Fort Wayne’s tumultuous protests downtown lead to clashes with police, teargas, broken windows and injuries.
On Friday evening, a small crowd began to gather on the Courthouse Green in downtown Fort Wayne. Many members of the crowd held signs, raised their fists over their head or chanted as cars passed by, heading down South Clinton Street.
The protest was in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd was being arrested by police, and was handcuffed, when Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck. Captured on video, the officer continued to kneel on his neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd cried out.
Around the country, protests like the one in Fort Wayne have been happening since Floyd’s death on Memorial Day. Alisha Rauch organized Friday’s protest with an event on Facebook. By 5 p.m., the page had more than 300 responses from people planning to attend.
Rauch says the protest was borne out of frustration.
“You know, after time, you see it over and over and over again. And then, finally, I was just like ‘I’m tired of seeing it. I’m tired of just watching. I wanna do, you know, I wanna do something.’”
The group stretched down the street in front of the Allen County Courthouse, intermittently chanting various phrases that have become popular in the Black Lives Matter movement. Chants of “no justice, no peace,” “black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” - a phrase Floyd can be heard saying to Chauvin in videos of the encounter - filled the crowd.
“We just want to be felt, we want to be heard. We want them to know that this isn’t okay. This isn’t okay to us.”
For the first couple hours, protesters remained on the sidewalk, protesting peacefully and without police presence. Eventually, cars began to slow to take videos or show support. Horns wailed as they passed the protesters.
Fort Wayne Police said the crowd began spilling into the street around 7 p.m. According to one protestor, Walter Lewis, some cars stopped, their drivers getting out and joining the protest.
“Everything was peaceful. Yeah, people did get in the streets, but then we got people out the streets, but then cars started stopping.”
Lewis says he began to hear word of police coming to the area in riot gear. He tried to take control of the situation, encouraging other protesters to keep the peace.
“So, I let everybody know, I said let’s keep it peaceful. They’re coming in riot gear, but we’re not gonna let them provoke us. That’s exactly what I said. And before you knew it, police came running around a little small area and then they just started spraying us with tear gas.”
At 8 p.m., police began letting loose tear gas canisters and spraying protesters with pepper spray. Some in the crowd began breaking windows around the area.
Police say they gave several warnings to leave the area, while many protesters say they never heard a warning before they were met with tear gas.
The clash continued into Saturday morning. About 30 people were arrested, largely for “disorderly conduct” and “failing to leave an emergency situation.”
Law enforcement leadership promised the violence of Friday night would not happen again.
Allen County Sheriff David Gladieux gives a warning to protesters that he won’t tolerate any lawbreaking or destruction;
“There will be no questions, no second chances.”
In the afternoon, crowds once more began to gather on the Courthouse Green. This time, protesters faced the Courthouse where people took turns speaking into a microphone and bullhorn about the need for continuing to protest.
Many speakers spoke to the need for unity. Brother Steven Hargrave, a pastor from the Church of God in Warsaw, spoke at length at the beginning of the demonstration.
“The system that produced the death of George Floyd cannot be remedied just by us gathering here. The system has divided us. And we have to make a determined effort to stand together as one.”
Sister Elizabeth Oppel took to the microphone to communicate her anger and exhaustion.
As it began to near 5 p.m., protesters at the East Main Street intersection of South Clinton Street began to venture into the roadway. As traffic stopped to accommodate them, members of the 10 Point Coalition began directing traffic, creating a lane for cars through the protesters.
As traffic moved slowly, a SWAT car made its way to the intersection. Through the megaphone, police began to give warnings to protesters to clear the roadway. Some of the protesters began kneeling in front of the car, one tossed a half empty water bottle at the windshield. Other members of the crowd quickly moved to try and calm the situation, encouraging a continued peaceful protest.
After several warnings, a line of officers in riot gear came up from behind the SWAT car and formed a line in front of protesters on South Clinton Street. After a few minutes, tear gas canisters began to fly through the air.
Protesters began to move to either side of the intersection in an attempt to avoid the gas. The line of officers moved forward down South Clinton, continuing to fire canisters into the crowd. At the other end of the block, the intersection of South Clinton and Berry, between continued chanting, car horns and the sounds of the crowd, protesters had never heard the warnings given. The tear gas came as a shock.
One man, Bralin Break, was struck in the eye by a tear gas canister. He would later lose his eye completely.
In the crowd, two veterans, men who had never met before crossing paths at this protest, assisted one another after being hit by the tear gas.
Steven Richardson was a corporal in the Marine Corps.
“Multiple tours and this is how I get treated when I come home. Spraying me in the face because I kneeled and said that I didn’t want to have anything to do with the violence.”
Mark Allen Brantley was a sergeant in the Army for ten years. He says he’s tired of seeing the murders and mistreatment of black people.
“We showed up to peacefully protest and they brought guns. They shot at us, they tear gassed us. For what? Because we have cardboard signs? How is that fair? They forget they work for us, not the other way around.”
After the initial contact, protesters were divided around the Courthouse. Some moved south, while a large number moved north to the Martin Luther King Jr bridge, continuing to block the road.
After news of tear gas being fired again, the group on the bridge moved south once more, hoping to supply aid to any who had been hit with the tear gas. At the intersection of South Clinton and East Main, protesters and officers stood off once again.
This time, the tear gas came from several sides, penning protesters in at Friemann square while they set off tear gas and smoke bombs.
The skirmishes continued until around 11 p.m. on Saturday. On Sunday, protesters returned once again. This time, police officers joined them in the crowd, talking to members of the protest about their frustrations and needs before walking with them for a short while.