Grand Rapids marchers face show of force, arrests

Chris duMond
Special to The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Protesters faced off with city, county and state law enforcement agencies Monday night in Michigan's second largest city, with numerous arrests made as demonstrations continued over the death of George Floyd.

Officers set off flash-bang grenades and moved in on marchers as Grand Rapids' 7 p.m. curfew took effect. Police announced over a public address system that Grand Rapids was in a state of emergency and that anyone on the street would be arrested. 

A protester raises his fist in solidarity in front of Michigan National Guardsmen and Michigan State Police at Fulton and Ionia in downtown Grand Rapids on June 1, 2020 over the death of George Floyd, who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day.

Around 7:10 p.m., officers with bicycles formed a barricade between protesters on their knees and the Michigan National Guard. Police set off flash-bang grenades behind the barricade in front of the Van Andel Arena.

Moments later, Grand Rapids officers and Michigan State Police started arresting the few remaining protesters, working in groups and grabbing individuals one at a time.

The show of force downtown included units from the Kent County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming City Police, with large military vehicles, riot and tactical gear, and officers on bike and mounted horses. 

About 3 p.m., as the police presence ramped up, about 100 protesters gathered at the corner of Fulton and Ionia in front of the Grand Rapids police headquarters, carrying signs and yelling at officers and guardsmen.

Military vehicles stage in downtown Grand Rapids ahead of a civil rights protest on Monday, June 1, 2020.

Around 4:45 p.m., Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne addressed the crowd. 

“I’m here. I hear you," the chief said. "I’ve been hearing you loud and clear. And most importantly I think law enforcement is hearing you. I will hold everyone accountable to do the right thing. What we need is to work together.”

When asked by crowd members if black lives matter, Chief Payne responded, “Yes, black lives matter.”  

Floyd died on Memorial Day when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes, sparking protests across the country, some of which have been marked by clashes between demonstrators and police.

Derek Chauvin, the then-officer seen on camera with his knee on Floyd's neck during the arrest, has been charged in his death, but protests have expanded since then.