Grand Rapids mayor reflects on week, changes ahead

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been a week in which Grand Rapids has witnessed protests, a riot and a police chief kneel in support of those who want change.

And for Mayor Roslaynn Bliss, the week brought a range of emotions — from rage over the killing of George Floyd, to watching a peaceful march in Grand Rapids turn violent, to watching the community come out the next morning to clean up.

“Then being in a position having to make decisions so quickly,” Bliss said. “So I was the one who ultimately made the decision about the curfew and pulling in the National Guard. “

The curfew ended Monday night and the National Guard was sent home Tuesday morning.

They’re decisions the mayor says she stands by.

She also talked about the decision to create the Community Policing Advisory Council and other measures to improve relations between the community and Grand Rapids police.

They are moves some critics have called the same old, same old, pointing to the large number of past committees, advisory boards and initiatives aimed at improving relations.

“I would actually respectfully disagree with that. As I said, change doesn’t happen overnight. The change we’re looking for takes relationship building and trust,” Bliss said.

They mayor talked of other measures she’s convinced will help increase the pace of change, like the creation of the Office of Oversight.

“I want to be really thoughtful that we don’t minimize the years of hard work that’s got us to where we are today,” Bliss said.

And she has two messages.

One, that there’s some hard conversations ahead when it comes to finding solutions that will make Grand Rapids a more equitable place.

“We have to listen — listen with the intent to understand, and then identify ways every one of us can step up,” Bliss said.

And as the end to a very long week nears and residents worry about what may come next, Bliss has another message for those organizing future protests.

“We need people, as they plan these large gatherings that quickly can go from hundreds of people to thousands of people, they need to work with us so that we can plan and have the resources to make sure everyone’s safe,” Bliss said.

“That’s my number one priority, is that people are safe, they feel safe, not just downtown, but in every single neighborhood,” she continued.

Wednesday night, Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne and members of his command staff joined with protesters in a signal showing that he gets it.

Missing from the video was Grand Rapids’ top elected leader.

“I have been very clear that I will show up anywhere I’m asked,” Bliss said. “I was actually out yesterday and I was walking around and talking to protesters. I just wasn’t there next to the chief on the video. If they wanted me there, I would have been.”

When not at her city hall office or the city’s emergency operations center, Bliss says she’s spent time touring parts of the city impacted by the demonstrations.

But Wednesday night was about law enforcement and the community. So, she stayed off to the side.

“This isn’t about me. I’m trying very hard to really respect the community, and so if they would have asked me to be there, I would have been there right by his side,” Bliss said.

The mayor says the city may have preliminary damage estimates by Friday.

They’re looking at ways to help businesses offset some of the costs to personal property damage as well.

But she says beyond the loss of property, one of the biggest casualties from Saturday night’s riot was the original intent of the march.

“The need for people to truly talk about racism and discrimination and social justice,” Bliss said.

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