GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters gathered in downtown Grand Rapids for a planned demonstration as former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the death of George Floyd.
The event, led by Justice for Black Lives, was set to meet at Rosa Parks Circle Tuesday evening regardless of the outcome in the trial. The group is continuing calls for police reform. The event’s meeting spot was at a section of Monroe Center designated as “Breonna Taylor Way,” named after the Grand Rapids native.
After two days of deliberation, the jury found Chauvin guilty on all three charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin could spend decades in prison.
Floyd died May 25, 2020 after Chauvin had his knee pinned on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 ½ minutes.
Justice for Black Lives President Aly Bates said moments in the Floyd case reminded her of the trial in Trayvon Martin’s death, adding that many thought George Zimmerman, the man who fatally shot Martin, would be found guilty of his charges. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in that case.
“I was so sure, so sure that they were going to find him guilty and he was not found guilty,” Bates said to a small group of demonstrators. “So, while we celebrate for George Floyd’s family, we also need to fight for the other families that were affected by not only police brutality but police killings as well.”
Many say they did not know what to expect in the Chauvin trial. Grand Rapids protesters say they’re pleased with the verdict, adding that change still needs to be done with the policing system in America.
“We need to fight for justice, especially in Breonna Taylor’s hometown. We cannot forget about Breonna, we can’t forget about Daunte Wright, we can’t forget about Trayvon Martin, we can’t forget about Sandra Bland, we can’t forget about the so many names — I can’t even sit here and name them all because it would take hours for me to actually name these people,” Bates said. “This verdict means a lot, it means the world, but it’s still not enough.”
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel responded to the national news, adding that they are pushing for continued change to make communities safer.
Grand Rapids police set up barricades and salt trucks prior to the verdict being announced to prepare for possible unrest. Additional officers were were staffed including some on foot and on bikes.
“We didn’t know when the verdict would come out just like everyone else,” GRPD Chief Eric Payne said. “There could be the potential for civil unrest, so we have to prepare for that to make sure we have an adequate number of officers to be able to address those issues.”
Payne gave remarks to the community about two hours after the verdict was announced. He said justice was served and that Chauvin was held accountable for his actions.
“I’ve said from the beginning almost a year ago when this occurred, every law enforcement department has to look themselves in the mirror and see if we’re doing things correctly. We are here to serve the community and work with the community,” Payne said.
Payne said GRPD is continuing to use its strategic plan, saying “safety is our number one objective.” He said GRPD is “looking at innovation to keep the community safe.” Payne added that engagement is another objective in the strategic plan.
“Chokeholds or any type of neck restraint have never been a trained tactic with the Grand Rapids Police Department,” Payne said. “I challenge every police department across the country to make sure that they’re reviewing their policies, they’re training, that they’re up to date with the type of training that will not have a negative outcome like this particular incident did — and when it does, make sure you’re holding your officers accountable. We will continue to do that in Grand Rapids.”
Regarding protests and rallies going forward in Grand Rapids, Payne says there’s a proper way for organizers to hold their demonstrations.
“Anyone that wants to have that type of demonstration or expressive speech is to get a permit or to follow the law,” Payne said.
In Kalamazoo, a group of protesters were joined by police for a gathering. The group celebrated the verdict, but said there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Protesters said they hope that police heard their voices and work with them to improve the relationship with the community.
“This is a definitely a message to keep pushing, push even harder. We got to be the force behind police and officials being held accountable. We got to be in their faces, so to speak. We got to be out in the streets, letting them know that this is not where we stop. We want a better policing in our community,” activist Quinton Bryant said.
— News 8’s Whitney Burney and Ruben Juarez contributed to this report.