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Justice for Black Lives responds to arrests at Monday protest

Posted at 2:54 PM, Mar 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-09 21:11:53-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A local organization says Grand Rapids police “unfairly” arrested members of their group and others during a Justice for George Floyd demonstration.

Officers arrested eight people Monday on various misdemeanor charges, according to Sgt. Dan Adams, a department spokesman.

Authorities said protestors blocked traffic and created a disturbance.

The people arrested detailed similar experiences at a news conference on Tuesday, saying their protest remained peaceful, but then GRPD escalated the situation and targeted leaders within Justice for Black Lives, a local racial and social equity organization, and nearby protestors.

“I felt helpless, and I felt powerless,” said Dighton Herman, one of the people arrested. “I wonder if I might have been treated even more brutally had there not been a crowd around me.”

“Twenty minutes or so into this nonviolent march, a huge number of police arrived, boxed us in -- on Breonna Taylor Way mind you -- with their cars and began systematically arresting specific activists and leaders,” said Kate Masterson.

GRPD denies targeting protest organizers and said the arrests happened because people broke the law.

“Grand Rapids is a community that not only supports, but encourages, peaceful protest, free speech and constructive dialogue," the department said In a statement. "When that expression violates the law and puts individuals in danger, we have an obligation to uphold those laws when all other reasonable efforts have failed.”

The city Office of Special Events says no permit was filed for the event, which is required to be registered.

According to Adams, GRPD told organizers not to impede traffic or use loudspeakers before and during the event. Officers could be heard giving warnings and issuing commands to protestors as they marched up Monroe Center between Ottawa and Ionia avenues.

Organizers acknowledged being in the street and carrying megaphones but said most of the protestors were in the process of moving toward the sidewalk as they walked toward police.

After the first arrests, the group became upset and began yelling at police to let them go. Justice for Black Lives added that Monday’s march happened no differently than ones led this summer with no issues.

“These arrests by GRPD are just another scare tactic to try and silence the voices and leaders who have worked tirelessly to bring about change and police accountability to Grand Rapids,” said Christian Bartolo.

“They can put us away for a little bit, but it doesn’t stop anything, because we’re doing what’s right,” said Reshana Charles. "So we’re still going to be here."

RELATED: Protesters arrested at GR Justice for George Floyd event