@VALUEZTV AM EDITION
The droning buzz of security alarms still filled the streets of downtown Wilmington on Sunday morning as residents, business owners and city officials caught a glimpse of the damage sustained in violent protests the night before.
Demanding justice for George Floyd and pleading for changes to address racial inequities in their community, Wilmington residents marched miles through the city Saturday in what began as a peaceful protest.
But as day gave way to night, protesters began looting businesses, leaving shattered glass along sidewalks as dumpsters, trash cans and vehicles burned. Police in riot gear responded by cordoning off downtown streets.
"It's disheartening, disappointing," Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said Sunday morning. "I'm trying to reconcile what happened with Minneapolis with what happened here. I'm feeling the revulsion in both cases. I think it's important that all sides come together and try to understand the grievances, but talk about solutions."
Cities across the country protested Floyd's death Saturday, nearly a week after the 46-year-old black man died after being arrested by Minneapolis police.
Footage of the arrest shows a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes while he was pinned to the ground.
It all ensued amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately affected minority groups while leading to strife over when businesses should be reopened.
Alongside Wilmington residents, local and state officials walked down Market Street on Sunday morning past some of the most significant damage, as business owners began boarding up their storefronts and residents helped clean looted businesses.
Many questioned how the protest turned violent as rapidly as it did while sympathizing with the protesters and their cause.
Addressing a group of reporters on Market Street on Sunday morning, Gov. John Carney attributed much of the damage to a handful of bad actors while praising those who were focused "on the good." He said Wilmington police "did amazing under very difficult circumstances."
"We need to be resilient, and we also need to address the serious issues that gave rise to the destruction," Carney said.
Wilmington police have not said whether any arrests were made in relation to Saturday's protests, and city officials were preparing for "a variety of scenarios" Sunday. Carney gave no indication that a curfew would be implemented or that the National Guard would assist police, as other cities have done.
Wilmington police called in for support from other police agencies after the mayhem became too much for the city police to handle on its own.
'Let's do it the right way'
The protest began at 11 a.m. Saturday with several hundred people, but quickly grew to a crowd of more than 1,000.
From Rodney Square to Wilmington police headquarters, down across the Christina River and onto I-95, protesters chanted, "No justice, no peace."
One man held a sign listing the names of dozens of black people targeted or killed by police in recent years. Others donned T-shirts with Floyd's last words: "I can't breathe."
The protests drew people of all ages, genders and colors — proof that "this is not just a black thing anymore," said 21-year-old Jazmine Church, who marched with friends and family.
"This has been going on for years — it's not like this is new," Church said. "I've been around to see these senseless killings happen, so it's good to see everybody participating, everyone upset. It's time for them to stop."
A moment of tension occurred when state police held long guns across from protesters who blocked I-95 early Saturday afternoon, which protesters said was unnecessary. The confrontation ended in applause when troopers agreed to store their weapons in their patrol cars.
Youth advocate Keith James, one of the protesters who led the crowd to I-95, said before some began vandalizing businesses, the day's protests were marked by these types of civil negotiations with authorities.
Protesters in the city helped keep peace when more unruly crowd members threatened police. Protesters saw that Sen. Tom Carper and his wife were stuck in traffic on the highway, James said. When a bottle struck their car, protesters helped them drive away safely. Carper's office confirmed the account.
At the Wilmington police station, protesters got Purzycki and Police Chief Robert Tracy to agree to ask for the resignation of any officer who believes the Floyd killing was OK.
"That incident that happened out in Minneapolis, goddamnit, that set us back 20 or 30 years," Tracy said Saturday afternoon. "It opened up a lot of wounds and rightfully so, and you know what? We got to let people express that anger. But we got to make sure they do it peacefully."
It wasn't until a group of protesters marched up Market Street in the early evening that the demonstration escalated. Protesters ultimately targeted businesses of all kinds downtown, smashing windows of restaurants and stealing merchandise from other businesses.
The looting drew anger from other protesters, who decried the vandalism. At one point, a group of civilians guarded the Walgreens at Ninth and Market, arguing with those who supported the break-ins.
