It started around noon on Saturday.
Mounting stress and concerns over the coronavirus, which has been found to disproportionately kill black and brown communities, came to a head after video footage of a white police officer killing George Floyd flooded social media and the country’s social consciousness in the past few weeks.
Tired, upset and hungry for change, hundreds of protesters in Greensboro gathered in downtown where they sought to bring light to systemic racism and seek justice for those involved. They marched for close to nine hours down Elm Street towards Gate City Blvd. and all the way to Interstate 40, where they quickly took over all six lanes of traffic. The entire trek spanned about four miles. A single police car and multiple officers on bikes followed the group of protesters the entire day. The sun began to set and as protesters sang and chanted over the sides of the overpass, dozens of cars drove underneath, their drivers honking horns and raising fists out of the windows in support. A small party ensued with protesters dancing and singing in the middle of the street.
After 9 p.m., several of the protesters retreated back to the downtown area where they were joined by other groups. Livestreaming from downtown, Triad City Beat captured footage that showed a heavy police presence while hundreds of protesters gathered and chanted at the Melvin Municipal Office Building on Washington Street. Earlier in the evening, one of the windows at the International Civil Rights Museum was busted out. It is unclear who caused the damage.
For several more hours, protests continued peacefully in downtown with chanting, gathering and marching. At about 10:30 p.m. publisher Brian Clarey, who was livestreaming the footage, said he smelled what he thought was tear gas or pepper spray in the air despite protests remaining largely peaceful. Footage also caught sounds of what Clarey described as pepper spray bullets.
Around 11 p.m., store windows on South Elm Street started to be broken and some stores were looted.
By 12:30 a.m., most of the crowds had dispersed and downtown was beginning to clear out. At some point during the evening, the county courthouse was also set on fire. Ron Glenn, the Greensboro Police Department’s public information officer, said that he does not know who caused the damage at the museum or the courthouse and that both incidents were still under investigation.
One of the organizers of the event, Anthony Morgan, said that he doesn’t agree with the looting and the rioting but that he understands.
“These people have learned this behavior from a system,” he said in a phone interview. “White supremacy is real. These people have terrorized for years. I understand, but I don’t agree. It shows that they are acting out of emotion and not logically. We don’t have to go at it an emotional way. People only see the dark side of us, then they’ll launch tear gas.”
Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that she doesn’t think those who caused destruction are from Greensboro.
“We are experiencing damage throughout the city,” she said on Wednesday. “There have been businesses that have been looted that are not downtown. We have strong reason to believe that they were people who had come in under guise of being protesters. I don’t think the people who are looting our buildings, the people who did the damage on Saturday and Sunday nights, were from Greensboro. We’ve had lots of protests in our history. There has been anger but there has never been this widespread violence before. People who live in Greensboro never would have touched the civil rights museum.”
On Sunday, more protests took off in downtown Greensboro starting around 6 p.m. with chants and marching through the streets for more than three hours. Organizers of the larger protest march from Saturday repeatedly emphasized that they planned to be peaceful as they took over a loop that went down Elm Street to Gate City Boulevard and back up Murrow Boulevard.
At one point during the evening after the larger, formally organized protest had disbanded, a police line drove a wedge between one group of protesters at Friendly and another group that had busted out windows along three blocks south of Washington Street. The damage included the Lincoln Financial Building, the Wrangler store, Scuppernong Books, Charlie’s Grocery and Cheesecakes by Alex, among others.
Unsubstantiated rumors of white supremacists in the downtown area created some chaos for about 30 minutes at the end of the larger, protest.
TCB confirmed that the photo of a group of armed white men in the back of a pickup truck wearing Hawaiian shirts was in Asheboro and not Greensboro. However, around the same time, three armed white men took up a post on North Eugene Street across from the ballpark in Greensboro. One of them, Jason Passmore, is affiliated with the Stokes County Militia. While the group was apparently there to protect the Triumph motorcycle shop, the owner of the shop, who did not wish to be named, told TCB that he called the police on Passmore’s group twice, emphasizing that he did not invite them to protect his business and didn’t know them.
“I was terrified,” the owner said. “They had guns, number one. They had a pickup truck. I thought they came to steal my motorcycles.”
At about 11 p.m., the police played a recording announcing that the demonstration was over and that anyone who remained would be arrested and detained. Around midnight, TCB got reports that police fired what appeared to be a gas canister near Washington Street downtown.
