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WEB EXCLUSIVE George Floyd’s brutal murder by a white police officer in Minneapolis one week ago—on top of countless other incidents of racist violence against Black people in America—triggered protests in cities across the nation.
This weekend, those protests came to Raleigh.
What began as peaceful demonstrations downtown on both Saturday and Sunday evenings devolved into chaos after sundown. Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators. Looters destroyed storefronts, businesses and city property on Fayetteville, Wilmington and Salisbury streets. Raleighites were left to pick up the pieces, prepare for more unrest and, in the long run, seek out ways to heal deep racial divisions and to try to figure out how to build a more equitable city.
Here, we try to piece together what happened this weekend from the differing perspectives of demonstrators, police, activists, media outlets, business owners and other observers.
Several activist groups call for peaceful demonstrations to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmed Arbery and those killed by police officers in Raleigh. Protesters are asked to wear face masks and bring posters and water.
Local activist groups including Raleigh PACT, Young Americans Protest and Carolina Peace Center release a list of demands, including a police review board with subpoena power, restoration of CACs, closing police stations in black communities and policies requiring police officers to intervene when they witness police abuse. They call for the removal of Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown if their demands are not met.
By 6 p.m., following a march into downtown via Capital Boulevard, up to 3,000 demonstrators gather in front of the Wake County Courthouse. They listen to speakers, hold signs, chant and rally peaceably in honor of George Floyd’s memory.
protests for george floyd in raleigh, nc pic.twitter.com/xTkVVnX7R8— SCOTTIE 2 HOTTIE 🦋 (@eyeofscottie) May 30, 2020
Thread of the Raleigh protest. Starts off strong, lots of people here. Chants of NO JUSTICE NO PEACE. SAY HIS NAME. GEORGE FLYOD. pic.twitter.com/upWN01Urq1— NC Piedmont DSA (@NC_DSA) May 30, 2020
We’re in downtown Raleigh covering the nationwide protest against the killing of #GeorgeFloyd. Families, adults and young people alike are present. Hundreds of peaceful protesters gathered on Fayetteville St. in front of the Wake Co. Courthouse. pic.twitter.com/uaC4e8w4DF— The News & Observer (@newsobserver) May 30, 2020
Raleigh is different. 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/JjVvreACQw— HEADGRAPHIX (@HeadGraphix) May 31, 2020
The news is showing looting and tear gas in Raleigh, NC. But please know that this protest started off PEACEFULLY! We rallied and we marched! We held our signs high and we chanted! #RaleighDemandsJustice #BlacklivesMaters #JusticeForGeorge pic.twitter.com/M70DDfsGFq— MacKenzie Telfaire (@kenzie_simone24) May 31, 2020
Then, something changes. Demonstrators say police start using tear gas on the crowd.
Twitter, do your thing:— Kayley Melissa (@kayleymelissa) May 30, 2020
Raleigh has had a peaceful protest and march for a couple of hours. The police chose to administer tear gas and show up in riot gear unprovoked.
The news is focusing on isolated incidents and the tear gas footage to make this look violent or unruly.
Raleigh protest was very peaceful until cops instigated and started throwing tear gas like candy. 99% of those tear gassed were peaceful. police responded to water bottles being thrown with gas bombs— Christian (@christianjc98) May 31, 2020
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I don’t expect any of you to understand if you weren’t out there these past two nights, we are peaceful and have been through the entirety of this protest. The police in this town are attacking us for using our first amendment rights and protesting when just a few weeks ago they were armed white men walking through the streets without a problem. 5 minutes into getting out there at 5:00 p.m. today unprovoked they shot tear gas at us a rubber bullet flew by me and my friend’s head we could hear and feel the power going behind it, if that had hit any of us we wouldn’t be here to tell the story. The cops are attacking us for no reason other than the fact we are protesting their corrupt organization. It’s hard to believe I know, I wouldn’t want to so I understand where you’re coming from, but I need you to hear and to know the truth is that the Raleigh police department and any others out there with them are attacking us for being out there, for protesting against their organization and the crimes that they have committed over the years, they are out there to hurt us and stop our voice from being heard. I will not stop going out there until I deem it unsafe, not from us the protesters but because they have decided to use a live ammo on us, I know that sounds crazy but they started tonight. Close your eyes as tight as you can it doesn’t change what is going on in our city and the one over all the way across this land. The system is broken they kill people everyday without a care. I have been out there for two straight nights, I have been hit with gases, I’ve watched people get hit with these rubber bullets, there is a war going on in our streets, and we are defenseless, they are the ones causing this, unless you were there you won’t be able to understand but know that this is the truth. Remember which side you choose to stand with, when this is said and done. No matter what they’ve thrown at us we will prevail, our voices will not go unheard and the unjust system that is running our country and killing our brothers and sisters will have fallen, I full heartedly believe this, I can’t not fight for this. #justiceforfloyd #justiceforbreonnataylor #blacklivesmatter
Police didn’t hassle the main group even when we took over the highway, but there’s a smaller group that got some tear gas and rubber bullets because they didn’t outnumber cops 100 to 1 pic.twitter.com/8VvtifbhUc— Yes, You’re Racist (@YesYoureRacist) May 31, 2020
Here is how the News and Observer describes what happened:
This is what happened according to Chief Deck-Brown.
