Grand Rapids City Commission to meet Tuesday after ending meeting over protests

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

The Grand Rapids City Commission, which abruptly adjourned a meeting Tuesday evening after public comment about Patrick Lyoya's death boiled out of control, is not expected to meet again until next week.

The agenda for the 9 a.m. Tuesday meeting will not be finalized until Friday, the Grand Rapids city managers' office told The Detroit News.

Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by officer Christopher Schurr on April 4 after struggling with the officer during a traffic stop.

Participants can be seen in recorded videos disrupting the Grand Rapids Commissioner meeting during public comment and approaching the mayor and city manager.

Dozens of people filled City Hall and after two hours of city business, many spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, calling for justice for Lyoya.

There were no agenda items related to the shooting, city spokesman Steve Guitar told The News. 

However, Lyoya's name was listed under petitions submitted by community members.

"We’re still waiting for that justice to be served," Kenneth Cortez told the commission during a meeting in which police eventually stood between city officials and residents.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss repeatedly asked participants to respect the commission's meeting rules, including not shouting, using profanity or interrupting speakers. She reminded commenters that the commission was discussing a special assessment for downtown.

At one point, when an activist who said she was "literally boiling with rage" refused Bliss' request to stop using profanity, the mayor had her microphone turned off.

"Whether you agree with what they say or not, everyone has a right to be heard and share their opinion," Bliss said. "... This is an official city meeting. And there is city business to be had."

Some participants grew louder, and when Bliss couldn't regain control of the meeting, she ordered the commission to recess "for 10 minutes." A public recording of the meeting ended at that part of the meeting.

A short time after the commission returned from recess, Bliss could not speak over public commenters and adjourned the meeting shortly before 9 p.m., Guitar said.

In videos recorded by public commenters posted to Facebook, the situation quickly escalated from many participants having fists raised and waiting their turn to speak to a single man approaching the commissioner's table screaming, "They don't give a f--- about community."

"You try to silence Black voices," the man said. 

Warning: the video contains explicit language.

The social media video shows a moderator for the public commenters who tried to stop the situation and regain order. That same moderator can be seen a few minutes later yelling in the face of City Manager Mark Washington, who is the only person who remained seated speaking to the protestors.

As commissioners begin backing away from protestors, police entered and stood between them.

Once commissioners left City Hall 10 minutes later, Police Chief Eric Winstrom addressed the crowd and for 45 minutes had a discussion with those still in attendance.

Winstrom remained at commission chambers through 11 p.m. to speak to the remaining attendees. He told The News, "Some people just wanted to yell but some people actually did want to have a discussion... I told them I would answer questions all day."

He further told the protestors that "The building is closed, I'm still willing to stand and talk to you but I know the employees want to leave."

Bliss will be working with a city attorney to prepare for the next meeting in case there are disruptions or violations of the Commission’s Standing Rules, Guitar said.

Per the Commission's rules, disorderly conduct includes:

  • Clapping, cheering, booing or catcalls
  • Holding signs of any size
  • Addressing the audience rather than the commission
  • Talking on a cell phone, or allowing a cell phone to ring audibly
  • Speaking more than once on the same topic
  • Failing to be germane to the topic or issue being considered
  • Making impertinent, slanderous, or profane remarks or 
  • Engaging in threatening or abusing language or conduct

A person who is found to be in breach of decorum can be removed by an officer, according to the rules.

Jennifer Dukarski, deputy general counsel for the Michigan Press Association, said a public body is required to allow public comment and prematurely ending it would constitute a violation of the Open Meetings Act. 

"To comply with the spirit and the letter of the Open Meetings Act, should the public body hold a reconvened meeting, that meeting should accommodate any public comments that were denied at the first meeting as well as any additional public comments at that reconvened meeting," she told The Detroit News.

Dukarski said the commission's rules, as drafted, raise questions as courts have held that disorderly conduct or “a ‘breach of the peace’ constitutes seriously disruptive conduct involving abusive, disorderly, dangerous, aggressive, or provocative speech and behaviors tending to threaten or incite violence."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_