According to Deonna Kelli Sayed, who was helping clean up glass outside of Scuppernong Books, “businesses owners were on the street sweeping up. Then, the line of riot police deployed a tear-gas canister and everyone started running. One protestor yelled at the cops in the car, saying, ‘Why are you doing that? Businesses owners have arrived and they are trying to clean up!’ I could smell/taste the tear gas on Elm. At that time, no one was in the street and no one was even heckling them. Really, things were winding down and people were just hanging out. It seemed like a silly way to defuse the situation.”
In a contrasting account, Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan said in a phone interview that tear gas was deployed when protesters threw rocks picked up from the train tracks at police to disperse the crowd.
On Monday afternoon, Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan issued a citywide curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the foreseeable future. The order exempts employees coming home from work, emergency personnel and journalists, amongst others. High Point officials enacted a similar curfew shortly afterwards.
Vaughan said that she enacted the curfew not to protect property but to protect protester’s lives.
“This was down for the health and safety of the people in those protests,” she said in a phone interview.
Vaughan said that if “protests remain peaceful” that the curfew could be lifted on Monday or Tuesday. She said she plans to keep the curfew through the weekend because there is another protest planned.
On Monday evening, a much smaller group of protesters gathered in downtown Greensboro for a third evening of action. While the protests remained peaceful, the group faced off against a line of more than a dozen tactical police officers who approached them with large protective shields. Shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew hit, police told protesters to go home or be arrested.
After protesters defying the curfew dispersed peacefully at the order of the Greensboro Police Department, TCB visually confirmed once again that Jason Passmore was hanging out with a group on North Eugene St.
According to police reports, five individuals were arrested in downtown Greensboro on Monday night. None of them were Passmore. One of the individuals was a man named Victor Andrew Arrios, who according to TCB’s livestreamed footage and a news report by WFMY, is the individual who made and brought Molotov cocktails to the protest. The police report states that Arrios was arrested for the “manufacturing and possession of a weapon of mass death and destruction.” The other four individuals arrested downtown had charges of being out past curfew and trespassing.
Tuesday marked the third day of peaceful protests in Winston-Salem.
Mostly dressed in black, protesters gathered at the intersection of North Liberty and Sixth streets at about 5 p.m. and began marching in a loop through downtown that passed the Forsyth County jail, Winston-Salem City Hall and the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, cresting at more than 1,000 people.
Echoing protests across the country, they lifted up the names of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, while chanting, “No justice, no peace.”
“We talked to the police, and we told them there wasn’t going to be a march, and then when a thousand people we didn’t expect showed up, they just decided to march,” said Calvin Peña, one of the organizers. “The police asked if they could escort us — that came from them.”
Joshua Black, another organizer, asked protesters to go home at the end of a slate of speakers, which included state Rep. Derwin Montgomery and anti-violence activist Frankie Gist. Mayor Allen Joines also showed up, but listened instead of speaking.
The formal protest ended at about 6:30 p.m. with organizers urging people to return on Saturday at 12 noon and gather at City Hall while wearing black.
A smaller group of about 200 people decided to keep marching, taking over the streets for another 90 minutes and making two loops through downtown as they held signs aloft and chanted. The march was non-confrontational, with the exception of short period when protesters briefly surrounded a squad car at the intersection of Fifth and Cherry streets, chanting, “No justice, no peace. Fuck these racist-ass police.”
About an hour later, police Chief Catrina Thompson appeared at Sixth and Cherry, standing in in the middle of the street and addressing seated protesters without amplification.
“What happened to George Floyd was wrong; there was nothing right about that,” the chief said with visible emotion. “I want to also tell you that what that officer did is not representative of the law enforcement profession.”
Thompson told the protesters she has a 15-year-old autistic son who might not be able to respond if an officer told him to raise his hands.
“I would not stand here in this position and support in any way, shape or form anybody in our organization if I believed that they would bring harm to my son or any of you,” she said. “I will tell you that we come to work every day with a bullet-proof vest attached to our chest and a service weapon attached to our hip. We leave our homes and we tell our children, we tell our families goodbye, not knowing if we will ever make it back, but we’re okay with that. We’re okay with that because we believe in what we do. So, to that end, I want to tell you: Thank you. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for being out here, and for letting our voices and our pain be heard and felt without destroying our community.”