Today, May 31, Raleigh Police utilized tear gas to move protestors out of the path of an EMS vehicle on its way to an emergency medical call after they refused to move. The use of tear gas yesterday, May 30, is explained in this video. #RaleighDemandsJustice #raleighriot #Raleigh pic.twitter.com/8EqW7Dv6Fx— Raleigh Police (@raleighpolice) June 1, 2020
Many of the demonstrators begin to leave as the sun sets. The situation worsens.
Police in downtown Raleigh deploy tear gas, pepper spray and smoke bombs against a crowd of protesters near South McDowell and West Davie Streets intersection #Raleigh #George Floyd pic.twitter.com/Y8vD8Qe8pg— Travis Long (@vizjourno) May 31, 2020
This is one of the tear gas canisters fired at protesters in Raleigh last night. Manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems, many may know that this is the same company that supplies tear gas to Israel. pic.twitter.com/ldM0aJ2iVf— RIOT (@RIOT_Revolt) May 31, 2020
ITS REALLY REAL OUT HERE pic.twitter.com/62Erk50KYo— lonely ĸυĸoč (@BarkyBoogz) May 31, 2020
Looters begin breaking glass windows of downtown storefronts with bricks. The CVS pharmacy at the corner of Hargett and Fayetteville streets is broken into and set ablaze.
This was at the protest in Raleigh today. These 2 women tried to protect this place from looting and further damage but I guarantee it won’t be on the news. #BLACK_LIVES_MATTER #riots2020 #RaleighDemandsJustice #RaleighNC #GeorgeFloydProtests pic.twitter.com/txbx1MvMZp— Jaziah Rispress (@Thats_Jaziah) May 31, 2020
Went back to my office to get some water. I work at a progressive newspaper. Someone threw a brick through the window while I was inside. I stepped outside and immediately inhaled tear gas. #Raleigh. pic.twitter.com/gLrE55h5Cg— Leigh of House (@LeighTauss) May 31, 2020
There are reports of white supremacist groups infiltrating the protest and rioting. White supremacist symbols are found spray painted onto downtown buildings.
Proud Boys hanging out on the Davie intersection. pic.twitter.com/UH23TeySZg— Daniel Hosterman (@dhosterman) May 30, 2020
Last night a symbol of hate was painted over one showing love. We deplore this symbol, for it is the opposite of what our world needs & what we believe. We stand with peaceful protestors & businesses hurt in our community during last night’s events. pic.twitter.com/O8kiJS37Q3— myriad media (@myriadmedia) May 31, 2020
Downtown Raleigh is in bad shape following chaos that lasted long into the night.
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It was heartbreaking walking through downtown this morning. We all support the peaceful protest against police brutality. But the late night destruction hurt people and businesses and wasn’t about making life better for anyone in our community. We’re grateful for the outpouring of volunteers to help with the cleanup today; it shows we are #raleighstrong
Volunteers show up early to help with the cleanup.
Cleanup @BeasleysChicken the morning after Raleigh, NC. One of many protests that turned violent after police released tear gas & pepper spray into the peaceful demonstration of more than 1000. The stencil on the window says, ‘Don’t Forget Kindness’ #IamGeorgeFloyd #protests2020 pic.twitter.com/g55A9RZk42— Bob Karp (@BobKarpDR) May 31, 2020
Here are some reactions from downtown business owners.
