By Sam Tucker
After people across the nation were shocked and horrified by the video of George Floyd’s murder by the hand of police officers on May 25, 2020, both peaceful protests and destructive demonstrations erupted across the country in the following days.
On Saturday, May 30, Grand Rapids saw its own peaceful rallies calling for justice for George Floyd and an end to police brutality towards minority groups. But as day turned to night, Grand Rapids, like many other cities, saw looting, vandalism, and destruction, fall onto the city. This wasn’t just any day of the week, and yet I found myself out in the city like it was.
My Saturday night began as my Toyota Camry puttered into the parking lot of Jet’s Pizza, a swing of a door, and the familiar smell of the kitchen hit me. I looked and saw everyone huddled around a computer. I ditched the pizza bags and walked over, curious.
My coworkers were all glued to the live coverage of the fires, tear gas, and destruction that was growing in the downtown area. It was around 10:30 p.m. and the peaceful protests that took place during the day had been long over.
Over the next half hour, we saw our city fall into a dismay that I could only see for myself. After the clock struck 11, my shift was over and I was out the door and on the highway, with downtown in my sights.
I saw my city in a much different light than I’d seen it all summer. The glow of street fires lit up familiar buildings and storefronts, shedding light on empty window frames and piles of glass on the sidewalks. Stop signs were torn from the ground and spray paint began to cover the ones that were left. Even fireworks exploded overhead.
You could feel the heat on your skin from the chaos in the air and the police squad cars set ablaze. While some knocked over trash cans, others swept up the mess. As some ignited dumpsters and police cars, one woman ran into the street with pitchers of water in an attempt to douse the flames. As demonstrators smashed window after window, one man shoveled up the pieces, with the destruction still taking place just up the street.
Motorcycles and souped-up cars put on a show, burning rubber and revving engines in the middle of intersections. People passed out liquor and had beers on the side of the street watching the flames and fireworks light up the night.
Out of all the scenes I saw and captured that night, it was the images of those putting the pieces back together that sticks with me the most.
I don’t like seeing my city tear itself apart, but I understand the impact of year after year of peaceful protests, and the same headlines. Hopefully, the images I captured that night will be able to fill in the gaps my words cannot. And hopefully, they show that we truly are all in this together, and to face our ever important social issues divided, is a misstep in our pursuit to fix the issues our generation faces.