Concluding her remarks, Thompson said, “And on that note, COVID is real, y’all. Let’s move!”
Later in the evening, the group mobilized once again and took over highway U.S. 52, shutting it down completely, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Over in Greensboro, a group of protesters gathered once again in downtown on Elm Street. They chanted and sat on the ground but mostly dispersed after the 8 p.m. curfew.
Down a few blocks on Martin Luther King Jr Dr., around 8:30 p.m., TCB confirmed that at least 13 gunshots were fired in the Southside district. According to officers on scene, no one was harmed.
USE OF FORCE BY POLICE
Ron Glenn, the public information officer for the Greensboro Police Department, said the police had used pepper spray on Saturday evening. He said that he was not sure about Sunday evening.
“I know it’s generally used when you need to disperse a crowd,” Glenn said in a phone interview. “Like when people start throwing rocks at police and there’s usually large crowds of police.”
On Saturday evening, Brian Clarey reported smelling and feeling either tear gas or pepper spray in the air in downtown. On Sunday, one eyewitness said that a tear-gas canister was deployed just around midnight. On Monday evening, TCB did not notice any use of tear gas or pepper spray. In protests across the country, police have been seen using various kinds of weapons including tear gas, pepper spray, pepper spray bullets and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often times unprovoked.
When asked if police deployed the use of pepper spray balls, Glenn stated that the police department did not use those on Saturday.
However, on Monday afternoon, TCB found multiple casings of what the department calls “PepperBall Projectiles” in downtown Greensboro near the railroad tracks as well as on Washington Street. These red plastic spheres are filled with “chemical irritants” and are launched from “high-pressure air launchers that delivers the projectiles with enough force to burst the projectiles on impact, releasing the irritant” according to the department’s directives.
Although the spheres are “classified as a less-lethal device, the department’s manual states that the potential exists for the PepperBall projectiles to inflict injury when they strike the face, eyes, neck, and groin.” In two separate instances in 2004, the use of projectiles like the pepper balls used over the weekend in Greensboro, caused one death in Boston and damage to an unarmed student’s eye at the UC Davis.
The department’s manual also states that any time a use of force is shown by an officer, “immediate notification of the employee’s supervisor is required. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to make a thorough investigation of the incident and to forward a report as require.”
Glenn told TCB that use-of-force reports are not public record as they are part of employee’s personnel records. Glenn also confirmed that the police department has rubber bullets at their disposal, although he said they have not been used yet.
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office assisted with policing protests but a department spokesperson said officers “did not use any force.”
Both agencies rely on state law to dictate whether to use force in certain situations. According to general statute 15A-401, officers are permitted to use force, but not deadly force, to prevent the escape of a criminal from custody or to arrest a person the officer reasonably believes has committed a crime. They can also use force to defend themselves from what they reasonably believe to be the use or imminent use of physical force while attempting to arrest someone or prevent their escape. Nothing in the general statute describes use of force to disperse large crowds.
Glenn told TCB that he is not sure if there is written protocol for use of force during crowd control situations. He said that while all officers that were downtown during the weekend were trained in crowd control, that he’s not sure if there is a directive specifically about use of force in these situations.
Five hours away, on Monday afternoon, Washington DC park police and national guard officers deployed tear gas and shot rubber bullets to forcefully disperse peaceful protesters so President Trump could take a photo in front of a church. One day prior, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper authorized the mobilization of 450 national guard troops to Charlotte, Raleigh and potentially other North Carolina cities.
“Guard personnel assigned to these missions are trained, equipped and prepared to assist law enforcement authorities and first responders,” said Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a press release. “We’re here to help and assist local authorities,” he said. “Our troops are here to protect life and property, and preserve peace, order and public safety.”
In a phone call on Wednesday, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan said that they declined the deployment of National Guard troops to the city.
In Charlotte on Tuesday evening, Queen City Nerve’s publisher Justin LaFrancois captured live footage of police corralling peaceful protesters and then tear gassing them and using flash grenades. LaFrancois, who was in the middle of the attack, repeatedly said in his stream that his eyes and skin were burning.
“I don’t understand what just happened,” he says in the video.
Shortly after LaFrancois’s stream, the Charlotte police department released a statement on Twitter that they were “internally reviewing the circumstances that developed this evening on 4th Street to ensure policy and protocol were followed.”