An Account of the Unpermitted March at the Bush Protest in Grand Rapids

An anonymous account of the Bush protest in Grand Rapids on January 29, 2003. The account begins with the initial march down Ottawa, continues to the confrontation on Lyon, and the covers later march through downtown Grand Rapids that involved 150-200 antiwar protestors and was erroneously labeled a “riot” by the police and the corporate press.

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Protestors against the war in Iraq were penned into a small area by the police, kept far from Spectrum Health, the hospital at which President Bush was having a private meeting, for the majority of the morning. After the President’s motorcade passed by the protestors on its way Devos Center, protestors continued to be confined to the designated protest area for ten to fifteen minutes after the motorcade passed.

Once given permission to march towards the Devos Center, a small number of protestors took to the road and encouraged others to follow them south down Ottawa to Lyon, getting them closer to the Devos Center than the originally planned route, which was to go west on Michigan and south on Monroe. The police were likely expecting people to march on the sidewalk down Michigan as there was police tape lining the sidewalk on Michigan and it was unclear whether the police would let people cross at any point. Despite the fact that no legal permission was given to enter the streets, many of the protestors joined the initial group and flooded into all four lanes of Ottawa Avenue, amidst chants of “We won’t die for Texaco” and “No blood for oil.”

The march proceeded down Ottawa without incident until the corner of Ottawa and Lyon, at which point police cars were parked to try to stop the protestors from going any further. The protestors walked right past the police cars, seemingly undeterred by the police presence. Most of them filed onto the sidewalk, where police had hastily strung yellow “police tape” from the trees in an attempt to prevent people from advancing any further, despite the fact that there were Bush supporters who were allowed behind the police line.

A few people challenged the police line by running through the tape and into the street, although nobody followed them and thus they had to run back onto the sidewalk with police officers pursuing them (presumably state police of some sort, they were wearing brown uniforms). One protestor ended up on the ground with two police officers standing over her, while two other protestors were each grabbed by the police. For unknown reasons, the police quickly let the three rejoin the protest.

At the same time the aforementioned group tried to go through police lines, a police car sped west on Lyon and drove onto the sidewalk, cutting off access to the Devos Center. More police appeared in the streets and they strung more yellow tape and brought out a single metal barricade to reinforce a gap between the police car on the sidewalk and the wall of the Fifth Third Bank. One police officer was overheard yelling something about how if people are going to be violent, they would not be allowed to protest, a statement which is interesting given that absolutely no violence had occurred.

There was a rather lengthy stand-off at this spot, as protestors yelled at the police about the fact that Bush supporters were allowed to be closer to the Devos Center, yet protestors were being kept back and threatened to be arrested if they moved any closer, either on the road or on the sidewalk.

After standing here for several minutes, protestors moved (on the sidewalk) through the plaza that looks over the Devos Center, and descended onto Monroe Avenue, which had been completely closed for the event. On Monroe there were concrete and chainlink fences to prevent protestors from getting any closer to the convention center, thus keeping the protestors nearly a quarter of a mile away from the media vans that were lined up outside and a shorter distance from the doors of the Devos Center. As people milled around, more police officers were deployed behind the barricades, creating a strong line of police, apparently to prevent people from rushing the barricade.

There were several hundred protestors both on the Plaza that looked over Monroe, with many more on the street. Despite the large numbers of protesters, they were not very visible, as they had been kept away from the media that was further south on the street, the people that were attending the speech, and any type of interaction with pedestrians as the street had been closed off. The protestors rallied for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes at this location.

As people began to disperse, a spontaneous march began. Protestors marched north on Monroe and then right onto Michigan Street, occupying the two eastbound lanes, as well as the turn lane. An unmarked police car followed behind the march, but no attempt was made to stop people. The march then turned south onto Ottawa, once again occupying all four lanes. While it is hard to stay for sure, the crowd consisted of approximately two-hundred people, the majority of whom were marching in the road and participating in chants of “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” The crowd was very vocal and animated, enthusiastically carrying signs and banners demonstrating their opposition to any war in Iraq.

The police setup a roadblock in front of the courthouse, approximately twenty-five feet before the intersection of Ottawa and Lyon. The roadblock was created by parking three cars across the street and stationing officers on the sidewalks, sealing off the protestors ability to move forward. After several minutes, the police gave people permission to continue on as long as they turned left at Lyon and headed east, which was away from the Devos Center. It is uncertain why the police allowed people to move, but presumably they wanted to allow the traffic that had been backed up behind the protestors to pass.

The march turned left onto Lyon and headed east to the intersection of Division and Lyon, where several protestors halted traffic in order to allow the march to move south on Division St., the main road through downtown Grand Rapids. Protestors marched slowly, disrupting the flow of traffic in both the northbound and southbound lanes. The march proceeded without incident to the intersection of Division and Fountain, where the march turned left onto Fountain and stopped at Fountain Street Church, where people were going to have a post-action meeting and refreshments.

However, the majority of the marchers decided to return to Division St. and once again proceeded south, bringing traffic to a near standstill. Two blocks later, at the intersection of Division and Fulton, a major intersection in downtown Grand Rapids, protestors decided to block the intersection, disrupting the flow of east-west and north-south traffic.

After occupying the intersection for a few minutes, the police moved in, driving into the intersection and ordering people to leave the streets or be arrested. About half of the protestors moved onto the sidewalk, as the remaining group in the street moved west on Fulton. More police cars showed up and warnings were once again given that people would be arrested if they did not move off the streets. Many people continued to ignore the police orders, proceeding past the intersection of Fulton and Commerce, at which point at least one police car drove into the crowd, nearly trapping one protestor’s leg between the curb and the front wheel of the car. After this incident, the majority of people returned to the sidewalk at the intersection of Fulton and Ionia. Some arrests were made at or near this time, but I did not witness anything other than one person being led away in handcuffs.

Some protestors continued west on Fulton on the sidewalk, while another section moved onto Ionia Street. At this point, the people that were moving west on Fulton ran back and joined people in the street at Ionia. Several police officers then got out of their cars and pointed at a group of three protestors near the intersection of Ionia and Lewis. The three protestors had their arms linked and one female officer ran up and tried to arrest a person on the end of the link, which she eventually succeeded in doing—however, the others were not arrested

After the arrests, all of the protestors returned to the sidewalk, and about ten seconds later several, probably in the neighborhood of twenty to thirty, police officers occupied the street creating a row three deep to prevent people from entering the street again.

At this point, the march moved a block further north on the sidewalk and then dispersed. There were ten arrests that have been independently confirmed, while media reports today (January 31st) have stated that there were thirteen arrests. The arrests vary from felony counts of “inciting a riot” to “trespassing.” Moreover, the corporate media has blatantly misrepresented the facts. No protestors tried to overturn cars as has been claimed in the media, nor was it a “riot” or a “melee,”—people were simply taking their opposition to war into the streets—hardly a riot.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org