More than 4,000 people converged on downtown Riverside Monday to protest police brutality and march in remembrance of George Floyd, killed while being arrested last week by a Minneapolis policeman, raising chants and taking over city blocks in a demonstration that turned confrontational, culminating in arrests.
At least a half-dozen people were taken into custody at the end of the protest, which involved Riverside County sheriff's deputies firing anti-personnel rounds, possibly rubber bullets, to disperse the crowd at Orange and 10th streets about 7 p.m.
According to reports from the scene, the demonstration was largely contained until that time, when some of the participants may have started lighting fireworks and casting them in the direction of deputies and Riverside police officers manning a skirmish line along 10th.
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Echoes of what sounded like shotgun blasts reverberated throughout the downtown space between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., as protesters were pushed back.
It was unclear whether anyone was hurt.
Deputies and police officers formed defensive perimeters at 10th and Lemon streets, as well as Orange and 10th streets, gradually advancing to the east and north to clear demonstrators from the area. Dozens of activists fled the location ahead of the advancing riot squad members.
California Highway Patrol officers were summoned to assist, and seven patrol units fanned out in the area of Lemon and University Avenue about 7:45 p.m.
Sheriff's officials said that by 8:15 p.m., most of the demonstrators had vacated the downtown space.
A trash bin fire near the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa and several broken windows along Orange were reported but no other vandalism or break-ins.
Riverside police helicopter Star Nine was in a constant hover over the area from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and law enforcement agencies additionally sent up camera-equipped drones to monitor developments.
The demonstration got underway just before 4 p.m. at the closed Main Library, across from the Mission Inn at Orange Street and Mission Inn Avenue. Black Lives Matter and the Brown Berets were among the organizers.
As a large crowd massed around the library's front entrance, throngs of people gravitated to the location, building up numbers as different speakers led the demonstrators in chants that included “Black lives matter; blue lives murder,” “No justice, no peace,” and “I can't breathe.”
Like similar demonstrations that burgeoned in cities across the nation last week, the one in Riverside was predicated on the death of 46-year-old George Floyd, a black man who died during what Minneapolis police say was an act of resisting arrest. Officers Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin have been dismissed because of the death and what has been alleged by Hennepin County authorities as excessive force and a deliberate act of violence.
Chauvin is under arrest, facing murder and manslaughter charges.
The Riverside protest was replete with derogatory outcries, with some participants repeatedly shouting “(expletive) the police,” but at no time in the first 2 1/2 hours of the outing did there appear to be acts of aggression, physical violence or intimidation, as has been witnessed in Los Angeles, Dallas, New York City and other locations.
As a precaution, the windows on most of the businesses in the immediate vicinity of the protest zone were boarded up.
At the Main Library site, protesters spilled into the streets by 4:20 p.m., and with a crowd of supportive motorists honking and slowing, the marchers formed a loose train that initially went north on Mission Inn, then east on Market Street, south on Fifth Street and back west on Orange, where the demonstrators re-assembled before continuing along Orange toward the Riverside Historic Courthouse and Robert Presley Detention Center, three blocks to the west.
At the intersection of Orange and 10th streets, sheriff's deputies and Riverside police officers clad in riot gear deployed in a skirmish line backed by mobile barriers and tactical vehicles.
Sheriff Chad Bianco arrived within a few minutes to supervise, as the protesters massed at the intersection, in front of the closed District Attorney's Office headquarters, about 4:50 p.m.
The chanting resumed, while participants waving signs that read “Justice for George,” “Get off my neck,” and “Abolish all prisons” paced in front of the riot squad. Only a few attendees turned belligerent, hurling profanities and shaking their fists at the law enforcement officers. Several organizers called on the aggressors to back off, and tensions were defused.
On several occasions, the protesters were asked to kneel on the street, in honor of Floyd and others who died in police custody.
A counter-demonstration of sorts took place overhead, as a single-engine airplane towing a banner circled the protesters in three-minute intervals. The banner read: “We love the police. USA thanks you.” A red heart symbol was at the tail end of the message.
By 5:45 p.m., the core protest began to fizzle and small groups splintered, with people going in different directions. The city of Riverside ordered a 6 p.m. curfew, declaring that all non-emergency and nonessential activity was to end on the streets. The protesters who stayed at 10th and Orange were in violation.