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Was putting the city on lock down for Friday night’s protest the right thing to do, or was it an attempt to silence citizens?

In the wake of the in-custody death of George Floyd, who was in Minneapolis police custody at the time of his death, citizens of all colors and nationalities have come together to peacefully protest the police misconduct and attack on it’s citizens all around the country.

Wilmington (DE): There is no doubt why police have a hard time fitting into the communities they serve. The police brutality that we continue to see in TV media reports, shared on social media, and witnessed with our own eyes against peaceful protesters who are exercising their first amendment rights while being attacked by police is very disturbing.

The worst part about the police brutality that we are witnessing every day is that they continue to get away with it. One of the purposes of this movement is so that voices can be heard – not silenced. Yet, attempting to silence voices is what law enforcement agencies around the country appear to be doing. They are still trying to silence the oppressed while continuing their brutality on peaceful citizens.

If you’re trying to shut down a protest, you’re trying to silence people’s voices

Forget about filming them, because that means nothing to them. They know they are being filmed, yet they continue their brutality right before our own eyes. They have made it clear based on the real time videos that we have reviewed that they simply don’t care. Where is the humanity?

This community relations issue will never go away as long as police and government do not acknowledge and accept people of color and make policy changes that affects the way people are treated by law enforcement. The community continues to ask police many questions that it seldom gets answers for. I often ask myself, why are they (police) fearful of people of color? Why are police officers not trained to deal with people with mental illness in the same way health care professionals are? Why is everyone that they interact with deemed a threat to them? Why do so many people of color they interact with end up with a gun pointed at them?

People of color are not the only ones experiencing this kind of behavior from sworn-in police officers. Law enforcement’s reigns on citizens also include other nationalities that we don’t normally see in mainstream media or that is kept quiet.

The reign on people of color has been going on for decades and as Mayor Purzycki said in an opinion, “America is facing a well-deserved reckoning with its past. Our country has rationalized and compartmentalized the condition of Black America for far too long.” and as protests occur all over the country in the wake of George Floyd’s death and many others who have died while in police custody, Wilmington had it’s first rally and protest last week which began peacefully but turned ugly by the hour.

The rally, organized by “Food Not Bombs“, started peacefully in Rodney Square on Saturday May 30, 2020, but when the rally was over and a march started, it was clear the group of protesters marching were becoming more agitated and angry. By sundown, violence, destruction, and chaos stormed throughout the downtown area. A stronger police presence including police in riot and tactical gear ensued which only agitated the group of protesters more. “Additional police agencies we’re called in to assist Wilmington Police because it was too much for their department to handle”, according to Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracey.

Gov. John Carney addressed a group of reporters on Market Street on Sunday morning, acknowledging that much of the damage was due to a handful of bad actors. He said Wilmington police “did amazing under very difficult circumstances.”

Bad actors – that Food Not Bombs said they had no part in. “As the day went on, community members continued to protest in their own ways. Some took their protest to Market Street, where they stood face-to-face with Wilmington police officers. Some members of the crowd also took out their anger on the Market Street storefronts. Although Black Lives Matter and Food Not Bombs were not involved in the Market Street protests, we empathize with the rage felt by people who have been pushed to the margins of the community by the ongoing gentrification of Wilmington, and who are subjected to constant harassment at the hands of Wilmington police.” according to a press release from the group.

In an earlier press conference, citing unspecified “police intelligence,” Gov. John Carney on Monday blamed out-of-state actors for escalating Saturday’s police brutality protest in Wilmington, mentioning that a Washington state resident instigated one incident intending to provoke violence.

The National Guard was also brought into the city that night, the last time the National Guard occupied the city of Wilmington was in 1968, when they stayed for nine months following the death of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was just days after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination that hordes of Black youths started a peaceful march to Rodney Square in the heart of Delaware’s biggest city. Then, at Fourth and Market Streets, someone threw a brick through a storefront. Soon after, “all hell broke loose,” Residents burned and looted businesses in frustration, anger, and grief. When police lost control of the situation, The National Guard was called in and occupied the city for nine months. The city was never the same.

And on Friday June 5, 2020, there was yet another planned peaceful protest at Wilmington’s Tubman Garrett Park at 6:00 Pm. The Mayor met last week on a few occasions with members of the rally’s organizing coalition and asked its leaders to postpone the Friday event. The Mayor said he was concerned that people from outside Wilmington or Delaware will attempt to disrupt the event. Governor John Carney also met with the group of organizers alongside the mayor.

The organizers promised the Mayor they will place coalition representatives throughout the park to maintain order. Fortunately, the rally and protest kept it peaceful even when Delaware State Police instigated the group at various points of the march.

In an earlier release, Mayor Purzycki and Police Chief Robert J. Tracy said “While they sincerely support peaceful expressions of concern about the recent death of George Floyd and other incidences of racial injustice, any violence that occurs will not be tolerated.”

