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Peaceful Protest over Police Brutality with People of Color Turns Destructive in Downtown Syracuse

Chris Bolt/WAER News

Peaceful protests in downtown Syracuse over police treatment of black individuals turned violent Saturday night.  Vandals broke windows of several downtown stores as police amassed on streets and in front of some businesses.  Police officers in riot gear and armored police vehicles took to Syracuse streets o control a crowd that swelled from several hundred people at the justice center to more than a thousand running around downtown streets. 

The protest over the death of George Floyd started as a peaceful gathering and march to decry police treatment of people of color on State Street downtown.

The demonstrations mirrored others in more than two dozen other states protesting the death of George Floyd in Minnesota after an officer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes during an arrest.  The officer, Derek Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges in the incident. 

The protest started downtown with a gathering of hundreds, carrying sings and making speeches against police treatment of people of color.  They crowded State Street and stopped traffic.  The group then proceeded toward the North Side and South Side of the city.  Police tried to ward off looting and vandalism by barricading off certain businesses, including Destiny USA Mall. 

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Police were out in force, many in riot gear, standing in front of businesses to protest against looting and damage.

Local resident Sakia Latoya Daye addressed the growing crowd in the evening, saying they were not just protesting the death of George Floyd.

“As a people, we need equality.  We need self-sufficiency.  We need better paying jobs, better housing.”

She added praise for the protestors, which turned out to be premature.

“…in the 3-1-5 tonight, we proved to the whole world that you could have a peaceful protest.”

Toward evening the protest of people turned into chaos on downtown Syracuse roadways with hundred of cars honking horns, while people, restless from weeks of stay-at-home orders, ran through the streets.  Police sirens could be heard until midnight as they responded to people breaking windows of business, overturning trashcans and planters, and damaging other property.

Credit Chris Bolt/WAER News
Honking cars, motorcycles and other vehicles driving on sidewalks, and hundreds of people created gridlock along Salina Street.

At one point, vandals broke windows in the Syracuse Police Department Headquarters.  Officers from police departments in Geddes, Camillus, Dewitt, Onondaga County and state troopers all amassed downtown to try and keep the growing protests non-violent and to protect property.  Police took to social media to dissuade protestors from damage. Business owners, finding out about damage at their businesses, were told to stay away as downtown streets were gridlocked and tensions remained high.  

Around midnight, Mayor Ben Walsh issued a statement to th city and the protestors in particular.

"Like other cities around the nation, Syracuse is the site of protests and anger tonight regarding the killing of George Floyd," said Walsh in a statement. "I share their outrage and support the peaceful actions they engaged in throughout the afternoon and evening. Late tonight, some protestors turned more aggressive and dangerous despite urging otherwise from most of those involved."



Walsh's statement continued,  "I ask all participants to stop any actions that risk their safety and that of our City and to disband. My commitment is firm to strengthen and improve police community relations and ensure equitable law enforcement in the City of Syracuse. We can emerge from this national crisis stronger than ever.”

This copy has been updated to correct the spelling of Chauvan to Chauvin.