Peaceful protests in Dover splinter as night falls

A rally participant yells out the names of those who have been involved in controversial killings in front of Legislative Hall in Dover on Sunday.

DOVER — From word of mouth to social media, hundreds answered the call to have their voices heard in Delaware Sunday as protests over Minnesota resident George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer took place across the country.

And while the organized voices were largely peaceful, as evening approached a limited number of protestors created problems at the Dover Mall after moving from Legislative Hall to the Dover Police Department on Queen Street and then up U.S. 13. around 7 p.m.

Dover Police Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said Sunday night that police had regained control of the mall after a looting incident there. Video showed a door breached at the store Forever 21.

At  that time he said at least one person had been arrested for throwing rocks at a police car

Rumors circulated on social media of other damage but the scene was under control at 9:30 p.m. Cpl. Hoffman said the National Guard had not been called; “’It’s just Dover PD right now,” he said.

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen issued a curfew asking people to avoid the city for nonessential travel from 9 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday.

A rally participant holds a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign in front of Legislative Hall in Dover on Sunday.

“The group has been relatively peaceful in their protests,” Cpl. Hoffman said, noting that traffic had been disrupted on U.S. 13.

He said police were trying to “honor their rights and protect the life and property of everyone involved.”

A trash can was set on fire at a nearby shopping center and cars and motorcycles doing burnouts resulted in fire calls. 

Mayor Christainsen, in an email Sunday night, said he chose to enact his emergency powers because gatherings had turned violent.

“I believe in the First Amendment right of personal freedom of speech i.e. a peaceful demonstration. However today’s events went from a peaceful event to violence on the streets of our city. As mayor it is my responsibility to protect and maintain the public safety and well being of all of the citizens of our city. This evening as events unfolded, it was determined that it would be necessary to change tactics and issue an Emergency Declaration to provide for the public safety of our citizens and their property. Likewise in the interest of the safety of our community, a curfew has been placed in effect until further notice at the request of the Dover Police Department. These decisions were not made lightly but once again are in the interest of the safety of all of our citizens,” he said.

As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, Dover Police had entrances into Dover Mall blocked, citing protests. Delaware State Police troopers were on the scene and a municipal vehicle from Dewey Beach was seen.

Outside Legislative Hall Sunday afternoon, protesters gathered, where chants of “Black lives matter,” “no justice, no peace,” and “I can’t breathe,” were intermittent between speakers.

For Coray Williams it is important that black people are able to go out without fear of “being a hashtag,” he said.

“We have to get our voices heard,” Matthew Gore added. “It’s a must.”

Rallies Sunday, which included  approximately 35-40 who gathered in Middletown and another that drew several hundred in Seaford, began in the state in Wilmington Saturday, similar to those carried out in cities across the nation in response to Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last week.

Mr. Floyd’s arrest Monday was caught on camera and he could be heard saying “I can’t breathe” while a white officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Mr. Chauvin was charged Friday with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Sunday’s demonstration in Dover ran for hours, with the protesters having moved from the police station and Legislative Hall.

Donyale Hall, a candidate for lieutenant governor, joined the protesters after seeing a friend go live on Facebook at the event.

“I came down and found this group, talking about how we can raise our voices,” she said.

Protesters who spoke ran the gamut from students, to teachers, those from Delaware and outside the state.

“I saw what’s going on and it just infuriated me and I just wanted to come here, I wanted to see how everybody else was feeling and I just wanted to show up for my community,” Zoe Wilkins of Dover said.

Peter Omwenga, of Camden, and Lucas Mongare, of Bear, wanted to do the same.

“I wanted to show our support and stand with our people and stand against injustice,” Mr. Omwenga said. “I’m tired of standing back and watching what the police do. We want change. We don’t want trouble.”

Mr. Mongare hopes that the protest brings attention, and change.

“People will notice, and do what needs to be done,” he said.

“Police brutality is still happening. It doesn’t expire,” said Trescha Wilkins of Dover. “Protests don’t expire because they haven’t stopped. When they stop killing us, then we can stop doing this.”