Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Grand Rapids Original Swing Society Changing Venue Due to Street Violence

The Swing Dances at Rosa Parks Circle have gotten to be very popular this summer, drawing thousands, mostly young people, downtown to join in the fun.  Unfortunately, along with the kids interested in dancing, there are other people coming who enjoy causing trouble and making things difficult for everyone.

Here are people enjoying swing dancing in Grand Rapids on a less chaotic occasion:


Cool, huh?  A great way to enjoy the American cultural tradition of Swing and an opportunity to get aerobic exercise, something we could all use more of.  Hats off to Steve Zaagman, the founder and organizer of Grand Rapids Original Swing Society.

However, on August 13th, the crowd grew to about 1,000 people and most of them had not come to dance. According to the WZZM comments:

  • "fringe crowds were looking for trouble and dangerous." 
  • "One of the boys involved in a one sided altercation was jumped by 10-20 gang members. He had no gang affiliation but apparently offended one of the gang members by telling him to watch out because he walked into him on a sidewalk prior to the incident." 
  • "My friends child was crushed in the stampede (she is fine)...someone stabbed a police officer is what she was told."
Grand Rapids police arrested at least ten people in connection with the violence, but it's unclear from media accounts who exactly is causing the trouble.  It's not the dancers.  Prior to this year, there hasn't been trouble at these events, but small fights have broken out at previous dances this summer, and Zaagman hired security to handle them.  The Grand Rapids Police Department also assigned special response forces to the events.

Last night The Grand Rapids Original Swing Society held their event indoors at the Masonic Center on Fulton to avoid similar problems which relieved a lot of people who had been worried Swing might disappear.  It looks like for now, dances will be held at other indoor venues, but Zaagman says he is looking to bring them back for two nights during ArtPrize.  It's disappointing these events will be held indoors because part of their appeal is being downtown and outside during the seasons of Michigan that are pleasant.  These outdoor events also provide an introduction to Swing to people who are unaware of the pastime or the organization.  

It's also distressing to think that Grand Rapids may be experiencing the national trend of wildings, black-on-white violence, flash mobs, and other group behavior.  "Youth" or "young people" are not very descriptive terms, news media, and while I understand that you do not want (nor do I) to further inflame racial tension, already high after the Trayvon Martin case, if we don't clearly identify the problem, we cannot try to solve it.  So who were the people at Rosa Parks Circle causing the problem?  And how can we make sure they know they cannot do this?  Because moving law abiding, fun having people indoors is not the answer.  People all over the city want to use the beautiful public and green space we have for group gatherings, parties, reunions, and weddings in Grand Rapids without being molested or bullied by thugs, white, black or green.  Let's solve the problem here, not sweep it under the rug or look the other way.  This is a great city on the upswing.  How about we keep it that way?