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Watch Now: Protesters defy curfew; tear gas and rubber bullets used to disperse

Watch Now: Protesters defy curfew; tear gas and rubber bullets used to disperse

  • Updated

Law enforcement officers near the County-City Building in Lincoln arrested a handful of people Sunday night who defied a city curfew that began at 8 p.m.

About 150-200 people gathered near the state Capitol shortly after 10 p.m. chanting "Don't shoot" and "Hands up" as they faced off with officers, who periodically used tear gas and rubber bullets to try to disperse the crowds.

A Nebraska State Patrol helicopter and police drone hovered overhead as law enforcement and Nebraska National Guard members attempted to keep Sunday's protest from devolving into the violence and vandalism that marred two previous nights.

Mark Nielsen, who lives near County-City building, said the tone from the protesters was more peaceful on Sunday night than the night before, but the police response was swifter, stronger and in his view, uncalled for. 

"Tonight, the police are the aggressors," he said. 

Nielsen stood outside his home watching the protest, as he said tear gas had made its way inside his home and would not dissipate. While he condemned the property damage that occurred Saturday night, he said the police response caused him to lose faith in local law enforcement. 

"I felt unsafe last night," Nielsen said, "but now the people who are supposed to be protecting me are making me feel unsafe." 

Stacy Stabler followed protesters looking for her son. The curfew, she said, combined with escalating violence in the area, made her feel like the situation was unsafe, and she wanted to get him out of the area. 

"I'm going to pull him by his ear and tell him we're going home," she said. 

Riots in Lincoln the previous two nights mirrored those around the country over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was black and was handcuffed, died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, used his knee to pin down Floyd’s neck for several minutes while Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder in the death; the other officers have not been charged.

Dario Rossin, a 17-year-old Lincoln High student, said he was helping organize the protests because he and many others are tired of systemic racism and prejudice in this nation, which was highlighted by Floyd's death. 

Around 8:30 at the Capitol building, Rossin spoke calmly to officers along with other protesters. He reiterated through a megaphone repeatedly that the demonstration was to remain peaceful. 

Rossin said he intends to continue organizing protests every night in Lincoln until the four officers involved in Floyd's killing are convicted of first-degree murder. He said he thinks protesters will continue to meet at the Capitol in the evenings and then move through the city as they did Sunday. 

Earlier in the day, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird issued a state of emergency that was to end at 6 a.m. Monday. 

During the curfew, only people who had to go to work, seek medical attention or support law enforcement were allowed on public streets or to gather in public spaces. Many businesses made the decision to close early Sunday evening.

Sunday afternoon, thousands of people had gathered for a 90-minute rally that spilled beyond the steps of the Capitol, filling the street for a block in front of the Capitol and part of Centennial Mall, while other protesters lined 16th Street, where passing motorists honked and cheered.

The decision to impose a curfew, city officials said, was necessary to keep those who are lawfully gathering safe, to keep the city's streets safe and protect city staff and public and private property.

“The protesters in Lincoln over the past few days have largely been peaceful and respectful, and I fully support their calls for justice,” Gaylor Baird said in making the curfew announcement Sunday afternoon. “Last night, however, a smaller handful of people who apparently have other agendas committed terrible acts of destruction. 

“Violence in Lincoln is not acceptable. We will take the necessary steps to protect everyone in our community from harm, including our residents, our police and our peaceful protesters.”

Journal Star reporter Chris Dunker, who was providing coverage of the protests on the newspaper's Facebook page, was detained at about 9 p.m. by a Lancaster County Sheriff's deputy despite wearing an orange vest labeled "PRESS."

Dunker did not immediately identify himself by name to deputies. Lincoln Police, when asked earlier Sunday about press coverage after the curfew, said media members with proper identification would be allowed to cover events.

During the news conference announcing the curfew, Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said he hoped people would comply and they wouldn't need to issue citations or make arrests.

“We remain optimistic that there will not be the issues that we have seen in Lincoln, Nebraska, the last two nights, and hopefully this 10-hour window this one night will be able to provide us an opportunity to bring some peace.”

In a news release, Sheriff Terry Wagner applauded the mayor's decision "so our officers have a tool to deal with those criminals who seek to use the protest process to commit their crimes."

Law enforcement and the National Guard in Omaha also battled protesters Sunday night in Omaha who defied that city's state of emergency, which includes a nightly 8 p.m. curfew for 72 hours.

There, a protest Saturday night turned deadly when a private citizen shot a man to death in the city's Old Market area at about 11 p.m.

Omaha police are investigating the death of James Scurlock, a 22-year-old protester. Police said they arrested someone within the hour in connection with the shooting. 

In both cities, peaceful protests turned violent over recent nights, Gov. Pete Ricketts said, reaching alarming levels.

Speaking at Sunday's news conference in Omaha, Ricketts said residents and visitors to Omaha's Old Market "are scared to death."

Gaylor Baird said officials in Lincoln and Omaha will continue to work together in response to riots in both cities.

“The last thing we want is for us not having a curfew to send a signal that people should come to our city to bring violence and destruction,” Gaylor Baird said. “So we are looking to have a unified front to try to keep all of our residents of our two major cities as safe as possible, and that includes our protesters.”



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