Timeline: Rioters damage Grand Rapids buildings, set fires

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — What was supposed to be a peaceful silent protest in downtown Grand Rapids Saturday over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against minorities was first loud, then led to tagging and ultimately devolved into destruction of property, fire starting and looting as evening turned into night.

The Grand Rapids Police Department didn’t immediately respond to the protest, which while massive from the start was initially peaceful.

But once some in the crowd became unruly and smashed out the front glass door of a business, police could no longer stand by. Of the next couple of hours, there was a huge police presence and officers fired round after round of tear gas to try to get people to disperse.

Still, rioters kept moving through downtown well into the night, breaking out windows and setting fires, leaving behind a mess of shattered glass and the smell of smoke over the city.

Updates from the civil unrest downtown, in reverse chronological order:

4 a.m.

WOOD TV8 wraps up live coverage.

3:45 a.m.

Piles of shattered glass sit upon the ground outside the Kilwin’s chocolate shop across the street from Rosa Parks Circle. There’s also glass on the equipment inside.

While there are people walking around Rosa Parks Circle, none of them seem to be causing any destruction. They seem to be simply spectators. The police continue to maintain a large and visible presence, with lights flashing.

3:34 a.m.

The Grand Rapids Police Department releases a statement on the violence:

“Our department is saddened by the events that have transpired downtown over the past 9 hours. What started as a peaceful rally was distorted into senseless acts of vandalism and violence. We know these pointless crimes do not represent who we are as a city. We will work around the clock to hold everyone who was involved in criminal activity accountable for their actions. Everyone in our community deserves to live in safety and peace.”

Grand Rapids Police Department

GRPD said city officials would speak on maintaining calm and security later Sunday.

“Our hearts remain with our community and we appreciate all the support and kind words we have received during this difficult time,” the statement concludes.

A fire burns behind a building near Fulton Street and Commerce Avenue as protesting became violent in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

3:20 a.m.

Police chase more rioters at Fulton Street and Ionia Avenue, firing tear gas and using rubber pellets.

By this time, there seem to be many fewer people out on the streets.

3 a.m.

City Commissioner Joe Jones, says the rioters are not representative of the intent of the peaceful march planned for 6 p.m. The violence, he says, is not the way to protest systemic racism.

“What has happened this evening is going to require a significant road to recovery. I don’t think the city is going to be the same. My hope and my prayer through all of this is that somehow, we can be better,” he said.

2:25 a.m.

A man named Alex, a Grand Rapids resident and Grand Valley State University student, is seen picking up trash from the sidewalks and putting it in garbage cans.

He says he is called by his faith in Jesus to help restore.

2:10 a.m.

Police are making arrests along Monroe Center.

2 a.m.

Grand Rapids police have arrived at the GRAM and are starting to clear out the people using shovels and stanchions to break through windows.

The ultimately launch tear gas and flashbangs at the crowd. People start to disperse, but a small fire is still burning.

The GRAM is just down Monroe Center from GRPD headquarters, where some of the first violence of the night happened. The GRAM also sits on Rosa Parks Circle where, at 6 p.m., demonstrators gathered for what was supposed to be a peaceful protest.

1:47 a.m.

The windows of the Media Arts Center inside the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where WOOD TV8 has a studio, have been shattered. WOOD TV8 is not currently using that studio.

Smashed windows at the Media Arts Center at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where WOOD TV8 has a studio. We don’t have any personnel there. (May 31, 2020)

1:28 a.m.

Firefighters have mostly doused the car fires burning along Pearl Street.

1:24 a.m.

A small crowd has just rushed WOOD TV8 photojournalist Bilal Kurdi after he approached them while they tried to break into an ATM on Monroe Center. People yanked his camera, pushed him to the ground and began to kick him. Veteran journalist Susan Samples, who was with him, began to scream at them to stop. Two or three bystanders stopped the crowd and Bilal is OK.

1:20 a.m.

Rioters have broken out window after window of the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Monroe Center. A brick lay among the mess of glass.

Several broken windows at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. (May 31, 2020)

1:10 a.m.

