After tense week, hundreds rally again in Wilmington against police violence


Meredith Newman,Karl Baker andJeanne Kuang,

Protesters once again knelt on the interstate with fists in the air. They danced in the street along the Riverfront. And, in front of a courthouse, they listened in the rain to Delaware’s first black member of Congress say, “too many of us are in prison.”

Friday's demonstration, which many worried could become destructively chaotic, was peaceful. Its mood shifted from jovial to triumphant to tense, as protesters throughout the evening shouted “no justice, no peace” while marching for miles in downtown Wilmington. 

But it started with a sister speaking somberly about her brother who was shot and killed in 2015 while in a wheelchair by Wilmington police. 

The pain could be heard in her voice. The 6 p.m. protest wasn't supposed to start yet, but as soon as Keandra McDole began talking into the microphone — no one could look away. With her mother next to her, she described her brother Jeremy’s death, the protests immediately after and how she felt justice was not served. 

"What y'all are listening to is the voice of hurting mothers," one woman in the crowd declared.

More than 1,000 people gathered to protest police violence, including the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But the night also became about Jeremy McDole and Yahim Harris — two black Delaware men shot by Wilmington police in recent years. 

Taylor, a black woman who would have turned 27 on Friday, died in March when Louisville police raided her home in an attempted drug sting and shot her eight times. 

Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

In the days leading up to the demonstration, many feared it would become a repeat of the previous Saturday, when a peaceful protest of hundreds turned into dozens of people looting and vandalizing businesses between Market and Orange streets after the sun went down.

When politicians this week failed to persuade organizers to delay the protest, they marshaled a heavy police presence in advance of the event. Officials closed off a wide swath of the city’s downtown Friday afternoon to keep crowds away from businesses on Market Street, which also was patrolled by more than a dozen private security contractors. 

Ultimately, hundreds on Friday peacefully protested for hours throughout downtown Wilmington, including the brief shutdown of I-95. There were moments of joy. There were confrontations. There were hugs. 

"I feel like as black people we express ourselves in a way that seems like a party," said 22-year-old Kaziah Johnson, of Wilmington, as she was in a crowd of hundreds on Justison Street. 

"We dance, we jump, we sing. That's how we express our emotions in every moment,” she said. 

“And we're all in the same movement, it's a beautiful thing.”

Earlier, Gov. John Carney marched among the crowd with Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington East. Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and Attorney General Kathy Jennings also attended. 

Carney and Brown said they would be discussing police reforms "in the coming days."

After the planned portion of the demonstration ended at the courthouse, a group of protesters made their way to the Riverfront. Cars on Justison Street honked in support of the protesters chanting, "black lives matter." Music blared and one person popped champagne, spraying the hundreds of people in the crowd. 

They soon made their way to I-95, which officers then shut down in both directions like they had last weekend. 

"Hands up," they shouted as they knelt on the wet pavement. "Don't shoot."

Last Saturday, when protesters overtook the highway, there was a brief confrontation with Delaware State Police. Troopers held long guns, which protesters decried as unnecessary. Police ultimately agreed to store their weapons in their car. 

This Friday, there was no standoff between protesters and police on the interstate.

Thirty minutes later, as the protesters left the highway and made their way toward downtown Wilmington, the mood began to change.

Tensions flared when police blocked protesters’ path along Walnut Street. Some demonstrators used the standoff to direct grievances directly at officers. One tried to break through the blockade before others pulled him away. 

Overall, the line of officers showed general restraint, but behind them others stood with riot shields. Farther behind them was an armored vehicle

The heated moment ended when some officers, including Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy, agreed to leave their positions and walk with the group for 8 minutes — the approximate length of time former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee onFloyd's neck, ultimately leading to his death. 

“Words work,” said 21-year-old Jayjuan Jones, one of the protesters who helped intervene outside the police station. “We had somebody who wanted to be a little tough guy, and we calmed him down, one of our own. All we want is some peace and somebody to realize that we’re all the same.”

Tracy said he had commanded his team to block marchers on Walnut Street so police could have a conversation with protesters about how they intended to end the demonstration.   

“They were facilitated to move all over the city, but at a certain point there's some infrastructures that I get a little worried about,” he said.

As Tracy and a handful of police walked up Walnut Street with the protesters, one officer said to a younger demonstrator, "I'm getting so tired of this," apparently referring to tensions between police and black communities. 

The officer then gave a hug to another in the march. 

Walking with Tracy, an emotional protester said she wanted to see rank-and-file officers change their behavior, not just police leadership.

“You with us, but they not,” 18-year-old Jordan Sessoms, of the city’s west side, said tearfully to Tracy. “Y’all see how fed up we are? We taking over highways. Y’all see what they did to Market Street? At least have a talk with y’all people. If you don't, it's gonna get worse and worse.”

A group of young children Sessoms said were her relatives ran up the street to join her for the final leg of the march. 

“If we don’t do this now,” she told them, “y’all be doing what we doing in 10 years.”

4 views0 comments