Raleigh responds after weekend of protests turn violent

Mayor declares state of emergency and curfew, while activists call for police chief to resign

Police in riot gear protect the old state capitol building in Raleigh, N.C., on Sunday, May 31, 2020. It was the second day of protests in the North Carolina capital following the death of Minnesotan George Floyd while in police custody. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

RALEIGH — The widespread civil unrest spreading across the nation did not skip over the Tarheel state, with every major city in North Carolina seeing peaceful protests and some seeing violence in response to the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man, at the hands of a white police officer. The state’s capital city may have been hardest hit.

While the gatherings in downtown Raleigh during the day on Saturday and Sunday (May 30 and 31) were peaceful, and many families with young children were present, the crowds at night clashed with police. The storefronts along Fayetteville Street and the surrounding city center area were looted and vandalized both nights.

Many Raleigh residents were glued to the television all Saturday night as they watched areas they frequented being set on fire or with looters clearing out the merchandise. The destruction drew an impromptu cleanup crew of locals the next morning.

“All Saturday night I just watched it on TV, and it was just devastating to see what they were doing to our city, my home,” said Lindsey, a Raleigh resident. “And I really just woke up Saturday and was at a loss. I was like, what do I do? I can’t just sit here.”

So, she decided to go downtown to see if she could help clean up. When she got there, Lindsey said there were up to 200 others who showed up to do the same. The area was a “warzone” of graffiti, broken glass, fire-damaged buildings and torn-down signs.

She asked someone if there was a group in charge so she could get her marching orders, but they said, “No, it’s kind of just a free-for-all.” A group of women came by handing out brooms; another group had trash bags, gloves, dustpans, buckets, and sidewalk chalk and were encouraging people to just grab whatever they wanted and to disperse throughout the city.

She helped knock glass shards out of windows so business owners could board the openings, and she swept up the glass in front of the buildings. Lindsey and her friend also found three bullet casings, of different sizes, and notified police each time. But mostly the people were all “very quiet” as they worked.

“It just seemed like everybody had their head down and was on a mission to get it done,” she said. “Everyone was just scattered around, going to storefronts, figuring out where they could help. It was great to see the community come together rather than tearing things down.”

That night, protests and unrest continued though, and spread to other parts of the city, with popular shopping malls north of downtown — North Hills and the Triangle Town Center — being hit by vandals.

Social justice groups announced at a press conference that they believe the Raleigh Police Department went too far while trying to subdue the crowds, including in their use of tear gas, and that the RPD Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown should resign.

“The actions of the violent, lawless crowd that damaged our city and attacked officers and assaulted officers last night was disgusting and unacceptable,” said Deck-Brown, an African American, during a press conference. “These actions tarnish the message of those who peacefully demonstrated.”

Leader of the N.C. Senate, Phil Berger (R-Eden), blasted state and local leaders for allowing the second night of unrest to occur without effective measures to prevent it.

“Last night, Raleigh’s capital city sustained widespread damage from hordes of rioters who set fire to the street and destroyed businesses – again. Businesses were shown on live TV with armed private guards – mercenaries – protecting life and property because their elected leaders failed them,” Berger said in a press statement. “The destruction represents a failure of executive leadership at every level. Only a fool would think that permitting lawlessness on night one would result in different behavior on night two.”

Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin, after mounting pressure, then announced a curfew for Monday night to prevent further damage.

“As Mayor, the safety and security of the people of Raleigh are my top priorities,” Baldwin said in a statement. “After two nights of violence and destruction, I have issued a State of Emergency and will impose a citywide curfew that will begin tonight at 8 p.m. and continue through 5 a.m. Tuesday morning. By setting a curfew, my hope is that this will allow our community to pause, collect ourselves, begin to repair the damage, and turn our focus to the important work of finding connection and commonality.”

Monday night, protests in downtown Raleigh were peaceful, but crowds did not disperse with the 8 p.m. curfew. Protesters told reporters that they were intentionally ignoring the curfew, but then cleared out on their own around 9 p.m. without incident.

The curfew was later extended another day until June 3.