The Mayor said State and New Castle County police officers will augment the strength of the Wilmington Police Department.

“We will keep our City and its residents safe,” said Mayor Purzycki. “We have no problem with peaceful protest. In fact, we will protect peaceful protest. However, we will not stand by while our city and neighborhoods are vandalized. There is no reason for it. I am sorry that I have to even address the subject of possible vandalism and looting, but we are acutely aware of what happened last weekend and will do everything to prevent anything like this from occurring again.”

With over 13 statewide protests since last weekend, Colonel Nathaniel McQueen, Jr. of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security joined Governor Carney at Friday’s COVID-19 briefing ahead of the planned protest.

McQueen said, “There have been approximately 13 protests up and down the state since last weekend, with several more scheduled throughout this weekend as well as early next week” McQueen said that his Department is working in collaboration with a number of the organizers of these protests to ensure that their First Amendment rights are protected while also protecting the life and property of the citizens of the state.”

“They (protestors) have to have the right to have their voices heard and law enforcement needs to hear those voices,” says McQueen. “Delaware law enforcement only works if we work with our communities.”

As for tonight’s scheduled protest, when asked if the Delaware National Guard will be assisting with protective measures, Governor Carney said “the Guard is always on stand-by if needed, but that tonight’s event will be managed by the Wilmington Police Department with the support of New Castle County Police as well as State Police.”

Police brutality isn’t the only thing people are protesting against. Racial and social injustice, abuse of power by those in elected and leadership positions, and more importantly – to be heard and the justified complaints to no longer be ignored.

There is no doubt Wilmington city and state officials incorporated sneaky tactics in an effort to what appears to attempt to silence people’s voices ahead of Friday’s protest in Wilmington.

An effort to keep people voices out of the city and from being heard?

The city was locked down at 3:00 Pm Friday afternoon. Draw bridges up so nobody from outside the city could get into the city, State and County Police had at least a ten block perimeter with streets leading towards the downtown area closed. When the march started, police stopped people from joining the march. It’s obvious that the city had complete control of the protest, who comes and goes, and who could be heard.

Last week, the city began releasing information. A press release was issued on Friday June 5, 2020 at 2:00 Pm, and did not mention of road closures, in fact, the release encouraged people to park at the Delaware Technical Community College which was closing early and offering it’s parking garage for free. The release only warned of “restricted traffic flow in the area surrounding the Tubman Garrett Riverfront”. The release also suggests walking.

From the time of the release until the time of the event. People who wanted to be at the event only had one hour to get into the city, as city officials began implementing their tactics at 3:00 Pm.

What is more shocking is that the city, knowing that people would not be able to travel into the city, encouraged the travel. We’re also learning that all DELDOT cameras were down at the time of the event. We’re working to confirm that information with DELDOT.

We began becoming aware of these tactics as reporters from Delaware Newsline were attempting to get into the city at 4:00 Pm. and could not. There were a number of closed roads and streets that had a significant impact on traffic both for vehicles and pedestrians, and not just in the city, but outside the city as well.

A real look at the street closures:

Delaware State Police had N. Dupont Highway closed at Rogers Road, prohibiting motorists from traveling any further north into the city. Motorists were being detoured into Southbridge to either enter the city’s east side or across A street towards S. Walnut street and onto S. Market Street to S. Dupont Highway.

At A Street and S. Walnut Street, there were several more State Troopers positioned at the draw bridge which was raised. When asked about the draw bridge, a state trooper’s response was, “not coming down until later tonight.” He suggested that motorists attempting to come into the city to “take 495 North to Edgemoor because they had the 12th street exit closed as well.”

In Edgemoor, traffic was backed up on the exit, but cleared once you make your travel towards the city. That is until you got to Church Street, where more State Troopers were positioned, some of which were seen giving nasty responses to motorists who were trying to reach their homes on the closed streets. Troopers were refusing to allow home owners down any closed streets. When you reach 4th street from N. Church Street, more state troopers were preventing any traffic flow west on 4th street and diverting traffic back into Southbridge.

The only way to get close to the downtown area was from Governor Printz Blvd and taking 30th Street to N. Market street, and onto Pennsylvania Avenue, then down Washington Street. All traffic on Washington street was being diverted directly West of the city or onto I-95, as all Eastbound side streets were closed to traffic leading into the downtown area.

If you continued onto N. King Street from N. Market street, police were diverting traffic back down towards the East side or North onto 12th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue. So in reality traffic was being diverted in circles.

We reached out to the Delaware State Police to find out why they did not release information pertaining to special event road closures. “We have not been made aware of any extended road closures in our jurisdiction at this time.”, said Melissa Jaffe, a police spokeswoman. Yet extended road closures did occur outside the of city, and the Delaware state police failed to release the information.

Delaware Newsline reached out to the Wilmington Mayor’s office with questions but as of the publishing of this story, they have not responded.

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