Protesters chant at courthouse as Webster jury deliberates

DOVER — Marching in front of the courthouse and carrying signs calling for justice, protesters gathered Monday as jury deliberations resumed in the trial of Dover Cpl. Thomas Webster.

“What do we want?” a teenager chanted. “Justice!” others responded. “When do we want it?” “Now!”

Several dozen demonstrators, nearly all of them African-American, spent time at the Kent County Courthouse Monday throughout the day, while the jury met for nearly eight hours to discuss the case of a Dover police officer accused of kicking a black suspect in the face and breaking his jaw.

At least 15 men and women arrived by 9 a.m., and as the deliberations closed down after 4:30, some demonstrators were still on scene, calling for a guilty verdict.

Adults and teenagers gathered by the courthouse steps in the morning, with one protester holding a “Black Lives Matter” sign. Several others touted signs with a picture of Cpl. Webster’s face and the text “guilty” and “bad cops” surrounding it. Several people wore shirts calling for “justice now.”

There was no evidence of anyone at the courthouse visibly supporting Cpl. Webster, who is charged with assault in the Aug. 24, 2013 incident.

The protesters ranged from a former state prosecutor to a self-proclaimed backer of black nationalism.

The rally was peaceful, with capitol police in the background in case demonstrators became unruly or passersby tried to stop them from protesting.

Dover resident Abrianna Dyer, 14, said she and several of her friends and family were on scene “to protest bad cops.”

“To open people’s eyes that this is happening even in Dover and maybe get some more people out there once they realize that they’re not alone, so we can all protest together,” she said when asked her goal.

She took part in a demonstration Sunday outside the Dover Mall, trying to make an “economic threat,” she said.

“We were actually protesting about the same thing but actually hoping to shut down the money, the income, to the mall to kind of show that that reaction is a small part of what we can do (if justice isn’t met),” she said.

Citing other cases across the country, she speculated the jury would find Cpl. Webster not guilty, much to the dismay of the men and women at the courthouse Monday.

Dover resident Edward Johnson had a different outlook in the evening.

“I feel like justice will prevail,” he said. He described himself as hopeful the jury would reach a guilty verdict.

La Mar Gunn, president of the Central Delaware NAACP, said he could not make a prediction.

“I believe the prosecution did a fine job, and I’m surprised that it’s taken this long to come back with a guilty verdict, because any conscious American, having heard all the evidence, seen the video and lastly, witnessing the Hail Mary on behalf of the defense to claim this was an accident, he was aiming for his stomach and accidentally kicked him in the head?” he said. “That insults the intelligence of the jury and everyone in attendance.”

More than 30 people were at the courthouse at various points of the day, with several remaining for the full eight hours while the jury deliberated.

Protesters said most people passing by gave a signal of support, giving thumbs up or cheers of approval, although a few did display their middle fingers. One man who drove by stopped to ask the verdict.

While some protesters left during the day, they were reinforced by new arrivals.

Many attendees were surprised when no decision was reached by the end of the day.

In the evening, after court officials announced that deliberations would resume Tuesday, protesters gathered outside, trying to share their message once more.

Mr. Gunn urged them to show up again today and in larger numbers.

Even if the result is a hung jury, the protesters’ visibility could convince the state Department of Justice to pursue the case once more, he assured the crowd.

While he has strong feelings about the case, Mr. Gunn said he believes the most important thing is that a just and fair decision is reached.

“I understand the importance of this case and to get it right, and I think that’s fair for Officer Webster and all parties involved,” he said.

Mr. Gunn has attended every day of the trial.

Tyrone Kemet, of Dover, was among two dozen people standing outside as the courthouse closed and protesters gathered again to hold up signs and coordinate today’s efforts.

A supporter of the New Black Panther Party and Pan-African movement, Mr. Kemet carried a Pan-African flag and wore what he called a “tactical vest” and clothes he compared to the battle dress uniforms worn by members of the U.S. military.

“I fight for black liberation and freedom,” he said.

Several of those attending Monday said they believe there is a divide between the black community and the Dover Police Department but efforts have been made to bridge that gap.

Mr. Gunn commended Dover police officers for their response in working to build trust between the department and many traditionally marginalized members of the city.

“I think it’s a win already in that people have at least, you know, begun to pay attention to what’s fair and just for all people,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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