Perspectives: WANE 15 reporters reflect on day two of downtown protests

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — As Fort Wayne protests spurred by the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd continued on Saturday, WANE 15 provided team coverage of the situation throughout the day.

Although several crews reported on the protest downtown throughout the day, two crews remained late Saturday evening.

WANE 15’s Britt Salay first arrived downtown around 1:00 pm to cover a press conference held by church leaders in the area urging people to protest peacefully after Friday night protests left some downtown businesses with damage. The men who spoke urged protestors to stay peaceful and respectful of city property but also asked those not protesting to understand that there is a lot of anger in the country right now.

Protestors started trickling on to the Allen County Courthouse lawn, around 30 minutes ahead of the planned start time of 2:00 pm. According to Salay, although hundreds of protestors came out, it seemed to be contained to the courthouse lawn. She reported seeing signs many signs, some that read “I can’t breathe”, “White supremacy is terrorism”, and “Black Lives Matter”. At some point, police began shutting down Main and Clinton Streets, preventing any cars from driving past the protestors, people began walking in street and on the sidewalk going east on Main St. to get to a road with cars driving by.

After protestors went around the block, Clinton St. was opened back up and people continued protesting from the sidewalks and the courthouse lawn until just before 5:00 pm, when people started stepping into the streets. The situation continued to escalate until all lanes of Clinton between Main and Berry Sts. were shut down. It was at this point that the first tear gas cannisters were deployed.

From then, people dispersed but many started making their way to the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge further up on Clinton St. At first, it was quiet compared to the situation that led up to the tear gas. People sat in the street with their signs while others stood and shared messages of change. However, a large group of other protestors made their way to the bridge as well.

Eventually, people started breaking off into smaller groups and making their way back to the center of the city. Salay and WANE 15’s J.R. Carmichael and Chris Darby stayed east of Clinton as people attempted to make their way back to the area of the courthouse and Citizens Square. It became a cycle of quiet moments followed by cars honking, people chanting and shouting, and then more tear gas drops. Wind would push the tear gas as much as a block away from the drop site.

The crew, now just Carmichael and Salay, walked to the Wendy’s near Jefferson Blvd. and Clinton St. where they saw that one of the windows had been smashed out. They did not notice any other visible damage to that building or others as they continued west but did see police arresting a man a couple of blocks away.

Salay said the group sizes continued to shrink as short boom sounds seemed to become more frequent. At one point, she and Carmichael attempted to meet up with WANE 15’s Breann Boswell and Colton Howard over by the Jimmy John’s restaurant at Calhoun and Wayne Sts., but as they were walking across One Summit Square, officers began deploying several tear gas canisters, some which landed just feet away from protestors and the reporters. Salay and Boswell both reported seeing a flash of red light as well, but could not identify the source any further than saying it was not police lights.

Salay and Carmichael retreated with the crowd until they found a quiet area to take a break, but after a few minutes of sitting on the curb, a tear gas canister landed right at their feet. Salay said the effects from this canister were far worse than the others she had encountered because of the close proximity, and that she could barely keep her eyes open to run away from it.

At the same time on the other side of Calhoun, Boswell and Howard were experiencing the effects of tear gas that had been thrown. Boswell said crowds on the street had been gassed about six times. It was impossible for her to talk and breathe. Loud booms kept ringing out and at the time Boswell couldn’t depict what exactly those were.

As Boswell and Howard reported on Wayne St. they witnessed a female holding a sign stating “Black Lives Matter” standing up to multiple police officers who were making attempts to send her home. She walked backward for the length of a block holding her sign as police attempted to get her off the streets. 

Crowds dispersed from Wayne Street but began to gather off of Calhoun. Multiple officers arrived and quickly exited the van and arrested a female. Another female was thrown to the ground and arrested by officers while she was crying and pleading to not be arrested. At this point in time officers were pointing gas at bystanders telling them to go home or they would be arrested. Both of these females did not resist their arrest. As these arrests were taking place, bystanders and people who were driving on the street were throwing water bottles at the scene.

A group of people who witnessed this began following around Boswell and Howard with the hope that being with the news, the cops would not make threats. People were hiding behind and grabbing Boswell attempting to protect themselves as she was giving live reports of what was going on.

After this situation dispersed, Boswell and Howard then walked to Jefferson Blvd. and Clinton St. where tear gas was once again being set off by officers. At the corner of the street, four females were sitting on the curb in handcuffs. Multiple cars were passing by honking and screaming out their windows and holding out their fists. Protesters gathered to witness these females in custody. 

While they were there, they spoke to someone who said from their experience Saturday, the situation had died down from earlier in the evening. The witness also stated that he hoped this would go on for as long as it needed to. While the interview was going on police officers dispersed the scene by proclaiming from their vehicles that “you need to be dispersed and go home or you will be arrested.” Bystanders were anticipating tear gas again, so they left for another location. 

At this point, both crews made the decision to go to locations on opposite sides of the city, with less commotion to wrap up coverage and prepare for Nightcast. Loud booms could be heard leading up their live reports, with Salay reporting things quieted down on the east side of town while Boswell said the booms and shouting continued as she left the area.

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