Police have responded to the area of Pearl Street between Ottawa and Monroe avenues, launching tear gas in attempt to get people to disperse.

This scene is north and to the west of where the destruction started around 9 p.m. at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue, which is also where the police department is.

It is only a block or so from Rosa Parks Circle, where a statue of the famous civil rights activist who protested using civil disobedience stands.

1:05 a.m.

A man is setting off fireworks only feet from where several cars are burning on Pearl Street. Many nearby seem gleeful as they watch the destruction.

No police or firefighters can be seen nearby.

1 a.m.

As car fires burn nearby, people continue to smash out the glass of downtown Grand Rapids businesses and loot them. One person appeared to be trying to use a shovel to break out a window. Another used a stop sign broken from the ground.

In a nearby parking garage, people used their phones to record the destruction.

The road was packed with traffic. Onlookers were everywhere. One young woman threw two pitchers’ worth of water on the fire, to no effect.

12:55 a.m.

At least five vehicles parked in downtown Grand Rapids are ablaze. This appears to be an expansion of the cruiser fire on Pearl Street. Thick smoke is billowing and you can hear car alarms blaring nonstop.

12:45 a.m.

A somewhat large fire is burning on Pearl Street between Monroe and Ottawa avenues. It is apparently a police cruiser, although a News 8 crew has gotten close enough to visually confirm that.

The sounds of a few explosions could be heard.

Traffic continues to move past the fire.

A car fire in downtown Grand rapids in the early hours of May 31, 2020.

12:15 a.m. (Sunday, May 31)

Grand Rapids Police Department Sgt. Dan Adams says arrests are being made and will continue being made in coming days for vandalism downtown as detectives can work their way through complaints and surveillance video.

He said the people destroying things appear to be separated in some way from the main group of people protesting earlier in the day.

“It’s time to go home,” he told people who are still out.

He said he understands people are passionate and frustrated about the state of racial issues in the U.S., but what’s happening now is just “destruction for destruction’s sake,” not a lawful protest. He said the businesses being damaged aren’t in anyway symbolic in race relations and many were already suffering because of closures linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

He was not aware of any injuries.

11:55 p.m. (Saturday, May 30)

A few groups of people continue to break out windows, moving along Monroe Center and Ottawa Avenue and other downtown streets wreaking havoc. Police do not seem to be in this area.

Many cars continue to drive recklessly. The sound of squealing tires has been intermittent all night.

  • A downtown building's window that was smashed during a Grand Rapids protest on May 30, 2020.

11:50 p.m.

Now having expanded their perimeter a block east to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum, police are still working to get people to go home. An armored vehicle is part of the police line, which also includes many officers holding their bicycles in front of them as a sort of makeshift shield.

It’s been about two hours since police fired the first round of tear gas.

11:35 p.m.

Someone is setting off fireworks over downtown Grand Rapids as police work to keep clearing out a large crowd that broke glass and set fires after a protest over the death of George Floyd and police brutality against minorities.

Fireworks go off during a Grand Rapids protest on May 30, 2020.
Fireworks go off during a Grand Rapids protest on May 30, 2020.

11:25 p.m.

Another round of tear gas has been fired into the remaining people in downtown Grand Rapids. That crowd continues to dwindle, but those who remain are throwing gas canisters back at the line of officers, who are wearing gas masks that protect them from the fumes.

At least one person threw a garbage can at the police. It didn’t look like any of them were hurt.

A trash can was thrown at police during a protest in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
A trash can was thrown at police during a protest in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

11:23 p.m.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss is calling it a “heartbreaking” and “outrageous” night in downtown Grand Rapids after a large, angry crowd smashed out windows and set small fires.

She said her number one priority was the safety of residents and police.

She said after the danger is over, she hopes people can then come together to dismantle institutional racism.

“That’s the only way we’re going to do this, is together,” she told News 8 over the phone, live on the air.

She said she was getting regular updates from police and had not been informed of any serious injuries.

11:18 p.m.

Asja Saintard, an organizer of the Silent Protest that happened before a large downtown gathering led to vandalism and fires, told News 8 over the phone that people who stopped outside Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters, tagging it and eventually vandalizing a nearby business, were not with her event. She said her march continued on to Calder Plaza and ended around 7:15 p.m. She said she and fellow organizers wanted a peaceful protest.