"We can’t act immature. We can’t afford it," said Drew Forrester, a 24-year-old from Wilmington. "Let’s do it the right way."
As the sun set over Wilmington in the early evening, police officers on Market Street carried sticks and shields while protesters screamed, "F--- the police." As demonstrators smashed the windows of a BoostMobile on Market Street, a police officer was heard saying, "Sergeant, get out your stick." The scene played out over the next several hours until Wilmington police began clearing streets around 9:30 p.m., deeming the rally an "unlawful assembly."
When asked, one man said he was taking part in the ransacking of businesses on Orange Street because peaceful protests don’t change things. As it stands now, the country isn’t made for black people, he said.
"Who is Independence Day for?" he asked. "It’s for people with liberty. We ain’t got that."
'It's a delicate situation'
City cleaning crews spent the early parts of the morning clearing glass from shattered storefronts, products stolen from stores and other debris from Market Street, Shipley Street and the surrounding area. Before 8 a.m., the streets and sidewalks were almost entirely clear.
Many residents planned on cleaning the streets themselves Sunday morning but were pleased to see the city's effort when they arrived. Some shifted their attention to helping individual businesses, shuttling trash cans filled with shards of glass to the curb.
"The broken glass is a reflection of a system that needs to be fixed," said Ronnell Page, who was part of a small group cleaning stores along Market Street. "People don’t know how delicate glass is until it breaks, and we see that it’s a delicate situation going on right here in our city. We just gotta focus on putting it together."
After walking through the shattered glass at the upscale Girard Craft & Cork wine store, Purzycki spoke with activist Chandra Pitts, who told Delaware Online/The News Journal she is organizing bail donations in anticipation of future protests.
Pitts said she did not participate in Saturday night's events but defended those who did, saying peaceful protests and activism in legislative halls have not stopped police brutality nationwide. Some protesters resorted to hurting businesses, she said, to get the attention of business-friendly government officials and affluent residents.
"This is what it takes after years and years and years to get the attention of the administration, to now break something that you care about," Pitts said.
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester fought back tears as she encouraged the young people of the city to make their voices heard and to "not just be seen."
"We have to find a way to be heard and to do it in a way that we get real results; that's not just about speeches," Blunt Rochester said. "People are just tired."
Many Wilmington residents shared similar thoughts.
"They got their point across," said Wilmington resident Lovey Miller. "Now I don't think they had to destroy businesses to do it, but by any means necessary, they want people to notice and I understand."
'This is just awful'
Of the businesses with no damage, many had signs reading "black owned" on them.
Some protesters took aim at the long-simmering inequality in Wilmington represented by the recently revitalized Market Street. As they surveyed the damage at Bardea, one of the first to be vandalized, some recalled the beloved — and cheaper — fried chicken eatery it had replaced.
Still, looters destroyed the inside of several stores, including some many decades old. They left merchandise, displays and glass strewn across the first level of Al's Sporting Goods, which opened on Market Street in 1935. Broken glass littered the floor of a convenience store on Shipley, and gaping holes were left in the storefronts of many more businesses.
"I didn't think it would get to this level that it did," said David McVey, general manager of Al's Sporting Goods. "I think this is just awful. If you're going to protest, protest peacefully to get your message across."
Derrick Reed, owner of His Image Barber Lounge on Lancaster Avenue, went to Home Depot early Sunday morning to buy brooms and trash bags as one of many who planned to help with the cleanup effort.
He said he wishes the protesters reached out to the city's leaders, police and other social groups ahead of time to work together on setting an example of a peaceful protest as "we are all outraged."
"The hurtful part is seeing all of these business owners out here and picking up the pieces," he said.
Tim Pawliczek, owner of Cavanaughs at Market and East Seventh streets, said he felt trapped in the back of his restaurant as demonstrators stole shoes from the back of the Sneaker City on the same block and set fires behind him on Shipley Street.
Cavanaughs was relatively unscathed but wooden boards still covered the doors Sunday morning, a day before Pawliczek intended to reopen after more than two months of being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"I don't think the majority of them are bad people," Pawliczek said. "I don't know how it happened."