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Peaceful protest marred by riots in downtown Jacksonville

Authorities say rioters were separate from group of peaceful demonstrators

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thousands of people in Jacksonville joined many other people across the nation Saturday, for a demonstration following the death of George Floyd.

They’re called the “I Can’t Breathe” protests, referring to some of the last words Floyd spoke while an officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

On Friday, Minnesota authorities said the police officer who was seen on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck was arrested and charged with murder.

“It was the worst thing I’ve ever had to witness in my life, to watch a man die on television and for everyone to see it," said a demonstrator in Jacksonville. “No human should have to die this way.”

Streets in downtown Jacksonville filled with people who say they’ve had enough of officer-involved shootings. Marching and chanting, organizers emphasized having a peaceful protest with a message.

Ben Frazier, leader of the Jacksonville Northside Coalition, spearheaded one of the protests.

“While things have occurred in different cities far away from Jacksonville Florida, we think that Jacksonville has the very same issues,” Frazier told News4Jax on Friday. “We think the local administration, more precisely the sheriff, the mayor, the State Attorney’s Office have totally disregarded the feelings of the people of color in the city as it relates to releasing body cam video, for example.”

Members of the Northside Coalition said they believe this is one of the largest demonstrations since the Women’s March in 2019. The group told News4Jax it began leaving the protest around 4 p.m.

[UNCUT: Organizer of peaceful protest weighs in on violence that followed]

Other groups, however, continued protesting.

News4Jax crews spotted a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office cruiser with its front windshield smashed in and witnessed protesters throw water bottles at officers.

News4Jax crews spot a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cruiser with its front windshield smashed in during a Jacksonville demonstration in the national 'I Can't Breathe' Protests.
News4Jax crews spot a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cruiser with its front windshield smashed in during a Jacksonville demonstration in the national 'I Can't Breathe' Protests. (WJXT 2020)

As the protests continued, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office sprayed a crowd deterrent multiple times at protesters in the street.

News4Jax Crime and Safety Expert Ken Jefferson said officers use non-lethal deterrents such as tear gas to make crowds disperse. Large numbers of police officers blocked off multiple intersections and commanded crowds to move back.

News4Jax reporter Kelly Wiley said many people were carrying milk jugs to wash pepper spray out of people’s eyes. She also witnessed multiple arrests and one woman get pinned to the ground.

Sheriff Mike Williams and Mayor Lenny Curry spoke about the protests at 8:30 p.m. They said just after the 6:30 p.m., a group of about 200 people began confronting police, throwing water bottles and rocks and attempting to set police vehicles on fire.

Williams confirmed an officer had been stabbed in the neck by a group of rioters and is now in the hospital. The sheriff did not have an immediate update on the officer’s condition, but a source told News4Jax that the officer is recovering. Williams also said other officers were injured by rocks and bricks.

When asked if the city would implement a curfew, the sheriff and mayor said that was not something they were looking into at this time.

Williams said his biggest concern is “keeping the community safe and keeping our officers safe.” JSO’s focus shifting to the St. Johns Town Center where another demonstration is expected based on social media activity.

Mayor Curry emphasized that more than a thousand “law-abiding” citizens came out for a peaceful protest to have their voices heard, but a smaller group subsequently escalated the situation.

The mayor tweeted: “Many today peacefully made their voices clear for justice. We hear you and will work with you. But those who remain, causing damage and attacking first responders will not be tolerated.”

In Tallahassee, a pickup truck drove through an intersection where protesters were demonstrating, causing people to run screaming out of the way as the vehicle stopped and started and at one point had a person on its hood, according to witnesses and video posted on social media.

Tallahassee Mayor John E. Dailey tweeted later that the driver was taken into custody after hitting the crowd at a low rate of speed. He says no one was seriously injured.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


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