FORT WAYNE — Protests in downtown Fort Wayne calling for racial justice following the recent death of a black man in Minneapolis who died after having his neck knelt on by police calmed Sunday after a heated start to the weekend.
It was an up-and-down weekend in Fort Wayne, which hosted the most sizable protests in northeast Indiana in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
Floyd, who was being placed under arrest in a south Minneapolis neighborhood for allegedly trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill, died May 25 after a police office knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes while Floyd was handcuffed behind his back and lying chest-down on the street.
The death, which was recorded and broadcast by nearby bystanders, has since sparked a new round of national protests calling for justice in the incident and renewing claims of systemic racism in the criminal justice system.
Protests in cities across the nation have included peaceful demonstrations, but in some areas have also been marred by waves of vandalism, violence, looting and rioting, while criticism has also been raised over the response from law enforcement who, in some places, have responded with aggressive tactics including deployment of batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to disperse crowds and subdue protestors.
Like many cities, Fort Wayne had a taste of all of those aspects over the weekend.
On Friday, protesting around the Allen County Courthouse and downtown Fort Wayne started peaceful but devolved as the evening went on.
According to information from the Fort Wayne Police Department, crowds of protestors began to get into the roadway and impede traffic, leading to increasing hostility that evoked responses from police to try to disperse the crowd.
“The protest then became increasingly aggressive and police intervention began,” a news release from Fort Wayne Police Department public information Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena said of the Friday event. “Police made several announcements to leave the area, to disperse the crowd. The crowd refused. After several attempts and only after the crowd began jumping on cars and then began hurling rocks and water bottles at officers did the Public Safety Response Team deploy smoke and tear gas.”
Fort Wayne police stated that “rioting” ensued until 2 a.m., resulting in 29 arrests. Several downtown storefronts had windows smashed and other damage was reported as the situation turned destructive. Two police officers were injured, the department stated.
In a Saturday morning press conference, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry bemoaned the destructive turn of events.
“We will not condone what happened last night,” Henry said. “This will not happen again in our city.”
A second protest event on Saturday started in the afternoon and remained peaceable for hours until protestors began getting into traffic again and banging on cars, according to police. Officers intervened again and attempted to disperse the crowd leading to numerous arrests and additional violence.
“At that point (after 5 p.m.) Fort Wayne Police went into the street. They started to give orders to disperse and were met with projectiles from the crowd. The crowd refused to disperse,” a FWPD release stated. “The officers then began to introduce gas to the area. The crowd began to disperse.”
After heading north from downtown toward the Martin Luther King Bridge, The crowd then made its way to the Martin Luther King Bridge where protests continued, then police said crowds traversed into other parts of the city and began clashing with officers again.
“They made their way to Berry Street where they confronted county officers and began assaulting them with rocks, bottles and other projectiles. At this point officers were deployed strategically to areas and began using tear gas to disperse the crowds. Several hot spots were targeted and the crowds dissipated greatly with those efforts,” Rosales-Scatena said in the release.
Sixty-eight people were arrested during police enforcement on Saturday night. One officer suffered a non-life-threatening injury.
One protestor was also seriously injured when a tear gas canister struck his eye after reportedly skipping off the pavement, according to police.
By Sunday, in a third-straight day of protests, the situation had calmed and protestors and police interacted peaceably with few incidents, according to FWPD.
“Day three of protest in downtown Fort Wayne was relatively peaceful. There were hundreds of people gathered on the courthouse lawn. The protesters stayed on the sidewalk and marched back and forth to the Martin Luther King Bridge. There were some objects thrown at some cars but other protesters curtailed those actions and the protest remained peaceful,” Rosales-Scatena said in a release.
Police maintained a “low presence” and the engagement between officers and protestors was “all positive,” Rosales-Scatena said. Minor incidents including people lying in the street and people throwing rocks and milk jugs were resolved quickly, with protestors working to police their own event.
Police reported no injuries of officers or protestors and stated no chemical agents or other non-lethal weaponry was used on Sunday.
After 11 p.m. a report of shots fired elicited a police response and a suspect was apprehended after a short pursuit. Officers then gave orders to disperse from the area after the shooting incident and police arrested people who refused to leave at that time.
Arrest numbers from Sunday night were not immediately available as of Monday morning.