Despite Weekend Violence, Community Spirit was Sparked

Dan Verhil was up north at his cottage when he got word that his Grand Rapids restaurant, One Trick Pony Grill & Tap Room, had been vandalized during a peaceful protest turned violent in the city.

Of course, with destructive protests originating in Minneapolis, Minn., over the death of George Floyd spreading to cities across the country, Verhil’s imagination immediately devised images of rampaging looters destroying his restaurant.

Turns out that didn’t happen. A neighbor appeared and scared the protesters away, and the only damage was a broken window. Still, it was enough to frighten Verhil.

“It was supposed to be a peaceful protest that turned into a riot,” Verhil said Monday. “I was freaked out … They didn’t get inside. I was very fortunate they weren’t breaking in and looting like some other places.”

Like at Dan and Erin Oderkirk’s restaurant, The Dog Pit, and many other businesses in the downtown Grand Rapids area.

The Dog Pit was one of many establishments that suffered damage Saturday night when protests in the city over Floyd’s death turned violent. According to ABC-13, rioters smashed their way through the door at The Dog Pit, breaking glass and stealing a variety of items, including money.

The Oderkirks say the interior is largely intact, the station reported.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Dan Oderkirk, who co-owns The Dog Pit with his wife, Erin, told the TV station. “It’s shocking to see downtown like this.”

To the rescue
Thankfully for Verhill, the Oderkirks and other business owners, thousands of volunteers came out Sunday, moving across the downtown area helping to clean up.

One of those volunteers who headed downtown was Kim Bode, a principal at 8THIRTYFOUR, a Grand Rapids-based integrated communications firm. Bode pointed out Grand Rapids is not only her home, but it’s where her business is located and where her employees live.

She said the violence that erupted “is not representative” of Grand Rapids.

“The morning after, when businesses, city workers, construction companies and individuals showed up by the hundreds … that is my community,” Bode said. “I showed up because I needed to do something and I got more out of it than I gave. We all have work to do, it’s time for action not more words.”

Verhil called it a “huge community effort.

“They helped us a lot,” he said. “It was wonderful to see. Young, old, diverse … it was a beautiful thing to see, actually.”

The Grand Rapids violence followed similar patterns in other cities around the state. Protesters have marched in Detroit for several days now, enough to cause Mayor Mike Duggan to establish a weekend curfew. And Flint, Saginaw, Lansing and Livonia were among other communities that saw some form of protest over the weekend.

The unrest prompted Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist to issue a statement Saturday encouraging communities to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations.

‘Challenging period’
“As Americans, this is one of the most challenging periods in our lifetimes,” the statement read. “People in communities of color across the nation and right here in Michigan are feeling a sense of exhaustion and desperation. Communities are hurting, having felt that calls for equity, justice, safety, and opportunity have gone unheard for too long. We stand in solidarity with those who are seeking equitable justice for everyone in our state.”

They said it was “crucial” that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully while following social distancing guidelines “to protect public health.”

“We can’t live in a society and a country where our rights and our dignity are not equal for all,” the statement read. “The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important, and in this moment when we are still battling a killer virus, it is crucial that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully, and in a way that follows social distancing guidelines to protect public health.”

Protests in Detroit led to nearly 250 arrests, with a large percentage of those arrested hailing from outside the city, according to Detroit Police Chief James Craig.

According to reporting from WDIV, police have arrested out-of-state protesters from areas such as Washington, D.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Ohio. The majority of the more local arrests have been people from the suburbs around Detroit, places such as Ferndale, Farmington Hills and Orion Township, the station reported.

Outsider interference
At his press briefing Monday, Mayor Mike Duggan said there was a “select group of outsiders” who “orchestrated violence against police and police headquarters.” On Saturday, protests escalated to bricks, rocks and fireworks being thrown at police.

In Lansing, the protests started out peacefully, but escalated into violence later in the day.

Late Sunday afternoon, a woman’s car was overturned and then set ablaze, which escalated a riot in the downtown. Lansing Police said in a statement rioters turned over a second car and targeted “multiple businesses” for vandalism.

“The rioters … began smashing the windows of multiple businesses, looting, assaulting police with rocks, bottles and started several dangerous dumpster fires,” Lansing Police Department Public Information Director Robert Merritt said in a statement.

Police then deployed chemical agents and made more than a dozen arrests, Merritt said.

Michigan National Guard members were deployed to Lansing as a “peaceful presence” during the protest and will remain as long as needed, Capt. Andrew Layton of the Michigan National Guard, told the Detroit News. Lansing and Grand Rapids are the only cities where the guard has deployed. Members in both locations are being paid by the state, not the federal government. 

In all, Lansing police arrested 13 people after the car was overturned and burned Sunday afternoon, Merritt said. The woman was pulled from her car by Michigan State Police to protect her before it was overturned, Merritt said.

In Saginaw, Newsradio WSGW-100.5 reported that protesters calling for justice after Floyd’s death gathered at sites in the city of Saginaw and in Saginaw Township on Saturday.

Organized by former Saginaw City Councilman Clint Bryant, a current candidate for the 95th District House seat, the crowds carried signs and chanted as passing cars honked their horns in support, the station reported.

Things were also much calmer in Flint, where Genessee County Sheriff Chris Swanson not only calmed things, but embraced the protesters, taking off his gear, putting down his weapon and actually walking with demonstrators.

‘Walk with us!’
In a video of the scene, Swanson tells protesters “these cops have you” and urges them to turn the situation into a parade.

“It was a spontaneous decision,” Swanson told NBC’s Today Show. “I’ll tell you with all the police agencies there, Flint Township being the lead for the area, it made the most sense that when I saw the crowd and felt the frustration and the fact that we were only accelerating the issue, it was time to take the helmet off, go to the shot caller, the lead organizer, give him a big old fat hug and say, ‘What do we need to do?’

“That was the tension breaker, and then the next question was the one that made history.”

The crowd can then be heard urging Swanson to “walk with us!” followed by Swanson handing out that “big old fat hug.”

Swanson can be seen in a video of the moment telling protesters that “these cops love you” and that he wants to make it “a parade and not a protest.”

After putting down his weapon, he asks the crowd what they want him to do and they start chanting, “Walk with us!” He then embraced some demonstrators and began marching along with them. “The second that turn of events happened when I said, ‘Let’s walk,’ you saw an entire crowd’s mindset and heart change because they wanted to be heard,” Swanson told Today. “They were as much a part of that night making history in Flint than anybody else. Now we’re day two, no arrests, no fires, no injuries.”