“I am actually angry. This is our city,” Saintard said, audibly upset. “Whoever’s down there doing that, they wanted this to happen in the first place. They should go home. Go home and stop trying to burn down our city. … Go home, please.”

She called the situation downtown “heartbreaking” in a city she loves, saying people should channel their anger into positivity to effect change.

“Go home now,” she urged the people still on the street, throwing things at officers. “This is your city. You live here. Channel your anger into something positive, please. This is our city. You have to wake up in this same city tomorrow. … Don’t be stupid because you’re angry. Make sure you channel that into something positive.”

11:13 p.m.

Police are again firing smoke canisters and tear gas in downtown Grand Rapids to get an unruly crowd to disperse. Some people were are undeterred, simply covering the gas canisters with orange construction cones. Others did take off.

Officers then slowly advanced their perimeter line several feet.

  • Tear gas that was deployed around 11:10 p.m. Saturday during a protest in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Tear gas that was deployed around 11:10 p.m. Saturday during a protest in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

11:10 p.m.

Wearing riot gear and carrying batons and shields, police from three agencies have set up a perimeter at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids, where people earlier broke into a store, smashed out the windows of the Secretary of State’s office and set a fire in a trash can.

Many people appear to have left downtown after the use of repeated rounds of tear gas were fired into the crowd. Some who remain — perhaps a couple dozen — are sitting in the street several yards opposite the officers, a few still carrying their protest signs that read “Enough is Enough” and “Black Lives Matter,” among other things.

Angry people had been throwing water bottles at the officers and some had spit at them.

On the phone with News 8, Cle Jackson, the president of the NAACP of Great Grand Rapids, urged people to break it up and avoid vandalism. He said he understands why some may believe that the dramatic show may be the only way to bring attention to their cause, but he said the real way to effect change was to be active members of the community, going to city meetings and voting.

“This is not the way to do it,” Jackson said.

  • Police lineup on Fulton Street during a Grand Rapids riot on May 30, 2020.
  • Kent County Sheriff's Office deputies during a Grand Rapids protest on May 30, 2020.

10:50 p.m.

Police launch at least a third round of tear gas against an unruly crowd in downtown Grand Rapids.

The vandalism came after a huge protest over police brutality downtown.

“I think the organizers had good intent. I don’t believe that what’s going on tonight is clearly connected to their protest,” Kent County Commissioner Robert S. Womack told News 8 over the phone as police kept launching gas canisters. “When nightfall came, we had people coming down … it turned into more of a party and a destructive nature of violence at the end.”

He noted that his concerns started when he learned the protest would start at Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters.

He said when he was in the thick of things, he saw people set a fire in a trash can and then throw their coats in to keep it going.

He commended police for their patience, saying they had faced vitriol from people for hours before taking any action.

10:45 p.m.

The large, unruly crowd in Grand Rapids appears to be beginning to break up after smashing out the windows of at least one business and the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office downtown and setting at least two small fires.

A bird’s-eye view from a downtown parking garage showed officers from three departments: the Grand Rapids Police Department, Michigan State Police and Kent County Sheriff’s Department, packing Fulton Street near Division Avenue. Most wore riot gear and carried batons. The road was a parking lot of cruisers with lights flashing. There were also at least four firetrucks.

Some downtown buildings were tagged, with one reading “RIP George Floyd.”

  • Police cars on Fulton Street during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Police on Fulton Street during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

10:30 p.m.

Protesters are attempting to set more fires in downtown Grand Rapids, including inside the offices of the Secretary of State, after a protest about police brutality devolved into destruction.

There was the sound of a small explosion, which one protester said was a paint can.

  • Trash can engulfed in flames in the street in Division Avenue and Fulton Street during a protest in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A fire in the middle of a street during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

10:25 p.m.

Protesters are smashing out the glass of the downtown Grand Rapids Secretary of State’s Office Saturday evening, telling News 8 they’re trying to make a point about disproportionate violence against minorities by police officers.

