‘Violent activity is escalating’; peaceful protests turn rowdy late in Charlotte

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A relatively peaceful evening of demonstrations in uptown Charlotte over the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd took a chaotic turn Sunday as the hour neared midnight, with protesters ignoring multiple orders to disperse as officers moved in with riot control agents.

Tensions began to escalate around 10:45 p.m., when someone set off a series of fireworks in front of the Ink N Ivy restaurant on South Church Street; just a few minutes later, Charlotte Mecklenburg police officers began firing projectiles to try to disperse the crowds.

Though the crowd had thinned to maybe 100-150 — less than half of its original size — those that remained grew increasingly agitated, with some throwing rocks that broke windows at a number of businesses all over uptown, including a Wells Fargo building, the McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant on South Tryon Street, and the Element Uptown Apartments across from Romare Bearden Park.

Just before 11 p.m., CMPD tweeted: “Violent activity is escalating. Several protestors throwing bottles and rocks. A dispersal order has been issued to protect lives.” Around the same time, WBTV Channel 3 aired aerial footage of police using pepper-spray projectiles to break up a large crowd in the center of uptown.

The large original group by then had fractured into several smaller ones, and officers fanned out around the uptown area on bikes, in cruisers and on foot, armed with tear gas and pepper-spray projectiles. The bang of fireworks cracked through the air without warning, and the whine of multiple building security alarms could be heard on many corners.

CMPD said on Twitter that some protesters had been throwing bottles and other objects at officers.

Nine arrests were made over the course of the evening, according to CMPD, with several involving weapon charges.

Initially, the evening got off to a reasonably calm start, with a crowd of at least 300 marchers making its way past BB&T Ballpark and Bank of America Stadium as police in full protective gear stood watch.

Officers did block entry to certain thoroughfares with the goal of reining protesters into uptown; and at one point just before sunset, demonstrators holding signs bearing messages like “No More Thin Blue Lies” shouted at officers who were creating a barrier on South College Street.

Among the chants: “We are peaceful!” and “Hands up, don’t shoot!”

By 8:45 p.m., the marchers were heading up College towards the center of uptown, and the crowd stopped at the foot of the EpiCentre, where a video billboard above Vida Mexican Kitchen Y Cantina displayed the hashtag “#GeorgeFloyd” (prompting many marchers to drop to a knee). It then made stops at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s headquarters on East Trade Street and the Mecklenburg County Detention Center on East Fourth.

There were signs of solidarity along the way. Outside CMPD headquarters, demonstrators roared their approval when a helmeted officer briefly raised his fist — which protesters took as a show of support — and they cheered again as lights were seen flickering on and off inside multiple rooms of the jail.

But shortly after 10 p.m., the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department tweeted that there were reports of protesters arming themselves with bricks in front of the EpiCentre complex in the heart of uptown, and added this: “Violence and destruction of property is not a solution.”

The city of Charlotte remains under a state of emergency. So too does Raleigh, where on Sunday night downtown streets have also again filled with protesters. At one point early in the evening, the News & Observer reported, one of the members of the police riot team tossed a canister of tear gas that sent the crowd scattering.

(Earlier Sunday, demonstrators in Charlotte had gathered peacefully in both First Ward Park, east of Tryon Street, and a few blocks away at Romare Bearden Park.)

The protests in Raleigh and Charlotte were among dozens staged across the U.S. on Sunday, six days after the death of Floyd, a black man who repeatedly pleaded that he couldn’t breathe as a white Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd down by driving his knee into his neck for several minutes.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The three other officers at the scene have been fired.

One of the most tense moments in Sunday’s unrest across the country in fact happened in Minneapolis, where a tanker truck drove into a massive crowd of people that took over a portion of a city highway, the Associated Press reported. Protesters crawled on the truck, according to reports, and police came in force to clear the highway. It’s unclear whether anyone was injured.

Meanwhile, CNN reported Sunday that nearly 40 cities — including Atlanta, and Charleston, Columbia and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina — had imposed curfews Sunday night. Charlotte was not one of them, despite two days of sometimes-destructive demonstrations that have led to dozens of arrests.

“George Floyd should be alive, along with many others,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said in a news conference Sunday after peaceful protests on Saturday night turned violent in Charlotte, Fayetteville, Greensboro and Raleigh.

Cooper told reporters that the National Guard would be made available to Raleigh and Charlotte Sunday night at the request of both cities. The city of Charlotte, however, tweeted later Sunday that the Guard was not being deployed.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles, who met with activists at a peaceful event Sunday, said on Twitter that “we ... support the rights of those who are peacefully protesting and honoring the memory of George Floyd and countless others that have been victims of systemic racism and police violence. Let’s work together to ensure that protests remain peaceful and stay focused on building equitable and just cities for all in North Carolina.

“And we pledge to make every effort within our power to fight systemic racism within our police forces, cities and this nation.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan of the News & Observer of Raleigh contributed to this report.