Rioters who caused thousands of dollars worth of property damages in Durham, North Carolina, on Wednesday night were “co-opting” the racial justice movement, the mayor said Thursday.
Most of the protests that have occurred in Durham over the last several months have been peaceful, but the crowd that came into town on Wednesday night was different, Mayor Steve Schewel said during a news conference with Durham Chief of Police Cerelyn Davis.
“I fully support the important righteous protests in support of racial justice that have followed the murder of George Floyd and the tragic death of Breonna Taylor. These protests are righteous, and we need to support, and we do support, everyone’s First Amendment rights to protest and to assemble,” Schewel said.
“But the people who inflicted this damage last night are not advancing the cause of justice. In fact, what they are doing is co-opting this movement for racial justice for their own purposes.”
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Protesters demonstrated in several cities across the U.S. Wednesday after a grand jury announced its findings for the investigation into Breonna Taylor’s death. Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman, died on March 13 after she was shot during a gunfight that erupted as officers tried to serve a no-knock warrant to her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment on March 13.
On Wednesday, a grand jury announced three felony counts of wanton endangerment against one of the officers, former Louisville Metro Police Department Officer Brett Hankison. Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the grand jury did not indict the other officers involved, but said a federal investigation into the case was ongoing.
In Louisville, police announced on Thursday that 127 people were arrested during protests following the grand jury’s announcement. Two Louisville police officers were shot during the protests Wednesday night and are expected to recover, the Louisville police chief said Thursday. Several other cities have announced arrests in connection with protests over the last 24 hours, and property damage has been widespread.
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In Durham, between 60 and 75 people arrived in the downtown area “unannounced” and damaged at least 13 buildings, including a church, Schewel said. There was no looting, but windows were broken and the cost of the damages was estimated to be tens of thousands of dollars, he said.
Davis said the group, whose members wore all black, carried umbrellas to obstruct their movements and dispersed quickly, had the characteristics of anarchist demonstrators. Further information regarding the group’s affiliation or identities of the individuals involved was not unknown, but Davis said the Durham Police Department is investigating the incident and reviewing video footage of the damaged areas. Any participants who can be positively identified could face charges, Davis said.
The police chief said the damages caused during previous demonstrations were “minimal” and the violence Wednesday night “caught us by surprise.”
“I don’t believe that that expression had anything to do with the verdict and the outcome in the Breonna Taylor case,” Davis said. “It had everything to do with taking advantage of an opportunity to express other ideologies.”
“The folks that were inflicting the damage last night were white—I just want to be really clear about that,” Schewel said. “I believe that that is an indication of the fact that this is an attempt to co-opt a racial justice movement. Again, this is not something that we can accept. Of course it’s important for white people to be on the side of racial justice all the time, and to do that daily work that’s so necessary and important to make racial justice in our country real. But that’s very different than what these folks last night did.”
Schewel said Davis has his support to pursue charges against those who caused the destruction. “Anybody that comes to Durham with the intention of inflicting violence and destruction of property should know that I fully support our police in stopping this activity, and I know that our community supports our police in stopping this activity,” the mayor said.
Newsweek reached out to the Durham Police Department for further comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.