They used what appeared to be pipes and some sort of large piece of wood. At one point, one person used his skateboard.

Unruly protesters smash the Secretary of State office in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
Unruly protesters smash the Secretary of State office in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

The building at the corner of Division Avenue and Fulton Street that houses the SoS also contains Grand Rapids police headquarters.

The area is awash in police cruisers and firetruck lights and packed with officers from at least two agencies as authorities are trying to get the unruly protesters to go home. Earlier, they used tear gas, which did cause people to disperse for a time before they started gathering close again.

However, police did not appear to try to intervene as the windows were smashed out.

Earlier:

What started as a large but peaceful protest in downtown Grand Rapids Saturday evening devolved into property damage and looting, police say, before officers used tear gas to try to get the unruly crowd to disperse.

After the gas was used, a fire could be seen burning in the area of Fulton Street and Commerce Avenue. Some people had their phones recorded as others kept throwing things on the flames. It appeared the fire may have started in a dumpster and then spread to the side of a building. It eventually went out, though it’s not clear how.

A fire during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
A fire during a protest in downtown Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

Police had kept their distance from protesters throughout the evening until some smashed out the glass front door of the Villa clothing shop at Division Avenue and Fulton Street around 9 p.m. Some people could be seen going in and taking things, though others tried to stop them.

Protesters smashed out the front door of Villa at the intersection of Fulton Street and Division Avenue in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

It was after that Michigan State Police troopers converged on the intersection around 9:30 p.m., forming a wall opposite the crowd. Troopers soon donned gas masks.

Saying the assembly had become unlawful, Grand Rapids police warned that gas would be used if people didn’t go home.

Michigan State Police form a line after a protest in Grand Rapids got out of control on May 30, 2020.

The gas was launched around 9:50 p.m. It initially appeared to be just smoke, but later rounds were obviously tear gas. Protesters started breaking up, some dumping water on their faces, but hundreds of people remained downtown.

MSP said in a statement that it didn’t deploy the gas, saying it was assisting the Grand Rapids Police Department and that any gas used would have been deployed by GRPD.

  • Police use gas to get a large, unruly crowd to break up after a protest over the death of George Floyd. (May 30, 2020)

GRPD Sgt. Dan Adams said officers would not stop anyone trying leave.

“It’s time to go home,” Adams told News 8 shortly before the tear gas was used.

Earlier, the Grand Rapids Police Department’s headquarters was vandalized just after 8:30 p.m. Some protesters were seen pressing against the headquarters’ glass doors. The graffiti on the building included George Floyd’s name and antipolice rhetoric.

Graffiti painted on Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters downtown after a protest over the death of George Floyd and police brutality. (May 30, 2020)

PROTEST STARTED PEACEFUL

The Grand Rapids event started out peaceful, even though there were many people on hand. It was originally meant to be a silent march, but many people were chanting. Many streets were blocked to vehicles due to the crowd’s size.

>>Photos: Protesters march for George Floyd in Grand Rapids

The marchers went around the city’s downtown. They came face-to-face with officers on bicycles outside of GRPD headquarters.

Wyoming police officers in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department's headquarters during a protest on May 30, 2020.
Wyoming police officers in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department’s headquarters during a protest on May 30, 2020.

GRPD Chief Eric Payne briefly addressed the crowd.

“I want to say that I hear you. I’ve heard you my whole career. Black lives matter,” the chief told the loud crowd before returning inside the building.

KALAMAZOO PROTEST REMAINED PEACEFUL

Hundreds of people gathered in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids Sunday to protest police brutality against minorities following the death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck.

Tensions did get high between protestors and officers for a short time around 7 p.m. at the Kalamazoo Mall, with protesters and officers in riot gear facing off. It’s unclear what brought those officers out.

Regardless, the tensions soon lowered after police left. After that, things seemed calm as protesters marched, spoke and then held a candlelight vigil for Floyd.

Saturday night marked the second protest of the day in Kalamazoo, but the crowd’s sizes were bigger in the evening event. It clogged Michigan Avenue and Rose Street right in the heart of downtown.

