WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Law enforcement maintained a heavier presence than usual throughout downtown Wilmington Monday, following Sunday night’s protest at City Hall.
The protest Sunday night escalated quickly, ending in tear gas and even some arrests. Wilmington Police say they had to make a call on how to act, and that is was the right call.
“It started out as a very peaceful protest,” Wilmington Police spokeswoman Linda Thompson said. “We were very proud at how things were going. It took a turn when individuals decided to go into the street, which is certainly in violation of protesting in our area.”
Several hundred people gathered on the steps of City Hall, quickly growing and spreading out onto 3rd Street.
“We knew we had to do something to get them out of the street,” Thompson said.
Police and New Hanover county Sheriff’s deputies were monitoring the event from all angles, eventually closing in on the crowd ans tensions escalated. Officers blocked 3rd Street from different angles, trying to break up the crowds that had formed in the street.
“Our Sheriff and our Police Chief together made a decision to do what was necessary for every protester out there,” Thompson said.
Law enforcement officers eventually ordered everyone to disperse, declaring the protest an unlawful assembly. Thompson says people gathering in the street is a violation of protests in our area.
Thompson says that’s when the agencies had to make a call, calling it a good call.
“We gave an order for them to disperse, and then gas was certainly released,” she said.
Law enforcement officers set off tear gas into the crowds, sending people running in different direction.
Amid the chaos though, there was a moment of peace between Wilmington Police officers and protesters. A line of officers took a knee, talking with protesters.
“Our Chief felt that it was important,” Thompson said. “And one time, one of our Sergeants actually said, ‘Look, we’ll take our masks off. We’ll let you know we’re not gassing anyone. We want you all to be safe.’ And it was done, and they began to disperse.”
A lot of protesters say most people there weren’t trying to cause problems, but instead that it was a small group of people who were starting issues.
“There were many leaders in the African American community, whether they were an established organization or a faith-based community, who quickly realized there were people, sometimes coming from other communities, who were here to hijack for their own purposes the very legitimate grievances that everyone should have,” District Attorney Ben David said.
David acknowledged everyone’s constitutional rights and encouraged people to protest in peaceful ways, but says they aren’t going to let Wilmington join the list of cities being looted and burned.
“We are going to meet those shows of violence with force to make sure there’s a preemptive strike, so they’re not going to turn our city into so many of the places we’re seeing around this country right now,” he said.
There was some damage to a few businesses in and around downtown Wilmington. Ironclad Brewery had a small front window smashed, and several businesses on Castle Street had part of, or the entire storefront boarded up from broken windows. One person says they’re jsut glad things didn’t end much worse though.
Police say there were nine arrests made, and most people were charged either with failure to disperse on command or a curfew violation. However, they say there were no injuries.
Thompson says they confiscated a gun from a person at the protest, which turned out to be stolen.
Law enforcement officers will continue to keep an eye on the downtown area as the week goes on.