GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been less than two weeks since the controversial officer-involved shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana, and the ambush that left five police officers dead in Dallas.
Since then, clashes between police and protestors have turned violent in parts of the United States.
But in Grand Rapids, a group of black teens wanted to take action in a different way.
Their message: “Am I Next?”
“We’re asking, ‘are we next’ to be the victim of police brutality?” 16-year-old Eugene Brown told 24 Hour News 8.
So Brown and three other teens decided to organize an event. But their goal is to do much more than just shout slogans — they’ve sought out to educate the community.
The teens actually teamed up with the Grand Rapids Police Department to put together the large gathering Saturday at Rosa Parks Circle.
“I think adults could take a page from these 16-year-old’s notebook,” GRPD Chief David Rahinsky told 24 Hour News 8 at the event.
The result: not a protest, or a rally, but instead — what the teens call a “peaceful assembly.”
“4 Unity” is the second part of their message.
“We can come together as one. And not all policemen are bad,” co-organizer Danielle McMillon said at the event.
Hundreds gathered and dozens held signs Saturday afternoon. Speakers took the stage, an attorney spoke about legal rights, and preachers offered up prayer.
The idea: an open dialogue during a difficult time.
“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Law enforcement has a long way to go. But here in Grand Rapids I couldn’t be more proud of what I see,” Rahinsky said at the event.
The organizers are not affiliated with the local Black Lives Matter chapter.
That group posted a letter on Facebook this week saying they “cannot stand in solidarity” with Saturday’s event — disagreeing with the decision to include police.
But members of that Black Lives Matter group did show up — standing and raisings signs to block Chief Rahinsky from view as he addressed the crowd.
The teen organizers stand by the event they put together.
“We can understand if they don’t agree with us. But we know what we’re doing is right,” 16-year-old organizer Je’ana Mason said.
“If we’re having police brutality, don’t you think we should speak to the police? That’s where we need to come to the common ground and learn to respect each other.”