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Chief Bukala/Second Amendment rights demonstration downtown

Area firearms advocates and supporters of former Lowell police chief Steve Bukala had a rally in downtown Lowell at noon on Sunday, June 7.

A large crowd gathered in the parking lots at the corner of Avery and Monroe. Eventually just over 100 area residents, many armed with loaded weapons - one man sporting a Confederate flag jacket - marched up and down through the Main Street business district.

The march had two purposes, as a protest against Bukala's resignation and to show support for Second Amendment rights.

“I came out here to support the Second Amendment,” said Jason, 32, from Belding.

“I am just here to support Second Amendment rights,” said David, age 31, from Ionia. Like many in the march, David was heavily armed, carrying a loaded, scoped AR-15 assault rifle (“but there is not one in the chamber”) with several more ammunition magazines ready to go in a chest rig.

“I seen the injustice of the police chief from this area,” said Robert, 49, a resident of Gobles in Van Buren County. He was also carrying a loaded AR-15. “We need police that follow the Constitution and I'm here to support them. Attendance is good, quite a few people for a small town.”

“We have the right to bear arms,” said Pamela, a resident of Muskegon. “The [four boys'] guns were unloaded. I support the police. If you don't support the police officers, you're going to have anarchy. People have the right to protect their businesses, period. And if the police can't do it because they're being asked to stand down, why can't the citizens protect their own businesses, their own cities from rioters? Not protesters, rioters.”

Two representatives from the organization “Cowboys for Michigan” joined the rally on horseback. The horses didn't seem to mind the noise and traffic and only pooped in the street once.

“We came down here to support our friend Jamie [Lett] who put this on, the chief of Lowell and the Second Amendment to the Constitution,” said one of the women from atop her horse. “The horses are a healthy attraction. They just keep everyone smiling and it keeps things positive.”

Jamie Lett, a Lowell resident, was the main organizer of the rally. She said that Bukala's social media posts were used as an excuse to get rid of him in order to save the city money.

“I feel strongly that chief Bukala was forced to retire,” Lett said. “I would love to see him reinstated. I feel that it was unjust and the way that it was done was not fair whatsoever. I feel that a lot of it has to do with politics. Basically, to impede his retirement pension that he would be receiving at 55 instead of 65 now. My husband is a retired police officer from Muskegon and I've seen, over the years, many, many things with politics having to do with police pensions, and that's what we feel most strongly about.”

According to the proposed city budget, in the next fiscal year the city intends to spend $888,863 maintaining a full time police force. This is 27.6% of the total city budget. [ Year 2020-21 proposed budget.pdf]

Many of those attending the march said Bukala was fired for supporting the Second Amendment. However, Bukala was actually asked to resign because members of the public lost confidence in his ability to apply the law impartially. Read the story on page one for more about that.

“Steve Bukala's wife is one of my friends. I don't think he deserves what they did to him,” said Pamela, a resident of Muskegon. “Who cares about Facebook? Who cares about it? Facebook shouldn't be policing us. It's freedom of speech. This is America. If they want to police us, maybe they should go to China.”

“I saw chief Bukala's original Facebook post regarding the four young men that were assembling peacefully, expressing their Second Amendment rights” Lett said. “I didn't see anything wrong with it. I did see, however, that there was a Confederate flag in a picture, which I don't think should have been posted. But, again, it wasn't my children.”

Among the marchers was Garrett Hardman, one of the four young men whose armed stroll through town last week was the instigator for this situation. He said their march had nothing to do with the current political and cultural climate, claiming it was about “the Second Amendment, that's it.”

“The timing doesn't matter, we're allowed to do it anytime we please,” Hardman said. “I do it all the time in Lowell. As to why it's a big deal now, I don't understand it. I don't believe that the left should fear anything. It's nothing harmful. There's no intent. A guy walking with a gun shows intent with responsibility. A man walking around with a baseball bat or a tire iron, that shows intent to harm. There is nothing scary about a gentleman who is acting on his rights. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. My actions are legal, that's all I have to say. What I'm doing is legal and I believe it's right.”

There was one marcher with a Confederate flag jacket, but he declined to be interviewed. Hardman acknowledged there were social media posts with that symbol, but denied that displaying the flag is a racist act.

“The Confederate flag was seen on a Facebook post, there was none carried on the [original] walk” Hardman said. “That's on a buddy's Facebook and that's, in his belief, heritage, not racist. Flags have different meanings to everyone. A lot of people like to walk on the American flag and [other] people like to fly it proudly. There is no definitive meaning to anything, flag-wise. It's how it's portrayed, that's the message for it.”

Hardman disagreed with Bukala's ouster but refused to take any responsibility for his part in the situation.

“I believe [chief Bukala's resignation] was wrong, highly wrong,” Hardman said. “He supported the Constitution, he backed it up and defended it, and for city hall to do what they did, I don't believe that was right. I don't feel responsible. I feel it's city hall's responsibility.”

There was also a petition available before and after the rally, which many local registered voters were observed signing, including interim Lowell police chief Christopher Hurst.

“The petition basically says that during a state of emergency declared by the governor, our constitutional rights are not usurped,” said Shannon Vandenbosch, one of the volunteers collecting signatures. “We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, okay? It clarifies the separation of powers. States of emergency do not create, diminish, increase or remove powers in our government. The Constitution cannot be changed by events, emergencies or judges' interpretations. Laws relating to the same subject matter, when they don't conflict, must be read together, [like] the 1945 law and the 1976 law.”

Despite, or maybe because of, all the firepower on display, it was a peaceful demonstration. Interim chief Hurst said that Lowell police only brought on one extra officer for the event, and the downtown area was vacated quickly. At least until the next march a couple hours later, turn to page 14 for that story.

“I didn't think this many people would be here,” Lett said. “There are a quite a few out-of-towners that I don't know, but that's great too, as long as it remains peaceful.”

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