A demonstration organizer is stunned the Saturday protest ended in violent clashes between protesters and Sheriff’s deputies.
“We were home by then,” said Monique Sampson, one of the organizers of Saturday’s protest in Jacksonville. “We turned on the news and we saw tear gas canisters being deployed. We saw people being beat up.”
“I see violence on JSO’s side,” Sampson said. “They came prepared to riot. They came prepared to beat people up.”
The Jacksonville Community Action Committee originally organized the demonstration Saturday in the wake George Floyd’s death while being detained by police in Minneapolis May 25. While the civil rights and police watch-dog group acknowledged many protests turned violent Friday evening in cities across the U.S., Sampson was determined to have a peaceful march.
The action committee expected 500 people to show up Saturday, but the crowd swelled to some 3,000 people.
She said the demonstration, which was originally scheduled to run from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., did go over its original time slot but clearly ended at 6 p.m.
Between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. chaos engulfed many downtown Jacksonville streets. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported one officer was injured in the neck with a sharp object. The officer is recovering well, according to city officials. One police cruiser was set on fire and other vehicles were damaged on Bay Street just west of JSO headquarters downtown.
Several demonstrators were detained, flashbangs were set off and tear gas was deployed by dozens of JSO officers clad in full riot gear along with two armored vehicles that entered downtown streets. Some of the most chaotic scenes were on side streets such as Market and Newnan streets, out of the focus of television cameras near the city’s landmark Florida Theatre.
There were some additional protests and arrests on Sunday. Mayor Lenny Curry implemented a curfew in anticipation of repeated problems.
Sampson said Sunday’s events had nothing to do with her organization.
Curry and Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams blamed most of the violent confrontations on rogue demonstrators and agreed the Community Action Committee had little to do with police clashes.
Curry, in a speech before Jacksonville City Council Tuesday, said there were “bad actors” responsible for the melees with police Saturday. He also said there is no need for any more curfews, though he added, “I will use the resources I have to protect the city.”
Sampson, however, faults police for escalating clashes.
“They [JSO police] came in. They came with tear gas. These protesters were mostly unarmed. I think they were all unarmed. I haven’t heard a case of where someone had a weapon,” Sampson said.
The group established a Community Support Fund for those who were arrested or detained during the weekend’s events.
Sampson said as of Tuesday morning, they had $59,000 in contributions, an excess of the group’s $40,000 goal. The fund helped 25 arrested demonstrators who ranged in age from 18 to 80 to post bond. The group expects to help another 40.
“It’s assisted in everything from people whose civil liberties have been deprived to medical funds for people who’ve been brutalized to lost wages for people who were locked up and not able to go to work,” Sampson said.