The Rapidian

Protest, riots, clean-up, and curfew: City Of Grand Rapids enacts civil emergency proclamation

Peaceful protest against police brutality turned overnight riot results in a community clean-up effort and a 48-hour curfew.
Protestors gathered outside of GRPD Headquarters

Protestors gathered outside of GRPD Headquarters /George Wietor

Civil Emergency Proclamation

Following a night of civil unrest and extensive property damage in downtown Grand Rapids, City officials held a press conference on Sunday afternoon to recap the events that occurred overnight, and plans for proceeding safely forward for the coming days.

“The safety of everyone in the city is my top priority,” said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalyn Bliss, “and we are going to do everything we can to prevent another wave of violence in the city.”

As of 1:45PM on Sunday, May 31st, Bliss enacted a civil emergency proclamation, which includes a temporary curfew active from 7pm to 5am for the next 48 hours, beginning Sunday night at 7pm. Violation of this curfew can result in a misdemeanor charge, including up to 90 days in jail and $500 in fines.

“A nighttime curfew is necessary to prevent additional violence, and to maintain order” said Bliss.

The curfew does not require businesses to close, but it does mean that the public should not be traveling to and from businesses like restaurants or retailers during the curfew, so some business may choose to close during these hours. City officials encourage businesses to evaluate their operations. Businesses that choose to stay open need to find ways to safely provide goods and services, including delivery. Grand Rapids residents are able to travel to and from work during the curfew hours.

This proclamation will also result in access to additional resources, including support from the National Guard. Bliss noted in the press conference that the city commission will meet on Tuesday, June 2nd to assess at that point whether the civil emergency proclamation, including the nighttime curfew, needs to be extended.

 

A Peaceful Protest

Preceding Saturday night’s incident, an estimated 3,000-4,500 people took part in a series of peaceful gatherings at Rosa Parks Circle throughout the day. Beginning at noon, the Speak Through the Mask rally organized by the Grand Rapids African-American Community Task Force invited members of the audience to speak directly about their experiences and feelings about the current cultural and political climate. This was followed shortly after 6:00pm by Silent March Grand Rapids, an event organized to protest police brutality across the country.

These events followed a string of recent killings of unarmed African Americans at the hands of police across the country. These deaths include that of Michigan native Breonna Taylor in Louisville, George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by a former police detective and his son in Brunswick, GA. They are also set against long running tension between the Grand Rapids Police Department and the African American community which has seen several high profile incidents of use of force and questionable tactics when policing children of color in recent years. 

Organizers of the march directed the crowd to remain calm, quiet, and peaceful for this Silent March. Protesters were asked to wear masks and respect health and safety guidelines of distancing in light of COVID-19. The march was meant to be silent, but chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” could be heard throughout the procession.   

Like the preceding rally the march was peaceful, though according to City Manager Mark Washington at the Sunday Afternoon press conference, "this was not a permitted event."

The silent march made its way across Rosa Parks Circle to Louis St and Monroe Ave. It continued down Monroe Ave. and headed East at Fulton St W. Towards the center of the city. After a brief pause at the main entrance of the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) on Monroe Ave. at Division Ave., the march continued to its planned final destination at Calder Plaza. At the Plaza, the marchers gathered to listen to closing remarks, including from community members with lived experience of police brutality in Grand Rapids.  

Kaliyah Herman, one of the event’s organizers, spoke with MLIVE, stating “We don’t want anyone else getting hurt, we don’t need people getting tear-gassed, we don’t want people being shot. They’re already doing that in other places. We don’t need to do that too to get our point across.”

Meanwhile several hundred people had gathered back at the Police Department’s main entrance, spilling into Division Ave. 

As tensions grew, Police Chief Eric Payne addressed the crowd. “I want to say I hear you," he said. "I’ve heard you my entire career. Black lives do matter.”

In addition to the City of Grand Rapids officers, there was police presence from the City of Wyoming, Kent County Sheriff’s Office, and nearby Ottawa County. 

In short time there were large gatherings of protestors at both the front entrance of the Police Department and the back along Fulton St. Police officers, using bikes as barriers, stood outside of the main entrance, while several officers in full riot gear were stationed inside at the back door. 

At around 8:00pm, 4 deputies from the Kent County Sheriff’s Office, mounted on horseback, led a group of protesters on an additional march around the block, perhaps hoping to disperse some of the crowd, but the group ended up back at the main entrance of the Grand Rapids Police Headquarters.

 

Overnight Riots in Downtown Grand Rapids

As tensions grew further among the protestors, the tone of the protest shifted in the early evening as GRPD exited the headquarters, assembling in formation with riot gear, barriers, and an armored vehicle at the building’s garage entrance at Fulton and Louis St.

Between 8:15PM to 12:00AM, damage to buildings such as VILLA, US Bankruptcy Court, GRPD Headquarters and Michigan’s Secretary of State downtown office–all at the corner of Fulton and Division–included smashed glass windows and graffiti. GRPD officers pushed up from Fulton and Louis St., using tear gas to disperse the crowds. Adding to the chaos, fireworks were set off downtown as GRPD continued attempting to contain a crowd that had splintered into several pockets of mayhem. 

Between 12:00AM and 2:30AM, destruction of buildings expanded to storefronts along Monroe Center, as well as Kendall College of Art and Design on Pearl, Friend of the Court on Ionia, Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, Grand Rapids Art Museum, and many more. Seven police vehicles–both from the City of Grand Rapids and City of Wyoming–were set on fire along Pearl street, as well as numerous trash cans and dumpsters throughout central downtown. Several arrests were made throughout the night, and officers continued their crowd dispersing efforts with tear gas and rubber bullets.

By about 3:45AM, the rioting had seemingly come to an end. Most people downtown appeared to be spectators, though police continued to hold a large visible presence. 

According to Police Chief Eric Payne, several arrests were made Saturday night. GRPD plans to investigate photo and video footage from Saturday night to bring those responsible for the damage to justice.

“What happened in our city last night is beyond heartbreaking and is unacceptable,” said Bliss. “Violence, chaos and destruction have no place in our city. This does not represent who we are.”

 

Community Unites for Clean Up

In response to the extensive property damage, hundreds of Grand Rapidians brought trash bags, graffiti remover and more supplies to clean-up and begin restoration of storefronts and city property Sunday morning.

Though appreciative of the outpour concern and support, City officials had requested by midmorning that volunteers avoid gathering in large groups downtown.

Said Bliss, “Despite the sadness that overcame me last night, I am heartened by all the volunteers, downtown business and property owners, DGRI employees and staff from our Public Works and Parks department who came downtown first thing this morning to start the cleanup. They brought brooms, buckets and a desire to take back our city – and we are forever grateful.”

Local restaurants and organizations even stepped up to give back to the clean-up volunteers. Mitten Brewing, Big O’s Cafe, and Ucello’s were seen serving up free pizza, as well as Amore Trattoria Italiana offering to-go meals. Mayan Buzz was handing out free coffee to the clean-up crew, and Ellis Parking offered free parking to those helping out downtown. Several other businesses that were directly impacted by Saturday night’s destruction offered food and other services to help those helping the community.

“This is Grand Rapids," said Bliss, "people coming together to take care of our city.”

For more information about the Civil Emergency Proclamation and curfew details, visit the City of Grand Rapids website.

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