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GRPD addresses use of force incident against protestors at Monroe Center

Justice for Black Lives claims they were protesting peacefully when officers became violent. However, police said they were violating city ordinances.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department is addressing how it used force against a group of protestors this weekend.

Justice for Black Lives claims they were protesting peacefully at the Monroe Center on Saturday evening, Sept. 25, when officers became violent. However, police said they took action against the group who were violating city ordinances.

Justice for Black Lives posted a video to their Facebook page Sunday, Sept. 26 that shows a scuffle between protestors and police. 

The group claims they were wrapping up a peaceful protest for Isaiah Butts, a man GRPD arrested weeks ago, when they were met with "senseless violence from GRPD." The group claims protestors were thrown to the ground, punched and hit with bikes.

GRPD released a statement Monday saying in part: "It's important to note any characterization of this incident as an attack by GRPD on peaceful protestors is erroneous." 

The department claims the group did not have a permit and for more than three hours, regularly used a bullhorn which was in violation of the city noise ordinance. 

Police said an officer warned them twice, issued a citation to the bullhorn user and when the woman continued to use the bullhorn, the officer tried to take her into custody. Several members of the group then blocked the officers from making the arrest. 

Two people were arrested and charged with Resisting and Obstructing a Police Officer.

Justice for Black Lives claims at least five protestors were hurt, but police say no one, including their officers, were hurt. 

Read GRPD's full statement:

On Saturday evening, September 25, the Grand Rapids Police Department took enforcement action against of group of protesters who were violating City ordinances. While I’m sure you have questions related to the specifics of the incident, I wanted to ensure you had the full context of what occurred leading up to that point.  

On September 14, City staff was first made aware of a Facebook Post indicating that Justice for Black Lives was planning an event on Monroe Center for September 25. 

On September 16, the Office of Special Events – as it regularly does in these instances – reached out to JFBL via email to advise them the area had already been booked for a permitted event related to ArtPrize and offered them alternative sites that were available.  No one from JFBL responded.  

The Office of Special Events again reached out on September 20 and 24 to reiterate that the space was not available and that other activities had already been planned and permitted for that time and location. Despite these repeated attempts JFBL remained unresponsive.  

On the afternoon of Sept. 24, the Office of Special Events made one last attempt to advise JFBL that the space was taken, provide alternative sites that were available, and ensure they were aware of any associated potential violations and subsequent enforcement actions should they proceed. 

On September 25, JFBL arrived at Monroe Center and a Captain with the GRPD made contact with the group’s leadership. The Captain explained that without a permit, they could protest, chant, gather, and move about the area - but impeding the right of way, disrupting or interfering with any permitted events, or use of amplified sound (speakers, bullhorns, etc.) would be a violation of the City ordinances.  

The group began their protest. Over the course of the next three hours, the group proceeded to regularly use amplified sound – a bullhorn – in violation of the city noise ordinance. They were approached by an officer twice who issued a warning and reiterated they were in violation of the ordinance. When they began using the bullhorn again a third time, an officer issued a citation to the person who was using the bullhorn. Undeterred, the same individual again decided to use the bullhorn and – since this was a subsequent offense following a citation – officers made an attempt to take the woman into custody.

As the officers approached the woman to make an arrest, several members of the group began physically interfering by blocking our officers. This resulted in two arrests while the woman who repeatedly violated the ordinance fled the scene.  

The City of Grand Rapids has the legal authority to issue reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions related to events including free speech/expression demonstrations. The City is supportive of all people in the exercise of their free speech and free expression rights and made numerous attempts to ensure those activities could take place in a safe and responsible manner while respecting the previously permitted events already happening throughout downtown. 

The two arrests made were for Resisting & Obstructing a Police Officer.  Detectives are investigating the incident for possible further charges.  No injuries were incurred by either the protestors or GRPD personnel.  As with all use of force encounters, the incidents will be reviewed by supervisors, the Training Unit and Internal Affairs.   

It is important to note that any characterization of this incident as an attack by GRPD on peaceful protesters is erroneous.  The officers attempted to make a lawful arrest of an individual who continued to violate the law, despite numerous warnings and opportunities to cease the illegal behavior.  The Grand Rapids Police Department remains committed to protecting everyone, enforcing laws equally, and serving every community member with dignity.

Justice for Black Lives did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

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