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Growing Grand Rapids neighborhood standing guard against ‘urban terrorist’

Neighbors and business owners in a growing Grand Rapids neighborhood are standing up against a so-called urban terrorist. Since Christmas Day a number of businesses and a new condo development have been vandalized and struck by arson in East Hills. Dozens of residents have received letters threatening violence if they don’t move out. The letters say old neighbors have been priced out as new developments came in.

Kathryn Caliendo has been volunteering for the East Hill Council of Neighbors for 20 years.

“I don’t like the buzzwords anarchy, or gentrification and I don’t like the word terrorist. This is not political discourse. This is criminal activity. And that’s what I want it to be treated as.”

Grand Rapids Police Captain Eric Payne says he used to chase down lots of crack dealers in East Hills back in the late 1980s. Since then, a number of people have invested in new businesses. Payne says he has seen the neighborhood change for the better.

“I don’t get into the debate of whether it’s displacing people. I mean certainly there are people that were living there that are no longer there. What I’m looking at is the crack problem that we had in that particular area doesn’t exist, not like it used to.”

There were some residents at Tuesday’s meeting who say some residents have been pushed out by rising rental prices they say are caused in part by the development and a historical designation that forces more detailed regulations on landlords.

Caliendo disagrees that’s the case, citing a number of lower income housing option. Even if it is a problem, Payne and Caliendo say violence and treats are not the way to deal with it.

“They picked the one neighborhood that has brought itself back from the brink one house at a time and choose to hold that up as the problem with the neighborhood? That’s why we’re getting all this response because everyone is offended as hell because everyone knows the history of this.”

The FBI and federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are involved in the investigation. There’s a $20,000 reward in the case.

Lindsey Smith helps lead the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Radio’s Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.