dayton Daily News reported Grandy’s resignation as the community-police relations coordinator on June 3rd, just hours before Mayor Nan Whaley held a press conference announcing five police “reforms.” The timing of the city’s press conference—just hours after the Dayton Daily report on Grandy’s resignation—raises questions about whether that press conference was intended not to begin a process of reform but to distract us from Grandy’s message. (Two of the five reforms are mere continuations of existing policy).
Aside from Grandy’s eloquent rage, what I found most interesting about the article was how Chief Biehl used time-honored tactics intended to silence, dismiss, and discredit. But the quotes attributed to the chief fail to puncture Grandy’s arguments and instead serve to highlight just how steeped in supporting status quo white supremacist notions of “objectivity” the Dayton city government is.
Responding to Grandy’s contention that the Dayton police have a “warrior-like” mentality—an accusation I’ve heard from other people close to police officers—Biehl didn’t offer a substantive response, and instead chose only to offer that “Grandy’s three-year experience doesn’t compare to the decade-long relationship his department has with the Community Police Council.”
This is the part of Grandy’s story that I think is worth every Daytonian considering, and it’s a story that every Black person in this country will find familiar. The city was hostile to the idea of meaningfully transforming the police, Grandy recognized this quickly, and left when his conscience wouldn’t allow him to continue giving the city cover for its anti-Black policies. Then that resignation is used as proof that somehow Grandy isn’t serious about making positive change, despite the fact that he’s dedicated his entire professional life to the uplift and security of Black people.
Grandy simply wasn’t “objective” enough to do his job—which led to two separate write-ups in his personnel file—but the problem is how that objectivity has been traditionally defined in Dayton and around the country. White people have always been in charge of defining who is objective and who isn’t. They’ve even been able to define what data are and are not objective.
When Grandy and I spoke at my personal training studio, the tense protests that had swept through the country were still fresh. So I brought up an infamous moment from Buffalo when police officers brazenly pushed an elderly man, causing him to fall, hit his head, and sustain serious injuries. Here’s how a police spokesman initially described the event:
“…a 5th person was arrested during a skirmish with other protestors and also charged with disorderly conduct. During that skirmish involving protestors, one person was injured when he tripped & fell.”
Tripped and fell. Thankfully there was a viral video to show otherwise.
Harrison: The passive language is how they’ve been able to get away with it.
Grandy: So, okay. While I was with the CPC, for two years in a row we commissioned and released this data report. Right? And the findings were that the vast majority of use of force incidents that were reported were investigated by the professional standards bureau and those officers were exonerated, right? You could look it up, but I think it was 847 instances of use of force and 841 of the incidents were exonerated.
Harrison: 841 out of 847.
Grandy: Yes. Meaning that, you know, yes, the use of force happened, but the use of force was sanctioned and all was good, right?
Harrison: Honestly when you said that I was thinking it would be like 80 percent or something like that. That’s damn near 100 percent.
Grandy: Almost 100 percent. I mean, for statistical purposes that’s 100 percent.
I did look it up, by the way. Grandy’s recollection was exactly right: 841 out of 847 exonerations. You can read the 2018 report here.
Grandy: I was no longer interested in commissioning that data report because the data itself was so biased and it told a false story. Because the data suggests that yes we arrest people and yes we use force but the force is necessary. If the police determine what force is necessary then of course there is going to be a bias.
Which is why I talked to Dr. Richard Stock from the University of Dayton who we paid to do the report, and he said “I can’t figure out how to account for that bias.” So I’m like I’m not doing it anymore because I’m not advancing the narrative that cops are using force legitimately for all practical purposes 100 percent of the time.
Harrison: This is like the racist claim that like, well Black people commit more crime.
Grandy: Yeah. For sure. For sure. It advances that. And if you read the FOP response to my resignation they use that in there. They say well Jared Grandy praised the police and reported that most use of force was legitimate. And that’s such a mischaracterization of what happened. Yes, I did at the time praise the professional standards bureau for the way they do their investigations. It was very transparent. It seemed to be thorough. But they left out the part, which never made it to Commission because Commission is this Disney presentation, you know, it’s not meant for hard-hitting conversation. It’s a PowerPoint slide for goodness sakes. Right? But you know, to take that presentation without the context of the conversations that had prior to that presentation and prior to that report where we discussed at length the implicit bias and favor of the police department in this data. So I was frustrated.
Harrison: Did you find that a tension between being a city employee and doing that work?
Grandy: Yeah. I mean, yes.
Harrison: That’s a perfect example of like, that was a big part of a conversation, but then when it comes to present it publicly there’s pressure—
Grandy: For sure. For sure.
Harrison: There’s a machine here now.
Grandy: Correct. That’s what I’m getting at. There’s a machine. Everything is hunky dory coming out of the commission. Everything is hunky dory when the mayor speaks. So as a city employee, as somebody who works directly under the commission as an HRC employee, of course. Of course I feel the pressure to get on board with that culture, because if I’m the one dissenting opinion then I am the one who is, you know, you have to get rid of that right?
Jared Grandy is one of the rare people who has been willing to sacrifice the comfort of his public service job to sound the alarm for the rest of us, all the while offering a discomfiting glimpse inside the Democratic Party machine that stands in the way of the transformation necessary to build equality for Black people in the city of Dayton.
I asked Grandy about those personnel write-ups mentioned in the Dayton Daily News article. He said that people were more upset that that was included in the article about his resignation than he was.
Grandy: People were a lot more offended on my behalf than I actually was. I’m like “Yes! I had a problem being objective. Like, sure, I’m a Black man, of course I’m going to side with the people every time. The thing is they wanted me to be an objective facilitator of conversation. Which at times I tried to be, but over time I realized that some of these people [from the community] wanted me to open the door for more contentious conversation so as to feel like we were making some progress because beforehand, my first year-and-a-half in, I’d invite people to CPC and kid you not, I quote, “Jared this is bullshit I don’t want to be a part of this,” right? “Because why are we here? We’re not talking any of the things that really matter to the community.”
What Grandy did was even the playing field for ideas, such that the voice of the people was elevated to be equal to those of the officials in power. He had the temerity to declare their lens of the world as critically important in a city and a country that views the white lens as normative.
Grandy: I wanted to give them permission to talk about the issues that they really cared about. Prior to that moment what we had, was, you know, even though we had very smart courageous people on the CPC, it’s intimidating to have the chief of police, the city manager, the commissioners, sitting there, and they took advantage of that power dynamic and they really controlled the narrative.
The Dayton Daily News article about Grandy’s resignation was a case study in attempting to control the narrative. “Grandy has struggled to maintain neutrality in his role as community-police relations coordinator and serve as a facilitator, instead of an advocate, according to a January 2020 performance improvement plan in his personnel file.”
But Grandy isn’t ashamed of those write-ups. He’s proud. And we should be too.
Grandy: That whole article to me was like, yes, indeed, I did all of this stuff. When my grandkids read this article they’ll be proud because I’m on the right side of history.