WILMINGTON — Sunday’s George Floyd protest began peacefully but escalated into a clash between protestors and police. Readers have asked many questions, including what kind of force was used by law enforcement, whether outside groups had infiltrated the event to provoke violence, what damage was inflicted by protestors, and whether those arrested at the protest represent local residents or those from other areas.
The protest, which was not coordinated with the local Black Lives Matter (BLM) or NAACP chapters, did begin peacefully (with interpretative dance on the steps of City Hall). However, within two hours, authorities had fired tear gas and protestors were throwing bottles and rocks — it remains unclear how the event actually escalated.
It’s worth noting that, as more information has become available, the explanation for the use of force by law enforcement has expanded. On Sunday evening, District Attorney Ben David said that the decision to end the protest came from ‘intelligence’ that several protestors were ‘openly displaying’ firearms; when protestors did not obey verbal commands, law enforcement had to step in, David said. Authorities noted one person who was arrested early in the evening had a firearm but none of the nine protestors eventually booked that night faced any firearm charges.
On Monday, the Wilmington Police Department said an additional reason for police intervention was that the roadway on North 3rd Street in front of City Hall was not adequately blocked off, leading to concerns about protestors being run over by passing vehicles.
There are also questions about the apparently different approaches taken by the Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.
At least twice, WPD officers were seen kneeling in the streets in a display of solidarity with protestors, and WPD Interim Chief Donny Williams engaged in a lengthy discussion with one protestor after tear gas had been fired. Later in the evening, after sunset when the protest had shifted to North Front Street, WPD again joined protestors in taking a knee. According to protestors and video taken at the scene, this momentary respite ended when law enforcement officers began firing with rubber bullets; WPD denies firing anything.
While video and photography from Sunday evening clearly show a major law enforcement force made up of WPD officers, NHCSO deputies, and a SWAT team, both agencies have declined to offer specifics about the manpower and equipment deployed.
Reports of NHCSO firing rubber bullets and ‘bean bag’ rounds along with both CS gas (i.e. tear gas) and inert gas (smoke) grenades were confirmed by numerous protestors and video from the scene. NHCSO declined to comment on how many projectiles and canisters were fired; a NHCSO spokesperson said the office was “not going to release information that may affect our tactical advantage.”
WPD also cited security concerns when declining to comment on how many officers and vehicles were involved. WPD did, however, say that officers did not fire any projectiles or gas canisters on Sunday.
According to WPD spokesperson Linda Thompson, one officer did throw a CS gas canister near Orange and Front streets. The officer was responding to a protestor who threw a Molotov cocktail (i.e. improvised incendiary device). The canister landed in a gutter and didn’t impact the crowd, Thompson said.
Agitators: Racists or anarchists?
Several protestors reported seeing ‘Proud Boys,’ members of a far-right neo-fascist group, on the day of the protest. Others described seeing white males posting anti-Semitic and anti-BLM flyers and pamphlets. The flyers were taken down by local businesses and downtown residents, as well as ‘ambassadors’ who work for Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI).
WPD said it could not confirm these reports, but WDI President Ed Wolverton confirmed ambassadors cleaned up stickers and graffiti.
It’s worth noting that several local elected officials have suggested that “Antifa” (i.e. anti-fascist) groups had traveled to Wilmington and other US cities. to provoke violence. While Antifa is a loosely structured group more than a structured organization, President Donald Trump recently named Antifa a terrorist organization.
Congressman David Rouzer blamed the damage from recent protests on ‘professional anarchists.’ New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White also blamed deliberate instigation by ‘agitators,’ while praising ‘the majority’ of the protestors for following the model of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. While White was more circumspect about the identity of these agitators, he said they ‘resembled’ Antifa.
“Sadly, last night’s event also included a few agitators that were hell-bent on escalating matters and inciting a riot. They appeared to wear the same style backpacks, have similar methods of movements and manner of speaking, and appeared not to be from our community. Instead, they looked to be a part of the intentional and coordinated attacks taking place all across the United States. Those few individuals should receive the full focus of law enforcement in the future and no one should welcome them here. I do not know if they were “ANTIFA” but some of them resembled that group and I commend President Trump for stepping up and designating it a terrorist organization,” White wrote on Facebook.
Damage to downtown
Several downtown businesses reported damage, including broken windows at Ironclad Brewery and several other locations. The financial impact of this damage has not been publicly released yet, but appeared less severe the major damage that occurred in Minneapolis and other cities.
On Monday evening, many other businesses and some residences took precautions, boarding up windows and doors — it’s worth noting that some of those boards expressed solidarity with BLM.
There was also reported damage to City Hall and several law enforcement vehicles on Sunday. At least one NHCSO deputy’s vehicle was struck by a tear gas canister and a WPD cruiser had its front windshield cracked.
There was also damage to businesses on Castle Street — miles south of the protest. WECT reported that three stores had their windows broken on Sunday night, but nothing was stolen. There was no evidence that this damage was inflicted by protestors from the downtown event.
Who was arrested
Authorities released the identities of nine people arrested in relation to Sunday’s protest: five black men, two black women, one white man, and one white woman.
Eight were arrested between 9 and 10:30 p.m. and taken into custody at the NHCSO detective division building on North 4th Street. The ninth was arrested hours later, at 12:45 a.m. on Monday morning, near the Independence Mall.
The District Attorney’s office has since confirmed that eight of the nine provided either Wilmington or Pender County arrests.
- Justice Lquan Bailey, 25 (black male) —- Failure to disperse on command, and inciting a riot
- Edward James Timothy Joynt, 29 (white male) — Failure to disperse on command, and inciting a riot
- Rodney Lamont Smith, 49 (black male) — Failure to disperse on command
- Katherine Hannah Koile (white female) — Failure to disperse on command
- Charles Anthony McIntyre, 23 (black male) — Failure to disperse on command
- Grace Elizabeth Morton, 21 (black female) — Failure to disperse on command, curfew violation
- Jaquan Marice Rhone, 25 (black male) — Failure to disperse on command, curfew violation
- Takeem Leinard Collins, 26 (black male) — Failure to disperse on command, curfew violation
- Danielle Nicols George, 22 (black female) — Curfew violation, failure to heed police light and siren (arrested Monday morning near the Independence Mall)
On Monday evening the third protest in three days was held. This one remained relatively peaceful until late evening, when authorities were called in.
In the early morning hours of Tuesday, five men were arrested on curfew violations, disorderly conduct, or riot charges.
- Jonathan Marquis Sanders, 28 (black male) — Disorderly conduct, curfew violation
- Altonio Herbert Johnson, 26 (black male) — Disorderly conduct, curfew violation
- Erin Maryellen France, 22 (white female) — Failure to disperse on command, resisting arrest, curfew violation
- Gregory Jesus Quevedo, 18 (Hispanic male) — Inciting a riot, resisting arrest
- Alexander Guevara, 29 (Hispanic male) — Inciting a riot, resisting arrest [Note: Guevara’s age was initially reported as 22 and later corrected to 29]