GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Shortly after curfew went into effect in Grand Rapids Monday night, police started arresting protesters who had remained peaceful all afternoon even as they stood face-to-face with the Michigan National Guard on Fulton Street, calling for a demonstration of unity.
In all, the Grand Rapids Police Department said, 12 people were arrested and jailed for violating curfew. The department said some people threw water bottles at them as arrests started being made.
Shortly after 7 p.m., authorities urged people to go home, telling them it was past curfew. Just before 7:10 p.m., police officers moved in front of the line of National Guard with their bicycles. Some protesters tried to grab one, at which point an officer used the bike like a shield to push them back.
Officers fired what what they called “Safe Smoke” and many people did take off. Two people who stuck around were taken into police custody. At that point, police started slowly advancing their perimeter line down Fulton Street. They fired off more smoke canisters and one person got scalded.
At 7:15 p.m., officers rushed people with their bikes. At least one more person was taken into custody. The police line advanced again. Protesters continued to back away and were largely dispersed.
By 7:30 p.m., it looked like just about everyone had left Fulton Street.
Shortly before 8 p.m., several people were arrested down Fulton Street at Veterans Memorial Park, which is near Division Avenue.
Members of the Michigan National Guard and police were wearing gas masks after curfew, but they never used tear gas.
The main scene of the protest was at the intersection of Fulton Street and Ionia Avenue, near GRPD headquarters. On Saturday night, that building was tagged with George Floyd’s name and antipolice rhetoric before a riot broke out. On Sunday, volunteers scrubbed the graffiti away.
The protest, which was supposed to start outside Van Andel Arena and continue to the nearby police department, was not a permitted event and police encouraged the community to stay home. It started as a very small gathering and then grew to about 200, GRPD said.
Protesters repeatedly called for signs of solidarity from the National Guard and police, asking them to take steps or kneel with them. Officers did not respond.
GRPD Chief Eric Payne went to speak with the protesters around 4:40 p.m., telling them he believes black lives matter and asking them to work with police.
“I hear you. I’ve been hearing you. I hear you loud and clear. … Most importantly, I think law enforcement is hearing you. … I feel what you’re feeling. Change is happening; we’re doing it. It’s important for all of us to work together,” Payne said, promising to hold all of his officers accountable.
Protesters shouted back, wondering why he was standing behind the line of National Guard members in riot gear. They asked him to join them; he declined.
Speaking to reporters a little while later, Payne said he wasn’t joining the people because it was not a permitted gathering.
But he also said law enforcement must hold officers accountable when they break the law. He said that’s happening in Minneapolis, where the officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck has been charged with murder and manslaughter.
“My heart is heavy tonight,” Payne said in a Monday night statement released to the media. “In less than 48 hours, our city has seen multiple protests, destroyed property and a level of violence that has put our entire community in jeopardy. I cannot count how many times I have tried to have conversations with organizers and protesters. I’ve heard them. The entire city has heard them. We’re ready to continue the hard work we’ve been engaged in and start looking at new strategies to move forward.”
Shortly before 6:40 p.m., police used a loudspeaker to remind protesters of the curfew, tell them they would be subject to arrest if they disobeyed and explain how they should vacate the area.
“Thank you for your cooperation,” the message ended.
Early in the afternoon, one protester told News 8 she showed up because she can’t stay silent as black people across the nation are murdered.
“As a person with privilege, I can’t sit back and watch that happen and I’m using my voice to protest against that grave injustice,” she said.
When asked why she continued to protest when the original rumored event did not appear to come to fruition, she said the numbers don’t matter.
“It matters not how many people you have behind you, but the message you choose to portray. And we’re portraying one of peace and one that all black lives matter and I think that no matter how many people you have behind you, you should be committed to that message,” she said.
As a precaution, some members of the National Guard spent Monday afternoon boarding up storefront windows in the area that hadn’t been broken during Saturday night riots downtown or previously boarded up during Sunday’s community cleanup effort.
GRPD said officers from the Kent and Ottawa county sheriff’s departments, Wyoming and Kentwood police departments and FBI were downtown Monday evening.
The city is under curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. The mayor declared a 48-hour civil emergency, instituting the curfew and calling in the National Guard, after the riot.
Grand Rapids officials announced Monday the community largely adhered to the first night of the curfew. In a release, officials said nine arrests were made overnight without incident. Law enforcement officials informed people about the curfew and gave them a chance to comply before any arrests were made, authorities said.
City officials also are reminding anyone who is organizing an event in the city must contact the city’s Office of Special Events at 616.456.4125.
Anyone who wants to receive texts about local emergencies in Grand Rapids can text grandrapids to 888777. Details on the text program can be found on grandrapidsmi.gov.
FIRST PERSON CHARGED IN RIOT
Monday also marked the first formal charges issued in connection to the rioting downtown Saturday night.
Adrian Baker, 18, was charged with riot and larceny charges for allegedly breaking into the Biggby Coffee shop on Monroe Center across from Rosa Parks Circle and stealing the “We’re Open” sign. The judge gave him a $5,000 bond.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker told News 8 this was the first time he has issued “riot” charges, which the law describes as “five or more persons, acting in concert, to wrongfully engage in violent conduct, thereby intentionally or recklessly causing/creating serious risk of public terror or alarm.”