Protesters smash windows of governor's office in Michigan's capital

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Demonstrations turned violent in the state’s capital as protesters smashed windows of the Romney Building, where the governor’s office is located, and at the city’s landmark Boji Tower, as protests stretched into the night and police in riot gear deployed tear gas.

A car and trash bins were ablaze. Demonstrators also broke into a bank a block from the Michigan Capitol on Sunday night, demolishing the front windows and sparking fights as what initially was a calm protest against police violence escalated.

As police lined up next to the Capitol at one point, a protester could be heard telling others to "occupy" the Capitol steps. But most of the action took place away from the Capitol grounds in downtown Lansing’s commercial district, where windows at numerous retailers, including a jewelry store and a cigar shop, had been broken.

Demonstrators against police violence flipped a car in downtown Lansing at about 6:45 p.m. Sunday, May 31, 2020. The car later caught fire.

At about 8 p.m., demonstrators broke windows at a Chase bank in downtown Lansing before a fight broke out in front of the bank. Moments later, police using tear gas moved in on the crowd. Later, they broke windows at the Romney Building across the street from the Michigan Capitol and smashed large flower vases outside the building.

Then, they began throwing objects at windows of Boji Tower, the tallest building in downtown Lansing. Multiple windows were broken.

At about 9 p.m., the city of Lansing announced that a curfew was effective immediately. "People must return to their homes in order to stay safe," the city’s announcement said.

By 11 p.m., many of the protesters had left downtown.

Protesters smashed a window at the Romney Building, which is home to Gov. Gretchen  Whitmer's office on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Earlier in the day, the protesters met outside the Capitol building, where they said the "power" in Michigan lies, and marched a few miles from Lansing to East Lansing, blocking many roads on their way.

"You don’t have to destroy your own city and cause a ruckus," DeSante Johnson of Lansing said early Sunday. "It takes away from your message."

When the protesters arrived back in downtown Lansing at about 6:30 p.m., the tone of the event deteriorated as the original organizers lost control. A fistfight broke out and demonstrators circled a vehicle on Washington Square.

The event was one of many protests against police violence in cities across the U.S. after George Floyd died in police custody in Minnesota on May 25.

At one point Sunday night, the protesters in Lansing alleged the driver of a car tried to hit them. Police officers surrounded the gray vehicle and escorted the driver into a law enforcement vehicle down the street as protesters shouted at the woman and officers.

A car fire burns in  downtown Lansing after law enforcement officers moved protesters away from the vehicle. Protesters flipped the car after feuding with its driver, who had been escorted away earlier.

After the driver left the scene, protesters flipped the car and it caught fire. It was unclear whether demonstrators set the car ablaze. Another vehicle was left upside down a few blocks away on Grand Avenue.

After the fire started, officers in riot gear ordered demonstrators to move away. But the protest continued, and later, demonstrators entered the Chase bank at the corner of Allegan Street and Washington Square.

While other events in Grand Rapids and Detroit led to arrests in recent days, the Lansing organizers repeatedly urged against violence at the beginning of the event. Michigan State Police estimated the crowd in Lansing at 600-800 people by 12:30 p.m., 90 minutes after the event began.

Ulices Rosa of Lansing protests outside the Michigan Capitol on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

But the group seemed to grow as the crowd left the Capitol grounds and marched on streets in downtown Lansing. By 1:30 p.m. the crowd was heading west against traffic and away from the Capitol as a helicopter flew up above.

The demonstration outside the Michigan Capitol building came six days after Floyd’s death, reigniting protests and national outrage against police violence toward African Americans.

"Our main message is that we have to stick together as people, not blacks, whites, Chinese," organizer Aliana Sherman of Lansing said Sunday. "We need to come together as human beings and fight police brutality together."

Hundreds of protesters march against police brutality near the Michigan Capitol on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

At one point Sunday, hundreds of demonstrators laid on the Capitol lawn, chanting, "I can’t breathe."

Michigan State Police Lt. Brian Oleksyk described the protest as "very calm" at about noon, and Lansing police seemed to be letting protesters walk where they wanted to on city streets. That changed later in the day. State Police declined to say Sunday afternoon whether there had been arrests.

Johnson said demonstrators met with Lansing police Sunday morning before the event.

"You can’t lose faith in the justice system," Johnson said. "Even if it is broken, it can be fixed."

Steven Page of Lansing watched the demonstration while standing on top of a replica artillery gun that’s part of the Michigan Capitol grounds. Someone had placed flowers in the barrel of the replica weapon.

"I just hurt," Page said of what brought him to the event. "I just hurt badly, and I want it to end."