Speakers talked about systematic racism in the country and the need to take proactive action, like teaching children of all races about equality. Speakers shared how frustrating it can be to be African American and the painful legacy racism has left on the country.

Earlier in the day, around noon, a large crowd gathered outside the Kalamazoo courthouse for a protest. In addition to #BlacklivesMatter signs, protesters carried signs that read things like “Justice for Mr. Floyd,” “All lives can’t matter until Black Lives Matter,” and quoting the Bible passage that calls for an “eye for an eye.” They called for people of all races to stand together to fight systemic racism.

“Our people are being persecuted,” said Alonzo Wilson, protesting along Michigan Avenue in Kalamazoo. “And we can’t stand by and continue to let this happen.”

The officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck, Derek Chauvin, was charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The protesters said third-degree charge wasn’t good enough; they said the killing was premeditated.

  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Protestors putting up the peace sign to symbolize their commitment to keep the peace during the demonstration in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Protestors putting up the peace sign to symbolize their commitment to keep the peace during the demonstration in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Protestors putting up the peace sign to symbolize their commitment to keep the peace during the demonstration in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Protestors putting up the peace sign to symbolize their commitment to keep the peace during the demonstration in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • A protest against police brutality in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.
  • Wyoming police officers in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department's headquarters during a protest on May 30, 2020.
  • Wyoming police officers in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department's headquarters during a protest on May 30, 2020.
  • Protestors putting up the peace sign to symbolize their commitment to keep the peace during the demonstration in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020.

Floyd’s death has sparked protests all over the country, including in Detroit, where one person was killed in a drive-by shooting and multiple people were arrested Friday. Protests in other areas, including in Minneapolis, have also been violent.

At noon in Kalamazoo, protesters condemned the rhetoric by President Donald Trump about the rioting and looting in Minneapolis.

“The change is now. The change is getting up every day and fighting for it,” said Trevon Reson, a student-activist. “And not quitting until we get it.”

After several people spoke outside the courthouse, the hundreds of protesters began to march, eventually moving into a road on Michigan Avenue.

“Black Lives Matter!” they chanted as they walked, “I can’t breathe!” “No justice, no peace!” and the names of black people who have died in police custody. Some passing cars honked in support.

“It’s part of the structure and the system of America,” Reson said. “It wasn’t supposed to work for us and we’re going to make sure it works for everybody.”

At one point, the protesters stopped in the middle of an intersection, continuing to chant and raise their signs. They clogged the intersection for only a minute before moving on.

Police were not on hand until well after protesters entered the street. Once they arrived, there was no sign of officers attempting to interact with protesters. They merely blocked off intersections along the march route. While a few protesters shouted at them, calling for police to be held accountable, they were not responding.

The protesters were upset about Floyd’s death, but peaceful. They paused in front of the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety, where they prayed for justice before continuing to march.

“We need to show that we see what’s going on and that we’re not going to stand for it,” said Wilson.

As the protest reached the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park Street, traffic began to back up. But after a few short words in the middle of an intersection back in front of the courthouse, the protest broke up peacefully with cheers and clapping.

While protesters were not practicing social distancing, many were wearing masks with coronavirus in mind. As the event ended, organizers made note of the virus when they asked demonstrators to touch elbows in a show of solidarity.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist on Saturday released a statement urging communities to designate places for peaceful protests.

“As Americans, this is one of the most challenging periods in our lifetimes. People in communities of color across the nation and right here in Michigan are feeling a sense of exhaustion and desperation. Communities are hurting, having felt that calls for equity, justice, safety, and opportunity have gone unheard for too long. We stand in solidarity with those who are seeking equitable justice for everyone in our state. We can’t live in a society and a country where our rights and our dignity are not equal for all. The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important, and in this moment when we are still battling a killer virus, it is crucial that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully, and in a way that follows social distancing guidelines to protect public health. Our administration is working closely with local elected officials, public safety, and faith, and youth leaders to encourage communities across the state to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations where people can make their voices heard. There will no doubt be more tough days ahead, but we must pull together and treat our fellow Michiganders with dignity, compassion, and humanity.”

Joint statement from Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist

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