Link between vandalism, anarchists?

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) – The graffiti, the vandalism and the threats, said 34-year-old Ryan Cappelletti, are giving anarchists a bad name.

The Grand Rapids man calls himself a peaceful anarchist.

“There’s not these secret meetings where we’re planning on blowing up the DeVos building tomorrow, or anything like that,” he told 24 Hour News 8 on Thursday.

Cappelletti has followed the East Hills developments closely, even writing about them on a blog for hardcore punk rockers. For the most part, he said, he agrees with the message within the threat.

“We have a simple case of someone who’s really not that far off the right page,” Cappelletti said.

The author of the threatening letter, who took responsibility for the Feb. 22 arson, claims to belong to a group of anti-gentrification militants, who oppose urban renewal that pushes out the poor.

“Whoever’s doing this — there’s a reason why they’re doing it,” Cappelletti said. “And whether it’s right or wrong, I think we need to figure out that reason.”

The letter threatened violence and even kidnappings if condo residents didn’t move to the suburbs in two months. It demanded low-income housing and even drew the attention of a Federal Bureau of Investigations anti-terrorism task force.

“It’s escalating in such a horrible nature,” said Cappelletti, who works as a cook at a downtown nightclub. “I think everyone just has their eyes on, ‘who is this guy? Let’s get him, let’s put him in jail.’ But where’s the education in that?”

He lives in the East Hills neighborhood, and questioned whether the threat is coming from a true anarchist; or perhaps, Cappelletti said, it’s from a movement within a movement.

“As far as the police looking for an anarchist, I think all they see, because of that, is almost like a witch hunt,” he said.

The blog Grand Rapids Anarchists in late December 2010 said its members were not responsible for the vandalism along Wealthy Street, which included anarchy symbols and the words “gentrify this.”

Anarchists, according to the blog, promote and fight for a society without police, borders, bosses, politicians and classes. But, Cappelletti said, they’re far from organized.

“Anarchists are peaceful people,” Cappelletti said.

If an arrest is made, he said, he hopes it doesn’t stop there.

“People should look at it like, what can we learn from this situation? How can we make sure these situations don’t happen? Not just, ‘let’s catch this guy — let’s burn him at the stake,’ ” Cappelletti said.

Another East Hills resident is 22 and originally from Holland. He didn’t want his face shown or his name used, and although he stopped short of calling himself an anarchist, the man said he agrees with their views.

“We’re all anti-capitalists, anti-consumerists,” he said. “The gentrification sort of thing — we don’t agree with it, but we’re not the ones doing all this.”

Questioning from police started, he said, after vandals struck Wealthy Street businesses in late December and again in January.

“They actually came to our house about three times in two weeks,” he told 24 Hour News 8. “One time they actually came in.”

His roommate allowed police to enter their home.

“They keep asking us who did it,” the man said. “They say, ‘we know.’ We keep telling ’em everytime, we have no idea.”

He calls it harassment.

And in the days since the Feb. 22 fire and the letter threatening more violence, he said, police have stopped him twice while walking in the area.

“The other day I got stopped twice,” he said. “They wanted to see my hands, see the bottom of my shoes. They take my picture, ask my name, where I work, where I’m coming from.”

Officers checked his hands and shoes for spray paint, he said.

“I think it’s more profiling; the way we dress, the way we look. They’ve been stopping us up and down the streets.”

A timeline:

* Dec. 25: Vandals strike newer businesses and homes in East Hills, including new condos near Cherry and Diamond.
* Jan. 25: Vandals strike again.
* Feb. 22: Fire destroys condo under construction on Blodgett SE, near Cherry and Diamond.
* Feb. 25: Letter to condo residents threatens violence.
* March 1: Condo fire ruled arson.
* March 2: Police offer $20,000 reward in fire/threat case.

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