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Police disperse riotous end of Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Grand Rapids

Watch: Black Lives Matter protest fills downtown Grand Rapids
Posted at 10:32 PM, May 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 10:00:29-04

A massive Black Lives Matter protest yesterday in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids turned into a riot that left historic destruction across the city's core by sunrise this morning.

Watch the protest turn into a riot


The protest began at 6 p.m. on at Rosa Parks Circle, which overflowed with protesters. Organizers at the rally there called for a peaceful protest.

The crowd, which appeared to be in the thousands, proceeded along Monroe Ave. NW and marched up Division Avenue past Van Andel Arena, before packing in front of the Grand Rapids Police Department headquarters on Monroe Center St. NW.

Initially, several Wyoming Police Department officers stood in front of the GRPD headquarters doors with their bicycles, as protesters crowded them.

The crowd was chanting in unison – repeatedly – throughout the protest: "Black Lives Matter." "George Floyd. Say his name." "Hands up, don't shoot." and more.

The peaceful protest took a turn when protesters began vandalizing the walls of the police headquarters with spray paint, including George Floyd's name and profanity.

A group of protesters also surrounded a police cruiser, requiring officers to abandon the vehicle, which was later recovered.

GRPD's chief, Eric Payne, then told FOX 17 that he and the department definitely hear the protesters and to not further "escalate" the protest.

Some protesters broke the front doors and a window at Villa, a lifestyle retailer, taking some items with them. Other protesters and police officers controlled the scene, with protesters guarding the broken front doors and window, as police officers left the scene.

The GRPD later sent several officers to stand in front of its headquarters, with the Wyoming PD officers leaving the post.

A line of police officers in riot gear were also standing on the stairwell inside the GRPD headquarters.

Some protesters threw water at the police building's doors, while other protesters took a knee.

One of the front doors to the Secretary of State office was broken as well.

A police spokesperson then told FOX 17 that it was time for people to go home, saying the protest had become an "unlawful demonstration."

Police seemingly sent a volley of tear gas at a group of protesters, with plumes of smoke rising from the ground as they ran and covered their eyes and mouths.

After nightfall at around 10 p.m., a line of police officers in riot gear lined the width of the crosswalk at Divison and Fulton, with a SWAT-looking vehicle near them, forming a perimeter around part of the GRPD headquarters, as other officers stood with bicycles around the back of the building.

After a large fire was set in an alley off of Division, some police officers walked up Division setting off what appeared to be flash bangs to help disperse the remaining crowd.

Two men then put out the large fire, which was climbing the wall of a building, with fire extinguishers.

The crowd was a much smaller one, with a group sitting and kneeling before police lining a crosswalk, and other protesters milling around the area of Veterans Memorial Park.

As the night went on, more widows at the Secretary of State were broken by protesters. Stop signs and other objects were being used to destroy storefronts.

Police sent several volleys of what appeared to be tear gas high into the air, causing people to run from the area, as well as several more volleys later.

The volleys continued to be sent into the air at protesters.

At around 11 p.m., more GRPD officers streamed out of their headquarters in riot gear.

Michigan State Police cruisers lined up on Fulton Street in front of Van Andel Arena to help disperse protesters. Cruisers from the Kent County Sheriff's Office and East Grand Rapids Police Department were also on the scene.

After midnight, the crowd that remained early Sunday deteriorated into mostly riotous behavior: destroying storefronts up and down Monroe Center St. NW and all around the core of downtown. Ravaged store interiors appeared to be looted.

Lines of officers eventually blocked off the retail corridor on Monroe Center between Division and Ionia.

The owner of Cinco de Mayo on Monroe Center told FOX 17 he went into his business to secure his computers, cash and other items. When asked, he said doesn't know what he did to protesters for them to destroy his storefront.

The windows all around the GRPD headquarters were broken, and the building's walls were filled with graffiti.

Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington told FOX 17 that the city will follow-up on all the destruction, and people will be brought to justice.

Washington also said the city will assess the damage on Sunday and start to clean up downtown.

An organizer of the Black Lives Matter protest said they will help clean up downtown on Sunday.

At about 12:45 a.m., a police spokesperson told FOX 17 mass arrests could happen, and recommended people leave downtown Grand Rapids.

A fast-thinning crowd started to scatter across the city's core, and police pushed outward across the streets with their vehicles and by foot.

Fires raged in a dumpster and trash cans. Fireworks flew into the air, lighting up the dark early morning sky.

Just before 3 a.m., several vehicles, including police cruisers, were found completely burned out. A weapon was strewn on the sidewalk beside a burned police cruiser. Another police cruiser and SWAT-looking were vandalized.

One man told FOX 17 a man with a weapon was guarding a jeweler's storefront.

On the outskirts of the city, cruisers with the Kent County's Sheriff's Office were parked and ready to move in.

A landlord looking at broken glass on a sidewalk told FOX 17 he came downtown to assess the damage of his multi-tenant property after he heard it was damaged.

At around 4:45 a.m., burned-out vehicles were being towed away, marking the start of the city's clean-up process.

The streets were mostly empty as sunrise approached.