GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds gathered in downtown Grand Rapids Wednesday to peacefully protest police brutality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
They lined Fulton Street in both directions from the Fulton Street Bridge to College Avenue, spreading out from Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters.
Participants took a knee for nine minutes and chanted “I can’t breathe.” That’s about the time a Minneapolis officer had a knee on Floyd’s neck before Floyd died.
Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne and Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young, as well as the officers accompanying them, knelt with the crowd.
The event was supposed to end at 5:30 p.m., but some of the protesters started to march on the streets around 6:30 p.m. That was not part of the original plan for the protest.
As the marched, the protesters chanted things like “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”
As of 7 p.m., the demonstrators were marching in the Heritage Hill area. There were a handful of residents outside to cheer and wave at them. GRPD officers on bikes helped to protect the crowd from cars. One told News 8 it was so no one would drive up on protesters.
By 7:30 p.m., the group was by Michigan Street and Fuller Avenue. As the march continued, the crowd dwindled noticeably.
They went all the way to Gaslight Village in East Grand Rapids (about 3 miles from GRPD headquarters as the crow flies), where they met East Grand Rapids Police Chief Mark Herald.
“They asked me to walk with them so I said yes. It’s part of a conversation that has to occur,” Herald said. “This is an extremely difficult time. The history of race in this country is an extremely difficult one to deal with. None of us have the answers but we have to have the conversation.”
The group turned back toward downtown Grand Rapids around 8:30 p.m.
Around 9:30 p.m., protesters returned to the area of Fulton Street and Sheldon Avenue downtown. They were met by a line of officers in riot gear, and things got a little tense. The protesters were shouting at the officers and asking them to take a knee.
Shortly before 10 p.m., a few of the sheriff’s deputies in the line knelt. The crowd erupted in cheers and started chanting “Thank you.” Some protesters shook deputies’ hands. The tension immediately dissipated.
“Everybody go home,” people shouted. “Let’s go home.”
The crowd broke up. Within about 20 minutes, all but a handful were gone.
On Thursday, Sheriff LaJoye-Young told News 8 she didn’t know who the deputies who knelt were and couldn’t even confirm they were members of her department. She did, however, say she supported their actions.
Before the march, Payne said he is committed to meet with anyone who will work to “come up with a solution” and make make positive changes in the community.
“What I’ve committed to is meeting with anyone where we can make change because change needs to happen, OK. I have been working for 30 years to make change … and that’s why I’m the chief of police, to help make those changes happen,” Payne said. “I hold officers accountable, I have and I will continue. I will also support them. We have to work together with this. I can’t do it alone. I need everyone out here to work with me.”
“I think what the community heard today was the police chief affirm his commitment (to) be better than what we’ve been in the past,” Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington said to News 8.
For the first hour of the event, the protestors mostly stayed quiet. Some came up to the microphone to talk about the need for police reform.
“We’re going to stand against them (police) until they see the bigger picture. We are unarmed civilians who pay taxes to live inside the city that you supposed to protect and serve, which you have failed us at,” one speaker said.
Many at the event held signs that said “I’m still here, I’m still pissed.”
Participants who spoke to News 8 said they were encouraged the Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee on Floyd is facing more serious charges and three other officers on the scene are also facing charges.
“It’s unfortunate that it took all of this for those decisions in this country,” said protester Amber McCutcheon to News 8.
Another protester brought her daughter.
“I just want her to see people, all different walks, all different colors, coming together as one, fighting as one,” she said.
Organizers did get a permit prior to the event.