Volunteers fill downtown Grand Rapids for riot cleanup

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As an army of volunteers filled Grand Rapids Sunday to clean up the damage left by rioters, the city declared a civil emergency and enacted a 48-hour curfew, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The city of Grand Rapids is asking people to not gather in large groups downtown Sunday after destructive riots damaged numerous businesses.

“We appreciate everyone’s support to help clean up our city early this morning. We’ve made remarkable progress. While we appreciate those who are interested in joining organized volunteer clean-ups today, we respectfully ask that individuals not gather in large groups downtown,” the city tweeted.

Daylight Sunday revealed the damage left behind by rioters in Grand Rapids as well as the good Samaritans working to clean up the mess.

A photo Tiffany Anne sent to ReportIt shows a small boy helping clean up Grand Rapids following the riots May 30-31, 2020.

Dozens of people gathered to power wash the walls of the Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters, which were covered in graffiti.

“My heart is lifted as I make my way through downtown with hundreds of people helping clean up our city. This is our Grand Rapids,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss tweeted.

For hours Saturday night into Sunday morning, rioters roamed downtown, setting fires, taunting police and smashing glass storefronts using shovels and street signs. Many businesses were looted.

The violence erupted hours after a protest over the death of George Floyd. One of the protest organizers denounced the riots, saying the people who incited it weren’t from her event, which was supposed to be a silent march. She said her group kept going to Calder Plaza and soon went home.

Sunday morning, volunteers armed with brooms, dust pans and other cleaning supplies descended upon downtown to clean up shattered glass, litter and other debris left behind by the rioters.

Ladonna Norman was among those downtown for Sunday’s cleanup.

“Don’t use this opportunity and this fight and this mission for us to come and destroy our city and make it worse for people of color,” she said.

“They took away our voice when they came and destroyed our city. But at the end of the day, when the sun comes up, who’s cleaning up? If black lives matter, do they matter today, too? Or did they just matter because it was trending? I tell the community to stop dropping on trendy stuff. Trends get old and black lives aren’t trends. This is our everyday reality,” Norman added.

“I know that Grand Rapids is a beautiful city, but we need more leaders around the city that’s going to speak out around problems that’s going on in and around the city of Grand Rapids,” said Deandre Jones, a peaceful protester from Saturday evening.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered on Sunday around Rosa Parks Circle and worked to help businesses pick up the pieces.

>>Photos: Volunteers clean up Grand Rapids after riots

“I saw all the destruction and I felt like I had to do something,” said Jason Yonkers from Kentwood.

Yonkers says images of the vandalism hit him hard.

“I just started crying. I can’t believe that they would do this to my city,” said Yonkers.

A father and daughter who were part of the early morning effort told News 8 everyone has a positive part to play.

“It’s a good time to teach my daughter a lesson about what happens, about pressure on society, about so much pressure things burst. Things happen, they weren’t the greatest things, but we’re here to clean up, we’re here to help move forward,” the father said.

Chris Lyon and her friends were originally going to take a walk downtown Sunday morning but decided to pitch in instead.

“This is just another way that we can help out our community is to come down and help clean out and start over again,” she said.

They hope people will move towards a brighter future.

“I hope for some peace. I hope that this doesn’t continue,” said Lyon.

“There is a lot more good than there has not been. I think it’s going to take a long time to rebuild those relationships, but it’s definitely a start,” said volunteer Serena Knoop.

The owner of Mayan Buzz Café handed out free coffee to people who came downtown to help clean up.

“I love our city. Our city means everything to us,” owner Marco Bulnes told News 8.

“And so for us, to bring that unity to our community, bring that unity for everybody, come on down to downtown Grand Rapids. Let’s show that support. Let’s show that we can build back up together, stronger than ever,” he added.

Beltline Bar employees visited Rosa Parks Circle to deliver free food to volunteers.

Angel’s Thai Cafe also offered up meals.

A group of people also walked downtown handing out coffee and breakfast sandwiches to news crews who worked through the night to cover the unrest and aftermath.

Ellis Parking is also offering free parking to cleanup volunteers at the Sears parking lot at 130 Lyon Street NE and the Midtown parking ramp at 118 Lyon Street NE.

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE

Owners and employees also returned to their businesses to assess the damage. Shards of glass and clay, broken wood, food and dirt covered the floor of Sundance Grill & Bar.

“I think the one word that comes to mind is just devastating,” said marketing director Chris Nicholas while standing next to the mess.

He asked for the community’s support, saying the riots combined with coronavirus delivered a one-two punch to the restaurant.

“You have to recover, you have to rebuild, you have to move on. And I think West Michigan is all about that every single day,” said Nicholas.

Windows were boarded up at Angel’s Thai Café located across from Rosa Parks Circle. Employees were also at the nearby Kilwin’s, cleaning up the damage.

News 8’s downtown studios at the Grand Rapids Art Museum weren’t spared. The west-facing windows overlooking Rosa Parks Circle were all shattered. Volunteers gathered the glass and righted the guardrails Sunday morning.

Crews have also begun cleaning the inside of the Secretary of State office located next to the Grand Rapids Police Department. That block of buildings was heavily targeted by vandals who spray painted hate-filled messages and broke more windows.

SENATOR: GR NOW ‘SEEING SOME OF THE BEST’

Republican Sen. Roger Victory of Michigan’s 30th District came to downtown when he heard some Ottawa County first responders were called to the riots.

“I was starting to see some of the worst of West Michigan and I’m happy to report this morning, as we’ve been cleaning up on the streets for the last half hour, picking up the glass, we’re seeing some of the best (of) West Michigan,” Victory said.

He said even after the cleanup is finished, there’s work that needs to be done.

“Because there’s tensions in the community, there’s tensions throughout the whole nation, but yet today, we’re taking a step forward for a better Grand Rapids,” Victory added.

— Reporter Dana Whyte contributed to this report.

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