Editor’s note: This article and headline were updated Thursday with information from news reports about instances of vandalism that took place at the protest, as well as Durham Mayor Steve Schewel’s remarks.
Cries of “Say her name, Breonna Taylor!” rang outside the Durham police department headquarters, where more than 100 protesters, dressed in black, congregated in front of the building.
“No justice, no peace! Abolish the police!” they chanted.
Some clutched cardboard signs, while others carried a large cloth banner that read: “Cops and Klan go hand in hand.” A few feet away was the word “DEFUND,” blocked in large yellow letters with arrows pointing to the police headquarters. In the distance, red and blue lights from two police cars punctured the dark.
The Wednesday night protest came after the news that a grand jury had indicted only one of three Louisville police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in March. That officer was charged with wanton endangerment for firing into a neighboring apartment. Protests have sprung up across the country, from Portland to Manhattan.
In a Thursday press conference, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said that at least 13 instances of vandalism were reported at Wednesday’s protest, according to The News & Observer.
The vandalism included a broken glass door at the entrance to American Tobacco and trash cans set on fire, according to WRAL. ABC11 reported that several windows of businesses were broken, and “revenge” and “burn it down” were spray painted on the windows of the police headquarters on East Main Street.
“The folks that were inflicting the damage last night were white; I just want to be really clear about that,” Schewel said at the press conference, calling the incidents “an attempt to co-opt a racial justice movement” that is “not something that we can accept.
The Durham protest began around 7:45 p.m. at the city’s main plaza. As the group marched from the plaza to City Hall, a person with a megaphone led them in chanting and a helicopter circled above.
Most of the protesters marched on foot, holding signs that read, “Criminal justice is a lie” and “We keep us safe.” Others cycled. In the rear of the group, some protesters pulled trash cans, construction cones or electric scooters from the sidewalk to obstruct traffic.
Police cars trailed the protesters, but officers never got close. After the protesters moved on, officers could be seen removing the objects from the road.
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A police officer clears an electric scooter blocking the road, left behind by protesters, on Wednesday night.
Around 8:20 p.m., the protesters had made it past city hall and neared the police headquarters. They passed the huge yellow letters on the street that spelled “FUND,” pointing to the Durham County Human Services building.
At the headquarters, the protesters continued chanting and milling about in front of the building. Behind them, families popped out of their houses to record the scene on their phones. A group of five small children huddled together as they pointed and stared.
Eventually the protesters left, moving in the direction of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
A few people wore green hats instead of black clothing. These were volunteer legal observers from the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association that seeks to document interactions between police and protesters and to provide legal protection to the latter.
Both protesters and police remained peaceful throughout the evening. Some in the group occasionally stopped to hammer on storefronts, sometimes leaving shattered glass.
Olisa Corcoran, 52, said she joins protests whenever she sees helicopters circling in the sky—a telltale sign that a protest is happening. Protesting gives her hope that change is possible through a united effort, she said.
“It's a lot of people that feel the same way. There's some comfort in seeing other people that feel like you do. Because most of the messages are that it's very divided,” she said.
Protesters march by Durham City Hall on Wednesday night.
It wasn’t just Black people who turned out Wednesday night, she noted: “Look out here, tons of white people yelling.”
Corcoran said she’s not worried about catching the coronavirus while protesting, and nor is she worried about damaged property.
“People knocking down, breaking stuff, I don’t care,” she said. “That’s so much less important than the rest of the world.”