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Attorneys, state leaders denounce arrests of Floyd protesters in Camden

Isabel Hughes
Delaware News Journal
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Several Delaware officials and First Amendment advocates denounced the arrests of Dover-area demonstrators who were protesting the death of George Floyd Tuesday evening, calling police actions “very concerning.”

A Dover Post reporter who was covering the protests was detained, but was later released without being charged. Police said the protesters who were arrested had been “disorderly.”

The protests began inside Dover city limits Tuesday afternoon, but by about 6:15 p.m., demonstrators had made their way to the Route 13 Wawa in Camden, police said.

BACKGROUND: Gannett reporter detained covering protest in Dover

There, protesters blocked traffic and walked between cars, according to both police and Andre Lamar, the reporter who was detained. The Dover Post is part of the USA Today network and owned by Gannett, Delaware Online/The News Journal’s parent company.

Lamar said there was a larger-than-normal police presence Tuesday night, and while there was “some friction” between protesters and officers, the protest had remained largely peaceful until police began detaining people.

He said he didn’t see what led to the first arrest, but was walking further up Route 13 with demonstrators when he suddenly heard several people shouting that “someone was getting arrested or something.”

The group then began running toward where they had marched from, he said.

“The group runs back and it was kind of like a big melee and then I saw protesters just getting taken down by police and they were getting slammed down to the ground, women were getting slammed down to the ground,” Lamar said. “People were having their arms twisted behind their backs like pretzels, they were just getting jerked really hard.”

Delaware State Police said Wednesday that the protesters were “acting aggressively” toward drivers on Route 13, but failed to elaborate on what exactly those actions were.

Police also said the protesters were told “multiple times” Tuesday night that the protest was “not lawful because it was obstructing traffic” and were ordered to get off the road and move onto the shoulder.

For days, however, demonstrators have marched along Route 13 as part of their protests, Lamar said. Protesters who marched in Wilmington demonstrations last week also blocked traffic on Interstate 95 several times during their marches.

In those instances, Delaware State Police shut down I-95 while the protesters walked the highway. Neither of those marches resulted in arrests.

Police said the Tuesday night rally “escalated, with protesters becoming disorderly.” They then reportedly “refused to allow a Dover Police officer in a marked police vehicle to proceed through. Once the officer exited the patrol car, individuals became disorderly.”

Police did not specify what “disorderly” meant, but Lamar said he did not see anyone become violent.

“They’re not assaulting anyone nor are they striking property, but they are disruptive to people’s focus, and sometimes they’ll go to the middle of Route 13 and lay on their belly for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — how long it was for George Floyd that the (Minneapolis) officer kneeled on his neck,” Lamar said.

Lamar said once officers began detaining people, he questioned why they were being handcuffed and zip-tied. That was when he was shoved to the ground and handcuffed, while he screamed multiple times that he was a journalist.

A Facebook Live that Lamar was recording on the Dover Post home page ends with officers confiscating his press badge and a camera bag.

In total, police said 22 people were detained, including Lamar and several minors. State police said “several” people were arrested, but did not answer The News Journal’s inquiry about exactly how many people were charged and with what.

When asked for more detail, police said only that “a follow up release will be forthcoming.” It took the agency more than 12 hours to release initial information.

A tweet issued just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday morning gave no detail about what happened, but asked for “the public’s patience” as police “continue this investigative process.”

A handful of officials weighed in on the arrests and Lamar being detained Tuesday night, including Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings, who denounced the incident.

“I’ve been clear with law enforcement that I do not believe civil disobedience should be treated criminally and that peaceful protesters should not be harmed,” she said.

“People have a right to free speech and to peaceable assembly in this country and our goal – regardless of their message or their ideology – is to ensure that they can exercise that right safely. Period.”

The Delaware Department of Justice said it could not comment because the department is “still getting the facts.”

Mike Brickner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, said the arrests were “very concerning.”

“We’ve had over a week of mostly peaceful protests and these individuals were exercising their First Amendment rights,” he said. “Of course, you don’t have the right to block a public thoroughfare, but we’ve had many other protests that have gone down highways, and the police have been very respectful of the protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.”

Last month, protesters shut down I-95 in Wilmington in a series of protests in response to the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota.

He added that while Tuesday’s protesters may not have had a legal right to block traffic, “it’s important to remember that what is legal is not always what is just.”

Wilmington attorney Thomas Neuberger, a longtime civil liberties and human rights advocate, agreed.

“If you can block I-95 in Wilmington and have the protesters stop traffic there, they should be able to (on Route 13),” Neuberger said. “These arrests seem to be blatantly illegal and this is a mark of tyranny.”