Fort Wayne Police Chief reflects on ‘historic’ week of protests

15 Finds Out

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The death of Georgle Floyd in Minnesota has sparked outrage, anger and unrest nationwide.  Demonstrations were held across the country, including Fort Wayne.

At times tensions were high between police officers and protesters, especially Friday and Saturday, as demonstrators took their message to city streets and blocked traffic on Clinton Street.

Fort Wayne Police Chief Steve Reed talked exclusively with 15 Finds Out Investigator Angelica Robinson as he reflected on a week of historic demonstrations.

Protests began in Minneapolis following the killing of Floyd on May 26. A video recording shows officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police Department kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes.

Floyd can be heard repeatedly telling the officers that he could not breathe.

“I’m disgusted by it,” said Reed. “And so are my officers.”

Floyd’s death has, once again, put a spotlight on the strained relationship between police officers and the black community. 

“That strained relationships across the country,” Reed said. “That very evil act that was perpetuated against Mr. Floyd.”

In Fort Wayne hundreds gathered to call for an end to racial injustice. Demonstrations began Friday and continued throughout the weekend and into the week. Reed said what started as a peaceful demonstration intensified. 

“It’s a nationwide movement and people here in Fort Wayne wanted to show their support,” he said. “The protest grew. It grew rather large, then without warning folks flooded the streets, into traffic, stopping traffic.”

Reed said he initially sent members of Fort Wayne’s Ten Point Coalition to calm the crowd. When that didn’t work, about 100 police officers were deployed Friday as demonstrations took a turn for the worse.

“Our team was put out there to try to keep individuals safe,” said Reed. “Especially the folks in traffic along with the peaceful protesters.” 

Officers used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse the crowd. Tensions rose, leading to clashes with police, broken storefront windows and some injuries.

“They did not want to have to do that,” said Reed. “They tried [to control the crowd] by other means as I described. We were not successful.”

 Some believe the tear gas escalated the situation.  Some demonstrators sustained injuries along with police officers, Reed said.

“It’s very difficult, especially when [officers] are getting hit with rocks and water bottles and eventually we were hit with large fireworks,” he said. “Friday night we got things settled. It started again Saturday. Finally got that under control. Then Sunday appeared to be a different day.”

Protesters could be seen having conversations with police officers, peaceful demonstrations were held in front of the Allen County Courthouse, and at one point the group could be heard singing “Amazing Grace.”

Reed said he and the Fort Wayne Police Department are in support of peaceful protesting. Although he believes the department has made significant strides in community relations, the chief acknowledges that there is still work to be done.  

“We have to realize why some individuals and or groups have a mistrust of the police and we have to work on that,” he said. “We have been doing that through our community relations division. We are working on understanding why someone may view police in a certain way… move past it and work together. And teaching officers the way to [use force] and why and how we use force if we have to.”

As a nation works to repair broken relationships between officers and minority communities, Reed said he is confident that Fort Wayne will come out of this better in the end.

“Fortunately, here we have strong relationships so we are going to be able to move forward,” he said. Other places I think are going to work harder to get back to that. And we’re going to work hard too.”

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