NEW HANOVER COUNTY — The City of Wilmington and New Hanover County have imposed a county-wide nightly curfew between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.
In effect until further notice, the curfew is an attempt to discourage destructive actions observed in dozens of U.S. cities as protests continue, spurred by the police brutality that killed Minneapolis man George Floyd.
County residents are permitted to visit businesses open later than 9 p.m. and travel to and from work without violating the curfew. Gatherings are limited to groups of 10 or fewer.
Tuesday, Wilmington Police Department informed the Downtown Business Alliance that groups have obtained permits to protest every day from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. through June 6 on the steps of City Hall. Other than District Attorney Ben David, law enforcement leaders did not address the public at a Tuesday press conference, though Sheriff Ed McMahon was in attendance.
While Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo said he had not heard anything official, groups on social media have noted plans for additions protests in and around Wilmington in the coming days. In fact, during the conference honking horns could be heard from inside the courthouse showing solidarity with a handful of protestors in front of City Hall.
Sunday’s protest, unaffiliated with the local NAACP chapter or established Black Lives Matter movement, began peacefully but turned chaotic around 8 p.m.
Questions remain about the origin of chaos, with protestors and officials challenging each other’s narrative of whether a tactical team comprised of New Hanover County and Brunswick County Sheriff’s Officers actually instigated the first act of escalation by firing tear gas into the crowd that had gathered on Third Street.
Mayor Bill Saffo said he personally witnessed “things being hurled” at law enforcement vehicles before deputies used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Though officials cited the night of the protest that individuals were spotted carrying firearms as a reason behind the escalation, no firearm-related arrests have been made to date. State law prohibits the possession of firearms on public property during a demonstration. David asked members of the public with information about those seen with firearms to come forward.
Sunday’s events resulted in 10 arrests and a mostly peaceful demonstration Monday night resulted in five arrests. The majority of those arrested gave Pender or Wilmington addresses (one of from Greensboro). Officials have claimed that outsiders were present at Sunday’s protest with nefarious intent but no further details supporting these claims have surfaced (and Port City Daily cannot yet independently corroborate this information).
Asked to describe local law enforcement’s policy regarding the use of tear gas on protestors, David said he did not attend training and could not comment on specifics. Later asked to pinpoint at what specific point he personally felt it would be appropriate or inappropriate for law enforcement to utilize non-lethal force on protestors, David said the law prohibits him from giving legal advice to the public.
Earlier in the press conference, David addressed the militarization of police seen nationwide and the need for criminal justice reform.
“[Law enforcement officers] are not warriors. They are guardians. They are here to serve and protect. They are not here to do battle with the people they represent.
“And the historically low crime rates that we are enjoying right now here in the Port City has sadly not come to the deepest and darkest parts of poverty in our community. We do not want to be at war with the part of the community that is most in need of justice. And that is a community that we want to have the conversation with about the death and murder of George Floyd and not have that conversation hijacked by people who are doing something for their own agenda,” David said at the press conference.
David addressed the suggestion that Wilmington police and New Hanover County Sheriff’s deputies acted very differently during Sunday night’s clash with protestors. WPD officers, including interim Chief Donny Williams, knelt with and spoke to protestors — NHCSO deputies did not appear to take this tack. However, David said he refuted the narrative that the two agencies acted on different policies or with different goals, noting that he had advised both agencies prior to the protest and likening WPD and NHCSO to different pieces on a chessboard.
View the full press conference below: