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Peaceful protests followed by looting in Dover

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

A group of protesters rallied around Legislative Mall and the Dover Police Department before the crowd grew and some people began to loot and cause damage to stores in Dover the evening of May 31.

This was in response to the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being arrested in Minneapolis. A white police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd was being held face down on the street. The Minneapolis officer has been charged with murder.

Master Corporal Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Dover Police Department, said police officers were present throughout the day and night, and most of the protests were peaceful.

“Outside of the traffic issues and that part of things, the majority of the crowd was relatively law- abiding,” he said. “It was a small percentage that took advantage of the situation and began looting and throwing rocks and water bottles.”

Hoffman gave the Dover Post a general timeline of how the protests happened May 31. The timing is approximate, and this story will be updated as more information becomes available.

What happened

  • Noon - A group of people met at Legislative Hall and began a peaceful protest with signs and calls for action. That group grew and headed to the Dover Police Department.
  • 1 p.m. - Protesters rallied around the police station, “expressing their views based on the current situations that we’re facing in the country today,” Hoffman said. It lasted about a half hour. Everyone was peaceful and law-abiding, he said.
  • 1:30 - 3 p.m. - Protesters returned to Legislative Mall and the downtown area. WDEL reported that organizer DeAndre Valentine broke up the protest after about three hours. “Me as a leader of that group, that peaceful protest group, I broke it up. We said what we had to say. Let this not be one day of our voice, but many days of our voice,” Valentine said in an interview with WDEL.
  • 5 p.m. - A crowd gathered again and came to the Dover Police Department with more people and cars around the station. “They were more heightened in emotions in front of the police department,” Hoffman said.

Protesters talked with Dover police officers in the back parking lot. They agreed to leave when police escorted them off the property, and no arrests were made. Hoffman said there were moments of unity, too: “We had people thank us and shake our hands,” he said.

After about 45 minutes, the protesters went back to the downtown area. A group went to the intersection of Route 13 and Division Street, and Dover police shut down that intersection and parts of the highway to keep drivers and protesters safe, Hoffman said.

  • 6 p.m. - Mayor Robin Christiansen declared a state of emergency and a curfew for the city. The curfew is from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. every night until further notice.

“While it is with every intent we support the First Amendment Right to protest, those rights end when violence and destruction imposes on the rights of their fellow citizens,” Christiansen said in a statement.

Hoffman clarified that Dover police can enforce the curfew, but the main purpose is to reduce traffic on roads and the amount of people out in the city. “It’s a great tool to ensure the safety of the whole city,” he said.

  • 7 p.m. - Protesters made their way north to the Dover Mall area. Police traveled with the crowds. They received reports of glass breaking and looting at Forever 21 and a sneaker store in the mall, which has not been identified yet.

“We were able to retake control of the mall relatively quickly,” Hoffman said.

The crowd that was in the Dover Mall parking lot then moved back onto the highway near the Lowe’s and Chick-Fil-A. A rally happened outside the Delaware State Police headquarters.

Master Corporal Melissa Jaffe said she has not received any reports of injuries. The Delaware State Police were assisting Dover police.

“There was a large Delaware State Police presence there last evening at our headquarters,” she said.

Meanwhile, some people broke glass and looted the Cricket Wireless store just south of the mall. People broke into the Home Depot and other stores, and the police will release more specific information on damages later.

Hoffman confirmed that one person was arrested for throwing rocks at a police car and another for stealing from Home Depot.

No police officers were injured, and no one has reported any injuries from the protests, Hoffman said. While the majority of protesters were peaceful, “there were parts that got very tense and downright ugly last night,” he said.

The Dover Police Department released a statement on Facebook June 1. Part of it read, “Moving forward, we are committed to working with gatherers who wish to exercise their First Amendment Rights in a lawful manner and holding important conversations with community leaders and our citizens about important issues involving the criminal justice system.

"We also would like to thank our law enforcement partners who came to assist us last night: Delaware State Police, Delaware State University Police, Dewey Beach Police, Milford Police Department, South Bethany Police Department, and Smyrna Police Department.

"Be safe, stay well, and spread a little kindness today and every day.”

Today’s press conference

The mayor hosted a press conference this afternoon, June 1, at City Hall. Police Chief Thomas Johnson, council members, state representatives and leaders from the NAACP and Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Dover and Vicinity were there.

Christiansen said a major reason the peaceful protests turned destructive was an influx of protesters who came into Dover from outside the city and state. He stood by his decision to issue a curfew and emergency declaration to protect all citizens.

“We are not going to tolerate family businesses, businesses that are owned by females, minorities or any business to be jeopardized,” he said. “Why should someone who is not from Dover, Delaware, come here and destroy someone’s dreams? It isn’t going to happen on my watch.”

Christiansen briefly mentioned a case where a Dover police officer resigned after he was charged for assaulting a black man in 2015. When asked if there is a review board to prevent something like George Floyd’s death from happening in Dover, he said the city and police have learned from the previous officer who used excessive force.

“I brought it to the public’s attention, [and] we took the appropriate action...to guarantee that the Dover Police Department was above and beyond reproach in the use of deadly force. We revamped the complaint forms, we have tracked deadly use of force,” he said. “At this point, we don’t need a review board. We self-police and that’s the way that it should be.”

The Rev. Rita Paige represented IMA and other clergy in the community. She said the city needs to focus on the youth and include them in the planning process.

“Young people feel as though they have no voice, that they have not been heard, that no one is listening to them,” she said. “They react in ways that we don’t want them to react. We try to teach love, respect and obedience, but yet, they are not experiencing that and not feeling as though they are having equal opportunities or receiving equal justice. Minneapolis proved that.”

Anne Smith, president of the Central Delaware NAACP, called for a review of the police department’s use of force, a ban on using a knee to hold someone down and transparency of police records that show repeated complaints against officers.

“I want to say to the citizens, to stand up, to tell the truth and to love. Step out on faith and good courage, and get involved in the community committees,” Smith said.

In an earlier interview, Councilman David Anderson, 4th district, said he hopes future protests and activism would happen in partnership with city leadership.

“Dover does things right,” Anderson said. “We know how to have adult conversations in Dover. We will keep both freedom and dignity to speak up in our city. We will keep order and protect our citizens, and people can have faith in that.”

To get involved, Christiansen said anyone can call the mayor’s office at 736-7005.