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Grand Rapids Police Chief kneels alongside protesters

“I will work with anyone that’s willing to make change in a positive way,” Payne said.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — In a Wednesday afternoon demonstration in downtown Grand Rapids, Police Chief Eric Payne kneeled alongside protesters calling for justice and chanted “I can’t breathe.”

The silent sit-in is the third anti-racism protest to occur in the city following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd died while a police officer kneeled on his neck, while he cried out “I can’t breathe.” His death has been the catalyst for rallies nationwide that are protesting against police brutality.

The silent sit-in drew crowds to line up along Fulton Street starting at Ionia Avenue to the West Side. This demonstration had more guidelines to ensure people’s safety following Saturday night’s violence, including asking people to go home by 5:45 p.m.

“I will work with anyone that’s willing to make change in a positive way,” Payne said to the organizer of the sit-in while addressing the crowd. “And you have my commitment to meet with you.”

The sit in was planned by Aly Bates, and she said while it’s good to have the support of police that’s not the only thing she’s looking for.

“My priority is to get a seat at the table and talk to them and make a difference,” said Bates. “We need to sit down with the police department and talk to them, then we need to move up to…the mayor, the legislation, the governor and eventually the White House.”

Bates told the crowd downtown that she wants to get a group of black people together to voice their concerns and what they want from the Grand Rapids Police Department.

“We cannot change the world, until we change things right here,” said Bates. “That’s what we need to worry about right now.”

Kent County Sheriff Michelle Lajoye Young also attended the event.

Protesters continued to march after the sit-in and one person said Payne didn't do enough and should have stayed longer.

"There is a lot of other people here spending there time and showing that they care, said Chasity Hunter-Miknight. "As much energy as we are putting into this walk,  he shouldn't be in his office or at the building working. He should be out here walking with us."

Wednesday’s event, which was planned with the help of the GRPD, was mostly quiet with protesters lining the road holding up signs that read “I’m still here and I'm still pissed.” Because it was a permitted event with the city, police responded differently than on Monday’s protest.

During the afternoon on June 1, a couple dozen demonstrators showed up and were faced with an imposing presence from the Michigan National Guard after a civil emergency was declared and curfew put in place. One of those protesters was Marcus Smith, who simply stared at the line of guardsmen. He also attended the sit in.

“Making eye contact with someone is important to see into their soul,” he said. “You’re giving them that opportunity to look into your eyes.”

One of the guardsmen on the frontline was a black man, just like Smith.

“He started tearing up after like 15 minutes,” he said.

Even though Wednesday's event proceeded smoothly, some issues cropped up before the sit-in started when one of the organizers said she would no longer be attending. Danah Montgomery said she was concerned with how the event was being planned.

"Very specifically, I was concerned that Black voices were not being listened to and amplified properly. I tried to voice those concerns, but was met with hostility," she said in a Facebook post.

"Black voices are not being properly amplified, police officers are co-opting this event, and safety is not a strong enough priority," Montgomery's statement said.

The official sit in wrapped up shortly after 5 p.m., and organizers asked everyone to clear out in order to avoid the chaos that erupted on Saturday. Shortly before 6 p.m. a crowd remained downtown chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

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