Sunday, May 22, 2022

Update: Law enforcement apparently still launching tear-gas grenades at downtown Wilmington protestors

Deputies with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office gather on North Third Street; a smoke grenade had just been thrown back at deputies after it was fired at protestors.

Editor’s note: This article contains video clips with profane language and obscenities printed on protest signs. It is also a developing story; more information will be added as it becomes available.

WILMINGTON — The second downtown Wilmington protest of the killing of George Floyd in two days went very differently than the first as the Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office formed phalanxes and dispersed protestors with what authorities called ‘inert gas’ grenades, but that protestors and other residents on the scene referred to as ‘tear gas.’

Related: [Updated] ‘Red flags’: Sunday’s downtown Wilmington protest cancelled, not affiliated with NAACP or BLM

While the protest, centered in front of Wilmington City Hall, was initially corraled to the sidewalk and city hall steps, it eventually spilled onto North Third Street. Around 8 p.m., law enforcement apparently used grenade launchers to fire gas canisters at protestors to clear the roadway.

Above: Law enforcement cleared protestors from North Third Street in downtown Wilmington using gas grenades.

Reporters from WECT, WWAY, and Port City Daily were all on hand to film the protest and law enforcement’s response.

Below: Footage captured by WECT investigative reporter Emily Featherston.

As night fell, the protest moved to the North Front Street area of downtown Wilmington, where law enforcement continued to fire what appeared to be possibly flash-bang and tear-gas grenades. Restaurant employees who worked establishments along the downtown’s main drag reported ‘tear gas-like’ effects, including burning in their eyes and noses.

The protest had been the subject of much debate since it was announced earlier in the weekend. After local civil rights groups, including the Wilmington-area Black Lives Matter group and the New Hanover County NAACP, noted that they had no involvement with the event.

Concerns spread quickly, including questions about early announcement encouraging protestors to conceal their face and identifying tattoos, as well as to refrain to filming — all of which seemed departures from many of the other protests over the apparent murder of George Floyd and brutality by white police officers against people of color in general.

The original organizer of the event has since noted that these suggestions had more to do with concerns about people of color being targeted for harassment or assault after being identified in videos of protests; the organizer also denied any involvement by alt-right or anarchist groups attempting to manipulate the protests to incite chaos or race riots.

While initial turn out to the protest was initially low, the crowd continued to grow between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., eventually spilling off of the City Hall steps and onto the street.

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