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Group confronts line of officers, Grand Rapids police chief

Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne joined a barricade of officers to talk with a group of protesters.
Credit: WZZM/Rose White
Sam Hilaire was one of the people who used a speaker and a microphone to address Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Payne on Saturday, June 6, 2020.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After a planned protest wrapped up around 7:30 pm Saturday, a group remained downtown Grand Rapids to continue demonstrating.

A line of Grand Rapids Police officers, including Police Chief Eric Payne, were barricading Monroe Center to keep people away from the department. About 100 people initially lined up in front of them; a speaker and a microphone allowed people to confront the chief one-by-one.

RELATED: 'We are in this together,' Saturday protest centered around community voices

Sam Hilaire, who also spoke at the organized protest prior, addressed Payne directly. In a tense exchange, Hilaire asked Payne to say “Black Lives Matter,” which he did. But the crowd kept pushing the police chief to get more officers on the line to say it. 

“So what I want to say to you, it's good enough you say black lives matter but apparently, all these other guys. It's taboo. It's too controversial,” prompted Hilaire. 

Payne offered his business card to Hilaire and told others to get in contact with the department, asking them to talk with him outside of the context of protest. 

"I am willing to meet with you and whoever else you bring with you," said Payne.

Other people on the line were having one-on-one conversations with officers. One of whom told a protester he also stands against policy brutality. This week after three Kent County Sheriff's deputies knelt in front of a crowd, Payne said that dialogue between officers and protesters should be happening. 

"That's what we need," said Payne in an interview on Thursday. "And for people to know we hear you."

Payne eventually left the line, but people continued to take to the microphone as they addressed police. Down the block at Ionia Avenue and Monroe Center another line of officers set up a barricade. 

Using a loudspeaker, police warned the remaining several dozen protesters north of Ionia Avenue to get behind a line of trucks or get arrested. A barricade was re-established using the line of Kent County Road Commission trucks with Michigan State Police officers filling the gaps. 

Some of the protesters continued to try to dialogue with the officers, while others begged for answers about the riot gear and the response from police. Tamarra Thomas, a Grand Rapids woman, acted as a liaison between police and the disjointed group. 

Credit: Rose White/WZZM
Tamarra Thomas talks to Michigan State Police behind a barricade on June 6, 2020.

She also talked to an MSP officer in the barricade. She said she thinks the officers are conflicted, and the man she talked to told her if he wasn't working he would be out protesting with them. 

The group lingered at this intersection, continuing to focus their attention on pockets of officers seen in between the barriers. Occasionally, law enforcement warned people to get off the trucks, or get arrested, and to stay out of the road. 

A couple of blocks down the road, the scene was less tense. 

A different group, which was organized, had a speaker playing music and hot dogs were being passed out. Trevin Gibson said this was a "joyful" gathering because "black lives should be celebrated."

Other than a brief moment where two dozen officers on bikes stopped across the street from the group, the corner of Monroe Center and Pearl Street felt mostly like a party. Police asked them to stay out of the street and out of Rosa Parks Circle, but other than that the music kept playing.

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