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Monday, December 4, 2023

Weekend protesters called for justice, met with resistance

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Over the weekend, two deaths, multiple injuries and thousands of dollars worth of property damage to local businesses occurred in Indianapolis .

On May 29 and May 30, the demonstrations began without conflict. At roughly 3 p.m. May 29, a crowd of people gathered at Monument Circle to call for justice for the murder of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25. For hours, protesters, including organizer Lamari Edwards, 20, chanted “Black Lives Matter,” “F— 12,” a euphemism for police, and called for answers surrounding the death of Dreasjon “Sean” Reed. Reed, 21, was killed by a still unidentified Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) officer May 6 following a chase. 

“We’re here to get justice,” Edwards, a friend of Reed’s, said. “We’re trying to get something started in this city to say ‘Black lives matter.’” 

To a passerby not paying much attention, the demonstration could have just come off as an angry crowd. Standing in the middle of it, however, the pain among the protesters was palpable.

“It was an open casket, homie,” a demonstrator cried out, referencing a comment made by a detective after witnessing Reed being shot at over 10 times. 

“I miss my friend!,” yelled another. 

The demonstration got quiet for a few minutes around 6:45 p.m., when organizers began handing out pizza and water bottles to the crowd. By 7 p.m., however, the protest was back in full gear, with Edwards leading the group in a march around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Chants of “I can’t breathe!” and “F— the police,” began again, with one demonstrator blasting the N.W.A. song of the same name through a speaker to set the mood. 

The escalation

After their third lap around the monument, protesters said the small number of IMPD officers there at the time began physically engaging the crowd by pushing protesters back. This could not be verified by IMPD. 

As tension mounted, protesters formed a line in the street, facing north. White allies were in the front, at the request of organizers. “If you want a chance to be a good ally, this is it!,” an organizer yelled. 

As more IMPD officers were called in, they stood in front of the crowd, silently watching. As some officers began pulling out pepper spray, the crowd grew agitated. 

“What are you afraid of, we’re unarmed?,” one protester asked the IMPD officer standing a few inches from her. 

“Your ancestors have abandoned you,” one member of the crowd shouted at a Black officer. “You should be ashamed.”

The tension hit a peak when one member of the crowd used a water bottle to douse IMPD Sgt. Stephen Fippen. In a matter of seconds, pepper spray was deployed and many in the crowd were sent backwards in an attempt to avoid the mist hanging in the air. 

Jessica Louise, a local BLM leader, was furious. 

“That’s not what we’re here for,” she yelled at the crowd, referencing the water being thrown. “There’s a kid here, damn it!” 

After IMPD officers retreated from the crowd and protesters hit with the pepper spray had a chance to rinse their eyes, the protest resumed. Cries of “No more corruption. We want a revolution!” filled Monument Circle. 

Hours later near the Capitol building, chaos ensued. Local businesses were damaged and looted, and by 3:30 a.m., IMPD declared a state of emergency. Anyone left on the street after that time was subject to arrest. With the smell of tear gas in the air, downtown Indianapolis was quieted.

Saturday, May 30

At 4:30 p.m. May 30, protesters gathered at Monument Circle for a demonstration organized by the Indianapolis chapter of BLM.

Hundreds of people crowded the Soldiers and Sailors monument, surrounded by boarded up businesses and, surprisingly, few IMPD officers. 

Quickly, demonstrators began marching through the streets of downtown Indianapolis, many screaming “Justice for Dreasjon Reed!” At each intersection, an organizer with a megaphone stopped the crowd of protesters to remind them “It’s been 20 days since Sean was killed, the cop’s name hasn’t been released.” Calls from the group for answers followed, and the marching began again. Every time the group stopped, more people joined in from the street.

Eventually, the marchers made their way to the World War Memorial, where a crowd filling the building’s large stairwell, the surrounding land outside the building and across the street met them with cheers of “Black lives matter!” After a few organizers spoke — barely audible due to the size of the crowd — the group resumed their march. 

Eventually, after another stop at Monument Circle, they returned to the Indiana World War Memorial at roughly 6:45 p.m. Here, organizers told the crowd the official protest would end at 7 p.m., and they couldn’t guarantee anyone’s safety from arrest if they chose to stay. They provided the number to call for bail information and urged protesters to write it on their bodies in case they were detained. 

