GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Grand Rapids Police Department says it is conducting an internal investigation after video shows police pepper-spraying what appears to be a non-violent protester and firing a now-lethal weapon toward him.
The video, which circulated on social media, showed a man a protest in Grand Rapids on Saturday night near the intersection of Fulton St. and Division Ave.
Ven Johnson, a police brutality attorney, called the video "unacceptable."
"It's despicable; this young man is clearly walking towards the officers. Lets even give them the benefit of the doubt," Johnson said. "We don't have any video of what happened before that. Who knows what they've been told. Who knows what happened before. But he's walking toward the officer in a relatively non-threatening manner. Clearly has nothing in his hands except maybe a cigarette."
At the end of the video, the man appears to be hit by some sort of blast by officers.
"It looks like he got shot with a projectile," Johnson said. "Whether it hit him or not I don't know.
"That is horrible, tragic. We want to know why things are escalating? This is a perfect example where the police could have stayed back, stayed in line, said nothing, which they're trained to do. They're trained to de-escalate. Not escalate," Johnson said.
Witnesses claim protests were peaceful, outside of a few fireworks which were not aimed at police.
"Some people were lighting fireworks, that were just going straight up, because we have a point to make," witness James Curley said. "Black Lives Matter. Police brutality needs to stop."
Curley said the video was recorded by his friend Dakota Spoelman. The two do not know the man shown in the video.
"(He) walked up to the line of police, to express his freedom of speech," Curley said. "The cop stepped up to him and pepper-sprayed him. Completely no threat after that. Don't know what's going on. They shot him; it looked like they shot him, from the chest to the head with some type of flash grenade."
Curley says the police's action is the exact reason he's protesting.
"After that, that's when things started escalating," Curley said. "Police started shooting off more of those flash grenades at everybody there. That's when they started rioting."
This story was originally published by Julie Dunmire on WXMI in Grand Rapids, Michigan.