Protesters face down Raleigh police officers in front of the Wake County courthouse. (photo by Jordan Green)

Protesters angered over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and police clashed in downtown Raleigh over several hours, continuing into the morning, culminating with people smashing out windows on South Fayetteville Street and other parts of the central business district, and a tense standoff in front of the Wake County Courthouse.

The destruction began around 9 p.m. when protesters broke out windows in the Wake County Public Safety Building, with one woman yelling, “We see y’all,” and police responded with volleys of teargas, forcing the protesters down a side street and around a corner. When they emerged on Fayetteville Street, small groups began breaking out the plate glass windows of banks, a hotel, a bargain furniture store, a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, a CVS store and other businesses, including the offices of the INDY Week newspaper.

“When the shooting stops, the looting stops,” some the protesters chanted in an apparent riff on President Trump’s tweet: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” One also said, “It’s just property, not human life.”

As the trashing of storefronts continued on Fayetteville Street continued, a line of police massed in front of the Wake County courthouse in riot gear and holding truncheons, where a gaping hole could be seen in the plate-glass front. At least once, a small detachment of officers advanced and shot tear gas canisters, but the protesters remained undeterred, standing defiantly before the police.

House Speaker Tim Moore posted a photo of a video of a fire raging in the middle of a downtown street on his Facebook page at 1 a.m. Earlier, he wrote that he was hearing the sound of semiautomatic gunfire. He said, “The senseless destruction of businesses and property must be stopped at once. I am calling on Governor [Roy] Cooper to immediately send the National Guard.”

Cooper tweeted at 12:20 a.m.: “I am continuing contact with emergency management leaders about violence occurring in some of our cities. Frustrating that planned peaceful protests about real systemic racism are married. I am grateful for those seeking justice peacefully.”

The march began peacefully, with a large and diverse group estimated gathering in front of the Wake County courthouse at 5 p.m. to listen to speeches. Homemade sign held by the protesters expressed a range of sentiments, from “Racism is a sin, too” and “Racism is not patriotism” to “All cops are bastards,” “Black lives matter” and “Black and Roma unite.”

Chanting, “I can’t breathe,” more than 1,000 protesters embarked on a 20-block loop, passing the Old State Capitol and the General Assembly, then turning into oncoming traffic on McDowell Street, with some drivers honking to show their impatience.

The marchers chanted the name of George Floyd, along with “Cops and Klan go hand in hand,” “Don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe,” “I believe that we will win,” “Police the police,” and “End white silence.”

Some of the protesters continued on towards Interstate 40, while others broke off and dispersed. As the main group of protesters neared the interstate, the police blocked them, and they suddenly turned around.

At about 7 p.m., as the formal protest ended, smaller groups scattered across downtown, with individual protesters or clusters angrily confronting lines of police officers.

“We pay our taxes so you can treat us like this?” one said.

“I’m a mechanic so you can get to work,” another said.

Nikki Turner, who posed for selfie in front of a Raleigh police cruiser while holding a sign reading, “Am I next? Black lives matter,” said she was marching for her three sons and two grandsons.

“Our lives matter,” she said. “We want to be treated as human. We’ve been demanding that so long. So many groups have moved forward, like LGBT, but not us.

She said she worries that now that her oldest grandson is 10, he will be treated as a threat since he’s “losing his cuteness.”

“I hope the systemic racism ends,” Turner said. “We need to get to the root of the problem, to the root of bias. I hope this uproots it all. We need to start anew.”

As small groups moved around downtown, beginning at about 7 p.m., small conflicts erupted, with police shooting teargas at protesters and protesters responding by throwing water bottles at them. After one such incident at the intersection of Davie and McDowell streets, some protesters attempted to de-escalate by urging fellow protesters to stop throwing projectiles, or calming down friends and escorting them away from the police line when they were at risk of arrest.

Later, about a block away, when protesters surrounded about a dozen police officers, mostly without protective gear, about a block away, the protesters became more antagonistic.

Young men jeered the officers and got in their faces, reveling in the chance to turn the tables on the power that police typically exercise over them.

“What the fuck is you gonna do?” one of them said. “Y’all don’t like it very much do you? Y’all talk to us like this every day. Take your badge off.”

At times, the protest took on the feel of a street party, with bikers periodically spinning out, with motors roaring and smoke billowing, as people danced around them. At other times, protesters cruised down Salisbury Street with loud music playing, hanging out windows.

After volleys of teargas failed to persuade the protesters to disperse, the police were forced to retreat. The protesters were jubilant, and soon the assault on the public safety building began.

Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown condemned the vandalism that occurred after the peaceful protest in a video posted to Twitter.

“While the city of Raleigh and the Raleigh Police Department readily accommodate lawful protesters, we will not turn a blind eye to the despicable that occurred on the heels of yesterday’s peaceful protest,” she said.

Satana Deberry, the Durham County district attorney, said her children, including one who is 14 years old, were at the protest in Raleigh. Deberry said she told her 14-year-old to come home, and her child responded, “I can stay. I am as big as any grown woman.”

“Black children, my children, do not get to be children,” Deberry wrote. “They have to stand in the street and face down tear gas. Forget prom. Forget sleepovers. Forget cute little parties celebrating social distancing. It doesn’t matter that their mother graduated from Princeton or Duke or is the elected district attorney in the next f-ing county. Nothing we do or don’t do keeps them safe.”

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