Looting, fires in major NC cities after protests

Demonstrators in downtown Raleigh, N.C. Saturday, May 30, 2020, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody on Memorial Day in Minneapolis.(Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

RALEIGH — Protests in major cities across North Carolina turned violent over the weekend and Gov. Roy Cooper said he was “frustrated” by the violence that resulted in fires, massive property damage and looting. More than 1,000 people marched in downtown Raleigh on Saturday night, some breaking windows as police in riot gear released tear gas and pepper spray to disburse the crowds. In Fayetteville, rioters lit fire to the National historical landmark Market House and attempted to loot the Cross Creek Mall. In Charlotte, protests continued for a second night with police arresting 13 and protestors breaking windows and setting trash cans on fire in the street. 

Fireworks explode as police in riot gear protect the courthouse during a protest, Saturday, May 30, 2020, in Raleigh, N.C., as people nationwide protested the Memorial Day death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

In Raleigh, Spectrum News showed video of large groups of people in front of the Wake County Courthouse and near the State Capitol, some walking with signs, others on bikes and skateboards to protest the killing of George Floyd, a black man in Minneapolis who died after a police officer pressed his knee on his neck during an arrest. 

Protesters gathered in the late afternoon marching north from the courthouse chanting, “No Justice, No Peace.” After nightfall as some people threw rocks at windows and spray-painted anti-police slogans on walls.

Fayetteville Street was the focus of most of the vandalism with multiple buildings along the street having windows broken out and some of the throngs entered retail establishments like CVS Pharmacy and Kimbrell’s furniture store. Local news broadcasts showed looters attempting to break nearly every first floor window along Raleigh’s main street. 

In this photo provided by Melissa Sue Gerrits of The Carolina Public Press, people protest at the historic Market House, Saturday, May 30, 2020. The Market House was built in 1832. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Carolina Public Press via AP)

In Fayetteville, protestors marched, lit fires and clashed with police. After protestors lit fire to the historic Market House, a downtown Fayetteville landmark, one of the participants also caught himself on fire. Police responded to Cross Creek Mall as looters entered the JC Penny store. 

In a late night tweet, Gov. Roy Cooper said he was “in continuing contact with Emergency Management leaders about violence occurring in some of our cities.” He said said it is “Frustrating that planned peaceful protests about real systemic racism are marred. I am grateful for those seeking justice peacefully.”

The demonstrations in Raleigh and Fayetteville came a day after protesters in Charlotte broke into stores, kicked and stomped on police cars and engaged in confrontations that led to multiple arrests.

News outlets report that protests in the Charlotte on Friday evening began peacefully but turned violent as the night wore on. A grocery store and a cellphone store were looted, and protesters threw rocks at police, smashed a police bicycle, slashed the tires of a police car and stomped on other police vehicles.

Officers responded by deploying tear gas canisters. Police said Saturday that they arrested 16 people, mostly for failing to disperse. One person was charged with a weapons possession charge.

Three officers suffered minor injuries: two of the three were treated and released from the hospital by Saturday afternoon, Charlotte police said.

On Saturday, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles declared a state of emergency which she said will allow the city to call in state resources to respond to protests if necessary. Lyles said she hoped not to do that.

“We want people to protest safely and we want people to be heard.” she said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney told WBTV in Charlotte that protests began peacefully and police were prepared to accommodate that, “and then it turned on us.”

“We have to have order, and we’re going to,” Putney said. “You should be proud of your CMPD police officers. They showed restraint, but they took care of business.”