Vigils and protests, small and large, restrained in some places, rowdy in others, swept across the nation overnight as one of the worst weeks of racially charged violence in recent memory ticked down to a merciful end.
In most respects, the protests in some 18 cities were not unlike the rallies that have been going on and off since the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., almost two years ago. Demonstrators blocked highways and held aloft Black Lives Matters banners. In Minneapolis, they stood in silence.
In others, however, there was a difference — anger mixed with sober reflection over the slayings of five police officers Thursday night during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas by a man identified as Micah X. Johnson.
As about 300 marched in New York City, NBC New York reported, a protest leader urged marchers to respect police officers patrolling the parade.
“Our condolences go out to those people,” protester Anthony Robeldo told the news station. “The same way we lost family members, they lost family members.”
Outside the White House, Jennifer Jones, a 20-year-old African American college student from Southeast Washington, said when it comes to Dallas, the wrong steps were taken.
“I feel like we as a people should not go out and kill off police officers or cops who are killing off our people, because then we’re becoming them,” said Jones, who just finished her sophomore year at Davidson College in North Carolina. “I don’t want to become the oppressor, I don’t want to become the enemy, I don’t want to become the murderer.”
“I want to be the person that can stand up and talk and fight for the right thing to happen,” she added.
Among those marching in Baltimore was resident Tay Parker, 32, who said the week’s violence hit her especially hard. Parker, who is black, said she worries about her three brothers being racially profiled, and now fears for the safety of her girlfriend, a Maryland Transit Administration police officer.
“She’s judged for being in that uniform the same way people are judged for the color of their skin,” Parker said.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the scenes before and after Dallas were striking. On Thursday night, more than 2,000 protesters raced up an on-ramp and jumped in front of oncoming traffic to shut down 10 lanes of Interstate 880, one of California’s busiest highways.
On Friday night, Oakland was quiet and across the bay, a protest in front of San Francisco’s city hall was somber.
“More than anything else, remain peaceful,” said Lawrence Shine, of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, to the crowd estimated at 1,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “Violence in response to violence will beget more violence. Our anger must be controlled and strategic.”
Dallas, still in shock, simply mourned amid attempts to absorb a larger lesson. The Rev. Rudy Garcia of the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe spoke at a vigil that drew about 100 people Friday evening. The city will heal he said. But it must “first diagnose the problem.” He called on parishioners to embrace and accept one another, the Associated Press reported, adding that there is still “a long way to go.” Parishioners lit candles and placed notes with messages on a wooden cross outside the church. One read: “We are one. #DallasStrong.”
Demonstrations across the nation
Protests and vigils filled streets from Washington to San Francisco, and Omaha to Little Rock. In some places, police stood quietly in the background. In others, they wound up in riot gear as protesters faced them down, toe to toe.
In Phoenix, police with shields pushed back against a crowd and ultimately deployed pepper spray and fired beanbags to prevent a Black Lives Matter rally from blocking ramps to I-10. Rocks were hurled at police, according to the Arizona Republic. By midnight, a group that started with about 300 people about 8 p.m. local time had dwindled to about 50 or 60. Three arrests were reported in Phoenix.
In Rochester, N.Y., a protest that police said had swelled to almost 400 ended with 40 arrests late Friday, including two television reporters who said they were handcuffed and detained for leaving a sidewalk area to report on the event.
At a news conference early Saturday, Rochester Police Chief Michael Ciminelli defended the decision to move in and arrest protesters. Ciminelli had told the AP before the protest began that he preferred not to have the rally in the city a day after five officers were killed in Dallas, and he said it quickly became apparent that people were “intent upon being arrested to make their point.”
Ciminelli said by late Friday that he determined the protest had become a danger to public safety with nearly all of the city’s police resources, along with dozens of officers from across the region, deployed to control a crowd that had shut down a major downtown intersection.
Rochester Mayor Lovely A. Warren said at the news conference that the standoff ending without injuries, property damage, or officers deploying pepper spray or weapons. That, she said, showed “we did many things right,” reported New York Upstate.
— 13WHAM (@13WHAM) July 9, 2016
But the arrests of two African American reporters covering the event drew a rebuke from Chuck Samuels, general manager for Rochester’s ABC affiliate WHAM Channel 13.
“Outrageous for RPD to handcuff two African American @13wham reporters for doing their jobs covering protests,” he said in a tweet.
In a series of tweets after being detained, reporter Carlet Cleare wrote “Welp, that was interesting, Cuffed by RPD … Was never told I wasn’t supposed to be on sidewalk.”
