GR community activist urges peaceful protests at upcoming rallies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Before the violence erupted at a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas Thursday night, several people in West Michigan organized events of their own to protest the officer-involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.

24 Hour News 8 found at least three protests planned in Grand Rapids on Facebook.

The largest, scheduled for Saturday July 16 at Rosa Parks Circle, already shows nearly 3,000 attendees online.

WYGR radio host and longtime community activist Robert S. Womack brought organizers of the rally onto his radio show Thursday to promote the event.

Now, in light of what happened in Dallas, Womack is urging those who protest to do so peacefully. For him, last night’s news just adds to a week full of heartbreak.

“We all want everybody to have life and liberty. We don’t want anybody shot just because they’re black. We don’t want anyone shot just because they’re wearing a blue uniform,” Womack told 24 Hour News 8.

He took to social media last night to condemn the shootings in Dallas, and to speak out against violent retaliation — against the “fight fire with fire” attitude of responding to the recent officer-involved shootings of black men.

“Being in the neighborhood, I’ve already heard that. So I know there’s a lot of people who are angry because of all the deaths of black people,” Womack said. “Dallas proves this is not the way to deal with it.”

Friday, organizers of the large rally changed the title from a Black Lives Matter protest to “Am I Next?”

Those organizers — who are just teens — told 24 Hour News 8 that they are still working on the message behind their movement. On the Facebook page, the event encourages people to come out for a “peaceful movement.”

Jakhari Carroll, a young man who works with Womack, plans on attending the rally. But he said the dynamic of these type of events are now different following the tragedy in Dallas.

“It changed it a lot,” Carroll said. “I’d rather say ‘All Lives Matter’ than ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Because at the end of the day, the bigger picture is that we’re all human beings.”

Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky said in a press conference Friday that he wants his department wants to be a part of the upcoming rally, in an effort to spread an all-encompassing message of unity.

Rahinsky said early Friday afternoon that he has reached out to rally organizers on Facebook and was still waiting to hear back.

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