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Don’t Let the System Control the Narrative on the Black Lives Matter protest in Grand Rapids

May 31, 2020

Yesterday, there were several calls for protests in Grand Rapids, protests against the ongoing murder and repression of black people by cops all around the country and in this city.

Some black organizers began hosting demonstrations at 11am at Rosa Parks Circle, with another protest joining them, a protest which started at MLK Park. A third call for resisting police violence against black people was scheduled for 6pm, also at Rosa Parks Circle.

I arrived at 4:30pm to be part of a crowd safety team for the 6pm Black Lives Matter protest, which was organized by several young black women. The black women who organized the action had been in contact with volunteer organizers with Movimiento Cosecha GR, who offered to provide a crowd safety team.

Just before the march began, the crowd had grown to maybe 2,000 people. Signs and banners were numerous, with most of the signs centering either on the white supremacist violence of police or the names of black people, like George Floyd, who have recently been murdered by cops.

At this point the GRPD primarily had cops on bikes in several areas around the park, with several cops doing surveillance on rooftops, using cameras and drones.

The march left Rosa Parks Circle around 6pm and came out on to Monroe street, taking up the two lanes of traffic going south. March organizers then moved east on Fulton. The cops on bicycles followed on the sidewalk, but did not intervene and prevent people from protesting in the street. Over the last few decades, the GRPD has generally not tolerated people marching in the streets, unless there are numbers, and there were definitely too many people to police last night.

The march was billed as a Silent March, but there could be chants of “No Justice, No Peace” or “Black Lives Matter” heard throughout the march, especially since there were several thousand people marching at this point, making it impossible to see the end. As the march moved up Fulton, nearing Division, protesters could still be seen turning left on Fulton from Monroe.

The march paused at the corner of Fulton and Division for a brief period, allowing time for those coming up Fulton to catch up. People who were in cars didn’t seem to mind having to wait and many of them hand sings in support of the protest.

March organizers then decided to go in front of the GRPD headquarters on Monroe Center. When the march arrived to to the front entrance of the police department, there were about 15 GRPD cops on bikes lined up in front of the entrance facing protesters.

The protesters began chanting “I can’t breathe” and “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Ass Police.” The crowd was moving closer and closer to the police station, many verbalizing what they thought of the cops on bikes. The march organizers did not want to stay at the police station for long, and after 15 minutes decided to keep marching.

The march then moved down Monroe Center to Ionia, then to Lyon and eventually to the Calder Plaza. At the Calder Plaza several of the march organizers spoke about how they were just so tired of the way that black people were being treated, they were tired of living in a world where black bodies are disposable and where black lives don’t seem to matter. One black mother spoke and then talked about her son who was recently beaten by the GRPD. You can see a photo here below of her son. She fought through tears talking about her son and his future aspirations, only to feel anger and rage at a system that brutalized her son.

At this point, one of the people doing crowd safety had come to tell everyone that there were still hundreds of people in front of the GRPD headquarters and that things were getting tense. Several of those who were at Calder Plaza, then went back to the police station to see what was happening.

When we got back to the GRPD headquarters (around 7:30pm), there were still hundreds of people in front of the building. However, after maybe 10 minutes, lots of people began to move away from the police station, back towards Rosa Parks Circle. The entire stretch of Monroe Center was filled with people who had come to say to the city, Stop Killing Black People! The air was electric and filled with anger.

It is no surprise then that things escalated later that night. I was not there, so I do not want to speculate on what happened. However, I do think it is important that people, especially white people, stop with all the complaints and questions about property destruction. We as White people have no understanding of what it means to be black in America. We do not know what it is like to be terrorized every day by police and the larger systems of White Supremacy.

The commercial news media has already made the narrative about what happened yesterday about property destruction. It is critical at this point that we make the voices of black people central to any conversation we have about what happened yesterday. We need to shut up about property destruction and listen to the lived experience of black people. We need to say their names – Breanna Taylor, George Floyd and the countless number of black people who have been murdered by cops! SAY THEIR NAME!

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