Dover mayor says curfew remains but ‘on a voluntary basis’

DOVER — The curfew and state of emergency that have been put in place by Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen on the city of Dover is not expected to be lifted anytime soon.

The orders were set by Mayor Christiansen on May 31, a day after peaceful protesting in Dover during the daytime turned volatile that night, with people smashing windows and looting some stores at the Dover Mall and along U.S. 13, including a Cricket Wireless store.

There was also a standoff that evening with troopers near Delaware State Police Headquarters in North Dover after the group moved away from the mall.

The protests in Dover have been taking place in response to the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

However, since that first night of protesting in Dover, protesters have demonstrated nearly daily with no incidents on police record.

Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. asked the mayor during the meeting of Dover City Council on Monday night “if there was a time frame for when the curfew is going to be lifted or what it is contingent upon.”

Mayor Christiansen responded, “We evaluate that based on peacefulness of the demonstrations and also on intel that’s provided to myself and (Dover Police) Chief (Tom Johnson) and it’s all based on what’s in the best interest of public safety of all of our citizens.

“I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to answer that question because if you go to the city website there are questions and answers about the scope of the curfew. It is a rather liberal curfew. It doesn’t inhibit business. It doesn’t suggest that any businesses are closed. It doesn’t curtail liquor stores from being open, or any other businesses.

“Blocking off the streets or the denial of public transportation is a tool that’s been put in place at this point in time for the safety of all our citizens.”

The citywide curfew lasts from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. each day but Mayor Christiansen said it is a very liberal policy.

“I have to say that unlike the (COVID-19) pandemic quarantine, (the curfew is) not mandatory. It’s really on a voluntary basis,” he said. “It’s put in place not to curtail the God-given right of our citizens (to protest), but to provide for their public safety.

“No one is restricted from their movement. Businesses can use their discretion. People who are going about their business are not going to be bothered by the curfew.”

Dover City Councilmen Ralph Taylor and David Anderson — who, along with Mr. Sudler make up Dover’s three African-American city councilmen — told the mayor they have been appreciative of Dover Police Chief Johnson’s handling of the protests, several of which have spilled out onto U.S. 13 and disrupted traffic.

“I want to thank Chief Johnson for highly effective leadership during the protests,” Councilman Taylor said. “Your leadership style displays strength and compassion in a very tumultuous time. You’re a godsend. It was exactly what the city needed, and we pray for the continued success.”

Councilman Anderson agreed that the officer, some of whom have even joined the protesters during their marches, have been respectful and done a great job.

“I also want to thank Chief Johnson and the Dover police for doing a great job as well as these citizens who want to engage in their community, and we look forward to constructive engagement.”

Gov. John Carney addressed the protests Tuesday during his twice-weekly media briefing on coronavirus. He said most Delaware protests, of which he estimated there have been about 20, have gone smoothly. Gatherings in Dover and Wilmington did devolve into rioting and looting but the events have otherwise been peaceful and respectful, he said.

Although many people feel a well-deserved sense of anger and desire for change, they should remember coronavirus has not gone away, Gov. Carney urged. Participants should take care to wear face coverings and avoid getting to close to others to limit the spread.

He also noted he has no plans to defund law enforcement at this time, saying police play an important role in keeping communities safe.

Staff writer Matt Bittle contributed to this report.