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As I held my 6-week old son in my arms soothing him back to sleep, I received a phone call that our downtown Raleigh shop was currently being looted & vandalized. . I turned to social media and looked at the countless images of broken glass of our small business neighbors storefronts, spray-painted walls on our mom & pop shops, our beautiful city trashed and my community hurting. . As a black small business owner, I am devastated by this footage, harshly written graffiti downtown, and how our small business community has yet another setback while during a pandemic that has closed & stopped all of our incomes. . As a black small business owner, I am devastated by how our peaceful protest just to live is now going to be overshadowed by the few people who are looting and breaking glass. . I am frustrated that it has come to this because of systemic racism & oppression nationwide and hurt with my people. . We will be closed in downtown Raleigh today (Sunday) while we pick up the pieces and process this mental game brewing in my mind. . I am sure I will have more to say on this but right now, I am rocking my son back to sleep, and enjoying the warmth of him in my arms. . – Megan
Glad they left the vote neon in tact. pic.twitter.com/7IIfCNTAHv— David Meeker (@DavidMeeker) May 31, 2020
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Yesterday brought a powerful movement of people united in pursuit of justice and equality to Downtown Raleigh. For hours, protestors peacefully gathered in the heart of Raleigh to have their voices heard. Today we picked up the pieces of chaos that others brought overnight and were thankful for the safety of our loved ones. Damage can be fixed, things can be replaced, but lives are precious. The pain can not be ignored. Our hearts are saddened by the hurt in our country right now, but to see our community come together today was a beautiful sight. An incredible thank you for the outpouring of love from all that checked in and came out to lend a hand. We are so proud to be a part of the Downtown Raleigh community. ❤️
My restaurant, The London Bridge Pub, was vandalized and looted tonight in Raleigh, NC by what I can only assume was a fringe sect of the peaceful protestors. Just came to say I still support the protest. The root cause of all this upset, is too awful to not continue protests.— Darren Nigel Bridger (@bolloxed9) May 31, 2020
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We are heartbroken over the events that have transpired in our nation and our city. Our mission is to help those overcoming crisis, and we will continue to do so despite physical damages. We will heal from this and we thank you for the community support. At this time, stay tuned for ways to help and remember to love your neighbor. We will be closed on Monday, as was already planned, but we will see you back here very soon. Photo by @mhramsey23
Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin holds a press conference Sunday afternoon and releases a statement addressing the events of Saturday night.
Gov. Roy Cooper has this to say.
Let me be clear about one thing: People are more important than property. Black Lives do Matter.— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) May 31, 2020
Activists organize another peaceful demonstration downtown. Demonstrators gather near the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
A small group of protesters assembled at the State Capital in Raleigh on Sunday. It’s the day after a night of chaos in the Capital city after Saturday protest escalated causing major destruction downtown.@SpecNewsRDU pic.twitter.com/BIv17jZ2gz— David Ivey (@DIveyREPORTER) May 31, 2020
But conflict with police again breaks out, with officers deploying tear gas on the demonstrators.
I have left.— Ted Corcoran (Red T Raccoon) (@RedTRaccoon) May 31, 2020
They have deployed tear gas.
This is completely unprovoked.pic.twitter.com/5bh6TpjLi3
This is RPD’s explanation for using tear gas.
We utilized tear gas to move protestors out of the path of an EMS vehicle on its way to an emergency medical call after they refused to move. https://t.co/g3h7Bmej7v— Raleigh Police (@raleighpolice) May 31, 2020
Here are some scenes from Sunday’s second day of protests in Raleigh after George Floyd’s death last week in Minneapolis.— The News & Observer (@newsobserver) June 1, 2020
More from Sunday’s events, which included clashes with police, tear gas and further destruction of property after a peaceful protest: https://t.co/Ib6FXjP6g2 pic.twitter.com/HB8YwXQLEw
Before vs after gas. pic.twitter.com/VseALY0aJh— INDY Week (@indyweek) June 1, 2020
There are more reports of rabble rousing from outside agitators.
One clear example of an agitator in Raleigh is this individual.— Ted Corcoran (Red T Raccoon) (@RedTRaccoon) June 1, 2020
I saw him with a gun cleaning a confederate monument during the protest and I immediately notified law enforcement.
He was allowed to stay in the area and was causing trouble for hours.
This is an agitator. pic.twitter.com/Ee3pwjSaD3
And more reports of looting and destruction, including at North Hills and Triangle Town Center.
Late Sunday evening, law enforcement officers are shown on video shooting at a downtown business owner.
With protests showing no sign of abating, Baldwin institutes a citywide curfew beginning at 8 p.m. RPD says the National Guard has been deployed to restore order.
The National Guard is now deployed to provide support as we work to restore order & ensure the safety of residents; protect necessary & critical infrastructure; and help ensure that those who wish to lawfully and peacefully exercise their 1st Amendment right to protest can do so.— Raleigh Police (@raleighpolice) June 1, 2020
Baldwin is criticized for “official incompetence” in an N&O editorial for not implementing a curfew sooner.
Chief Deck-Brown is criticized for, among other perceived missteps, not instructing officers to protect property and businesses.
So…Raleigh PD chief basically saying police will not stand in the way of rioters and looters and NcGOV tells small biz owners the protest message is more important than the businesses they worked so hard to build. Really bad look for NC leadership right now. Terrible. #ncpol— Sister Toldjah 😁 (@sistertoldjah) June 1, 2020
RPD is criticized for, among other perceived missteps, reacting overly aggressively towards demonstrators, especially compared to how officers treated demonstrators carrying firearms around downtown last month.
I’ve no issue with rules, but it’s quite clear— in the eyes of @raleighpolice only white supremacists groups that wish to protest WITH ARMS in Raleigh are allowed to do so. #gotit https://t.co/zuELkw2yf3— Mo (@Kaptanmorgan) June 1, 2020
Around 5 p.m., several hundred demonstrators march downtown from the Bell Tower on Hillsborough Street.
By 9 p.m., the crowd has dispersed peacefully. Raleigh’s streets are empty.
Header photo from @BriannaABaker
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