FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Several hundred activists gathered in downtown Fort Wayne Friday afternoon to protest in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Fort Wayne Police fired gas to disperse the crowd. Saturday morning during a press conference police reported that 29 people were arrested during the protests.
Friday’s protest began around 5 p.m. and many held signs calling for justice, with other signs saying “Make Racists Afraid Again” and “Black Lives Matter.”
The protest was peaceful, and mainly contained to the courthouse lawn and sidewalk along Clinton Street. By 6:30 p.m., protesters blocked traffic on Clinton Street and began marching toward Superior Street. The group reached the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge by 7 p.m.
Around 8 p.m., police fired gas into the crowd. Protesters scattered, some falling to the ground. WANE 15’s Dirk Rowley and Chris Darby and a photojournalist were struck.
There was no police presence for most of the protest until that point.
At 9 p.m., Fort Wayne Police asked residents to avoid the downtown area until further notice.
Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry issued the following statement in response to the activity:
“Our country and community are hurting as a result of the passing of George Floyd. It’s a terrible tragedy for our society. Mr. Floyd’s death did not need to happen, and we pray tonight for his family and the many others who’ve faced injustices.
The City of Fort Wayne respects the rights of individuals to participate in peaceful demonstrations. Tonight’s demonstration in downtown Fort Wayne began peacefully. As the demonstration moved along, it began to get more aggressive and the safety of the public was being put at risk. The Fort Wayne Police Department ultimately had to respond in a manner to protect the public’s safety.
It’s vital that we come together united as a city that cares about one another and supports each other. That’s what we’ve been committed to in an effort to make Fort Wayne the best city possible. Now more than ever we need to respectfully and peacefully engage in productive dialogue and understanding as we grieve together, knowing that we can have better days ahead of us.“
A Fort Wayne Police spokeswoman said earlier Friday the department did not anticipate violence at the local protests, which has been the case at protests in Minneapolis and Louisville. Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena said the department recognizes it’s every citizen right to peacefully assemble and protest.
She says plans are in place if something happens, but she does not believe officers will have to intervene. She credits much of that to the community relations between officers and residents.
“You know we have, always have contingency plans for emergencies, in case things got out of hand. But we’ve always found the citizens of this community have always worked with us. We don’t anticipate this will be anything different than that. We’re going to continue to foster those working relationships with community members of this community. And hopefully we can get through this and move forward.”
A second is scheduled to be held Saturday at 2 p.m., also on the courthouse lawn.