At 7 p.m., with the official protest over, hundreds of people remained in the street, continuing their march through downtown. Several protesters blocked traffic, allowing others to cross streets. Drivers were honking their horns — some out of  anger  — with their fists raised high out of their windows. 

From 4:30 p.m. to just before 9 p.m., the demonstration went on with little to no conflict. 

Market Street conflict

When a large number of protesters arrived at the city-county building on Market Street, tensions arose Saturday night. 

At roughly 9 p.m., a large group of protesters gathered in front of the building, chanting “No justice, no peace.” 

According to IMPD Deputy Chief Joshua Barker in a press conference May 31, there were several minutes between protesters arriving on Market Street and IMPD officers making it to the intersection. Barker said when police arrived members of the crowd donned protective gear, kicking in windows at the city-county council building and launching projectiles toward officers.

This differs from several accounts from the crowd, several of whom said police with riot gear on were already at the intersection when the crowd arrived.

Activist Stephanie Big-Eagle was near the front of the crowd, and said she saw IMPD officers waiting for the crowd to arrive  — inside and outside — the city-county building. 

After IMPD deployed a tear gas canister near the crowd, people began screaming and running for cover.

“We didn’t do anything, they just gassed us,” one protester said as he ran for shelter. 

Big-Eagle also stated she didn’t see anything being thrown at police before the tear gas was deployed.

For the next several blocks, protesters stood coughing, some vomited on the street as a result of the tear gas. Others rushed to pour milk over the faces of those who had been hit, including several protesters assisting a young man in a wheelchair struggling to breathe through the gas. 

Throughout the night, IMPD deployed several more rounds of tear gas on protesters and rioting and looting ensued. Rioters — many of which were white — smashed a window of the Hilton Garden Inn next to Monument Circle, and windows of several other buildings, including Starbucks, were broken and buildings defaced. 

By 10:15 p.m., the Soldiers and Sailors monument was tagged with graffiti donning the names of George Floyd, Sean Reed, and “BLM.” As a fog of tear gas floated in the air around Monument Circle, a state of emergency was declared and many in the crowd dispersed. 

Overnight, three people were shot in downtown Indianapolis, two of whom died. IMPD Chief Randal Taylor said in a press conference May 31 no IMPD officer fired their weapon. 

Sunday, May 31

In response to the violence, Mayor Joe Hogsett issued an executive order on the morning of May 31, creating a curfew for Marion County to last between 8 p.m. May 31 until 6 a.m. June 1. Anyone on the street between those times, with the exception of those traveling to and from work, those in need of medical care or those experiencing homelessness, were subject to arrest. The National Guard would be called in to help enforce the curfew.

“These actions are necessary, but they break my heart,” Hogsett said. “They break my heart because I know by taking these necessary steps, we are perpetuating a narrative that places the violent acts of last night on a pedestal.”

Demonstrators still had a lot to say before the curfew began, however. 

At roughly 3 p.m., a demonstration organized by the faith-based activist group Faith In Indiana began at the Capitol Building. As the group of about 250 people marched through a heavily boarded up downtown, they made their way to City Market. 

Once there, many demonstrators laid on the ground on the building’s patio and surrounding grass. A representative of Faith In Indiana stood atop a bench with a megaphone. With silence all around her, she began to read off names of African American’s whose deaths — many at the hands of police — have made headlines in recent years. 

“Philando Castille.”

“Trayvon Martin.”

“George Floyd.” 

“Ahmaud Arbery.”

“Sandra Bland.” 

After the names were read, the crowd gathered — still mostly silent — around the bench and faced the city-county building. 

The organizer led the group in repeatedly calling on Mayor Hogsett to take action. 

“Mayor Hogsett,” the group repeated, “we need police reform. We have the demands, let’s get it done and lead the nation in police reform. No justice, no peace.” 

After a short prayer led by Rabbi Brett Krichiver of the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, the group dispersed as quietly as they had arrived. 

Just a few hours later, slightly before curfew, tear gas once again filled the air in downtown Indianapolis. 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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