Cleare also tweeted: “Both Rochester’s mayor & police chief apologized today to Justin & I for our brief detainment. I appreciate that.”
After nightfall in Baton Rouge — the city where Alton Sterling was shot Tuesday — at least 200 protesters remained outside of police headquarters. They gathered on street corners across wide roadways, facing officers — some in riot gear — who stood guard by the station and filled the grassy median.
A line of protesters grasped hands and held their arms in the air, staring silently at the officers across the street. Officers chased anyone who attempted to cross the street, detaining one man while protesters cried “Let him go!”
Meanwhile, people continued to hold vigils at the convenience store where Sterling was shot. Lines of cars blasted hip-hop from their windows as they slowly cruised by the traffic-jammed intersection. Many played a version of “[Expletive] the Police,” written by Baton Rouge-born rapper Boosie Badazz.
For many, it was the second night of protests against police violence against blacks, sparked by the deaths of Sterling and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., both black men whose killings by police were captured on video in the past week and broadcast widely.
The collective theme reflected anger, to be sure.
“This is no time to be calm. You would be a fool to be calm if you are under genocide,” the Rev. Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia NAACP, told the crowd. “Racism is not a black problem, it’s a white problem.”
But it was also deep frustration and even weariness over how such protests have been going on since the 2014 shooting death of Brown, with so little result, in the view of protesters, to show for it.
In Washington, more than 50 people held a vigil in front of the Department of Justice before they marched to the White House. While there were fewer people than at a Thursday demonstration, the message was the same: “No justice, no peace,” they chanted.
“Stop killing us” and “Police violence is terrorism” their signs read.
Denzel Allen, 25, of Southeast Washington said he hasn’t cried since he was 12. But then he said he saw adjacent pictures of Sterling and Castile earlier this week and realized that “criminals weren’t being killed — it could be your brother, your uncle, it could be me.”
Taylor Quattlebaum, 19, of Northeast Washington stood in the middle of a circle during the protest and shook while she screamed. She yelled that she wanted to know why her life as an American American isn’t valued. Quattlebaum, a college student, said she wants to see some type of change.
“I’m tried of these innocent people being slain in the streets,” she said. “I’m tired of seeing mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends crying over the men in their lives that have been lost due to ignorance, due to hatred, due to something that could have easily been prevented.”
“I can’t continue to live in a world like this — it’s too painful,” Quattlebaum said. “I can’t continue to cry every night before I go to sleep. It hurts too much.”
"We mourn for Dallas too." -sign at Black Lives Matter protest in NYC pic.twitter.com/N4q8eTLqx6
— Michael George (@mgeorge4NY) July 8, 2016
Police on guard
As citizens turned to marches to express their grief and anger, many police officers were on edge Friday, their anxiety heightened after seeing officers gunned down in Dallas. Some major police departments ordered officers to pair up for safety.
As if to underscore the danger they face, three officers were shot on the job in Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia, news that made national headlines in the wake of the brutal attack in Dallas.
Before the Dallas shooting Thursday, a man in Bristol, Tenn., shot a hotel clerk and then opened fire on a parkway, killing a motorist and shooting an officer in the leg before officers shot and wounded him. Authorities identified the shooter as Lakeem Keon Scott, 38.
“Preliminarily, the investigation reveals Scott may have targeted individuals and officers after being troubled by recent incidents involving African-Americans and law enforcement officers in other parts of the country,” the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said in a statement. The department added that there is no current safety threat to the area and that the investigation suggested Scott had worked alone.
In Georgia, police said a man called 911 and then shot at the responding officer, wounding him, the AP reported.
And in Ballwin, Mo., a St. Louis suburb that is in the same county as Ferguson, a police officer was in critical condition after being shot during a traffic stop Friday morning, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. As the officer returned to his car, police told the paper, the driver got out, “advanced quickly” and fired three shots at the officer.
“It was clearly an ambush, an attack,” said St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, the paper reported. A suspect, identified as Antonio Taylor, 25, of St. Louis, was later arrested several miles from the shooting after a foot chase. The officer was said to be “fighting for his life” early Saturday.
While no motive was reported by police, the events in Dallas were on peoples’ minds. St. Louis Country Police Chief Jon Belmar “said his department had gone to 12-hour workdays through the weekend as a result of a heightened sense of alert after all that has happened nationally and now locally,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “‘We need somebody out there to meet us halfway, because it is very difficult for police officers to do their jobs now,’ Belmar said. ‘At some point, we need to tone down the rhetoric.’”
Aaron Davis, LaVendrick Smith, Victoria St. Martin, Perry Stein, Derek Hawkins and Ashley Cusick contributed to this report.