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Journalist among protestors detained in Camden

A group of activists in Delaware have been charged with disorderly conduct after a ninth day of Black Lives Matters protesting along Rt. 13.

By Jennifer Antonik

Out of a group of about 40 protestors, 22 were taken into custody by police including a minor and an African American Gannett journalist who was reporting on the event. Most of the individuals arrested were detained for up to 11 hours starting around 6:30 p.m. while friends, family members and supporters waited for them in the driveway of Delaware State Police Troop 3. Armed officers, a SWAT team in riot gear and mounted officers blocked entry to the station.

According to the Delaware State Police, the incident began within the city limits of Dover when about 40 protestors entered onto the highway, both southbound and northbound. In a press release, police explain that the group “began acting aggressively toward motorists and resulting in all lanes of travel blocked by the protestors.”

The press release also states, “The individuals were advised multiple times by law enforcement officers the protest was not lawful because it was obstructing traffic and to exit the roadway and move to the shoulder.”

Eyewitness accounts

Live videos depicting the Tuesday night event on the Dover Post’s Facebook page from reporter Andre Lamar show marchers were blocking traffic along the highway. Videos found on the pages of individuals involved in the protest display the same.

Many of the protestors were marching peacefully during the event, holding signs and chanting. Two protestors had guns with them hanging over their shoulders, citing Delaware’s open carry law. A couple of protestors could be seen yelling at police officers in various videos, visibly angry about current events seen around the country like the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Tuesday night’s event was not unlike protests from night’s prior which could also be seen in Lamar’s live videos on Dover Post’s Facebook page.

There was an increased police presence Tuesday evening compared to previous protests in the same area, including a SWAT vehicle and officers from multiple jurisdictions – Camden, Smyrna, Clayton, Middletown and Delaware State Police, according to protester Donna Jackson.

“It was a lot. They were suited up like they was ready for war. They planned it,” she said referring to an order from the Attorney General given to police officers that day to stop protestors who block roads. “It was a coincidence that a lot of our leaders got arrested. It’s coincidence. They got our leaders.”

A press released from the Dover Police Department Wednesday, June 10, confirmed a call with the Attorney General’s office, stating, “In collaboration with Delaware State Police operations for Kent and Sussex counties, a conference call was held at 4 p.m. on June 9th with senior level members of the State’s Attorney General’s Office. The purpose of this call was to clearly define the applicable laws that could be utilized to ensure public safety for all. It also included specific discussion of supported enforcement actions should circumstances again present themselves that posed a risk to safety and verbal warnings proved to be ineffective. For consistency, DSP and Dover PD agreed ahead of time to work collaboratively to enforce the same set of standards given certain articulable circumstances that would drive enforcement decisions.”

Lamar’s first live video feed of Tuesday’s event ended by displaying officers who were seen monitoring the crowd silently. Some officers seemingly ignored protestors as a few yelled in their faces. One officer expressed that he understood what protestors were saying and walked away from any possible confrontations.

“It’s a little bit tense right now, the protestors and the police,” Lamar said on his live video during Tuesday’s protest. “The situation is a little tense, but it’s not violent. So, that’s that.”

The arrests

His live feed cuts out at this point. Protestors who witnessed the event say officers began separating the protestors up into smaller groups, starting with the two carrying weapons. One protestor said they were given an order to move out of the road, however, not all demonstrators heard the call. They say protestors did start moving off the road at this point.

Protestors and their supporters say officers threw some of their peers onto the ground to place them under arrest. It was reported by the mother of one protestor that his glasses were broken during the arrests; the sister of another protestor reported that her family member was hit in the jaw by an officer.

Dahlia Bracy, sister of Adalia Bracy who was arrested Tuesday night, said, “I’m angry. I’m furious. I cried when I heard the news. I cried on my here. I’ve been crying since I’ve been standing here. I’m about to cry right now. Like, y’all assaulted my sister and she wasn’t doing anything. You made her bleed. You chin-checked her. She fell flat on her back bleeding. Then you just throw her in jail? When she didn’t do anything? I’m furious.”

Activists could be heard all night giving their sides of the story from outside of Troop 3 while they waited for their friends and family members to be released.

“A group [of police officers], they surrounded us on 13. The people you see out now [supporters outside Troop 3] was actually in the road. The people that are in Troop 3, they were not in the road. They got pushed to the grass and knocked down, kicked at by the police and forearms in their face,” protestor Chrissy Blake said. “The police all lined up so you couldn’t see them beating on them in the back. They did not touch no police officers.”

The press release from the Dover Police Department states, “While individuals were confrontational at times, we are not aware of any injuries to any person during the arrest actions on or near the highway.  Despite some unlawful protestors resisting arrest in varying degrees, no Dover Police officer actually used pepper spray, gas, batons, Tasers or any other tool or instrument to make arrests.”

Lamar’s next live video shows some of the protestors on the ground in the grass in front of police officers. The reporter found himself on the ground shortly after he asked police why others were being arrested.

Drone footage released by the Dover Police Department shows his arrest from the air. Once an officer saw him rooting through his camera bag, the officer charged at Lamar who attempted to get up. The officer was quickly joined by three other officers as Lamar was tackled to the ground. In Lamar’s live video, he can be heard shouting, “I’m with the press! I’m with the press.” According to the press release, Lamar was not wearing press credentials at the time. However, Lamar has been heard on video saying they ripped his press badge off.

The minor in custody was released within hours of being detained; Lamar was released after being in police custody for about three hours. Bracy and other protestors wouldn’t be released for hours to come.

Delaware Governor John Carney released the following statement on Twitter after hearing the news of Lamar’s circumstances, saying, “Reporters have a fundamental right to cover the demonstrations we’re seeing in Delaware and across our country. They should not be arrested for doing their jobs. That’s not acceptable.”

Upon his release, an officer in the lobby of Troop 3 directed Lamar to leave the building and go outside “with the rest of the press.”

Activists through and through

20 protestors remained inside the Delaware State Police building. Lamar said those in police custody, including himself and the minor prior to their release, were detained with one hand each shackled to a wall. Each activist was questions by police about their current and future protest activity among other questions and given arraignments by video, they said when they were released.

Four of the protestors were finally released around 5:15 a.m. The rest were released closer to 6 and 6:30 a.m., nearly 12 hours after they were detained by police. Officers told the press during the event that they were ordered to not comment.

In spite of how the evening turned out, activists and their supporters vowed to continue protesting after the arrests, chanting throughout the night, “Every day.”

The younger Bracy added, “All you did was, you just threw some people in jail. But, while they’re sitting there, are you listening to their demands? What we wanted? Why we’re out here protesting? Are you listening to that? Are you thinking, okay, let me call the higher ups? I don’t think they’re going to quit so how about we just give them what they want which is human rights? The right to live? The right to be black and still be able to live? Are they listening to that? Probably not. But that’s what I hope that happens after tonight.”

To that end, some leaders are taking notice to the protests happening all over the state.

Wednesday afternoon in a pre-planned press conference, Delaware’s Black Caucus announced the introduction of SB 191 which would amend Article I of the Delaware Constitution relating to equal rights to add race, color, or national origin. They also announced more bills under their 2020 Justice for All agenda which seeks to address other inequities inherently found in the system to begin leveling the playing field for people of all races.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester said during that press conference, “This is beyond just policing. The issues we are dealing with are deep and ingrained. They are foundational for our country. In order for us to have that strong foundation, we need to dig deep.”

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