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Grand Rapids commission flooded with calls after eight protesters arrested

Grand Rapids City Hall and La Grande Vitesse.
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
Grand Rapids City Hall

City commissioners in Grand Rapids were once again flooded with calls last night from people upset with the city’s police department.

This time, callers to the commissioner’s meeting spoke out against officers arresting eight protesters downtown Monday night. The city manager says the police department will review the arrests.

The protest was organized by the group Justice for Black Lives, in honor of George Floyd. Video from the march streamed on Facebook shows dozens of people taking to the streets during the march, before being ordered by police to go onto the sidewalk. Police then arrested some protesters in the crowd, and at least one arrest appeared to take place on the sidewalk.

“The Grand Rapids Police Department has been targeting not only myself but other community activists and it’s not the first time something like this has happened,” said Aly Bates, who was one of those arrested.

Bates was among more than a dozen people who called in during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting. The comments, nearly all of which were critical of the GRPD, lasted for nearly an hour.  

“I have also been the victim of targeting by GRPD for calling for justice in our city,” said Danah Montgomery, who was not among the eight arrested Monday night. “But the violence has never been enacted by organizers or from protesters with Justice for Black Lives. If you want to talk about violence then look at the GRPD, and their long history of violence.”

In a statement posted on Facebook Tuesday, the GRPD says its officers repeatedly asked the protesters to move to the sidewalk during the march.

“When the demonstrators refused to clear the road, officers began to take individuals into custody, resulting in eight arrests,” the department said. “The rest of the protesters moved to the sidewalk and carried on with their demonstration without further incident.”

Video streamed on Facebook Monday night by Justice for Black Lives shows one person, dressed in black, being handcuffed while standing on the sidewalk.

“We have tried meeting with the chief of police. We have tried talking to people,” Bates said in her comments to commissioners. “At this point, what do we do as community members? There’s only so much we can do. You guys have the power to make the changes.”

Following the comments, a few commissioners offered thanks for those who called in, but they stopped short of criticizing the department for the arrests.

“I commend the Grand Rapids PD for doing their jobs last night,” said commissioner Nathaniel Moody. “Our laws and regulations should be enforced.”

City Manager Mark Washington said he spoke with the police chief about the arrests, and said the department is reviewing what happened. But Washington said the demonstrators did not get a permit for the march, and it was unsafe for them to be in the streets.

“The best way to de-escalate and ensure the safety of both protesters as well as people that are in the area, is to apply for a event special permit application,” Washington said. “Our special events office is happy to do it.”

Dustin Dwyer reports enterprise and long-form stories from Michigan Public’s West Michigan bureau. He was a fellow in the class of 2018 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. He’s been with Michigan Public since 2004, when he started as an intern in the newsroom.
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