Destruction follows peaceful protest in Atlantic City
Updated: Jun 1
Hours after a peaceful protest in Atlantic City on Sunday, mayhem broke out. More than 60 state troopers were heading into help, Mayor Marty Small said. "This is a disaster," he said. "You have these thugs going around destroying our great city, destroying businesses that are prepping to open back up." Small said he spoke with the governor and was told he would get help. "It's a sad day in Atlantic City and the people who are responsible for this should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," he said. The Walk was taking the brunt of the attack, with businesses being looted and vehicles on fire. A group of residents set up outside the SwapzAC to protect that locally owned business. Atlantic City police issued a state of emergency curfew for people to be off the streets by 8 p.m. But as that time passed, people were in the streets, with several fistfights. Others were seen hanging out of vehicles. "I can't believe what I'm seeing," ACMike Lopez said as he took live video at the Circle K gas station in Atlantic City. A man was seen breaking the glass door and then going inside, followed by others.
It was a much different scene than the one hours earlier, when hundreds joined together in peaceful protest sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. "I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” several yelled as they laid face down on Atlantic Avenue in front of the Atlantic City Public Safety Building, re-enacting the nearly nine minutes a now-fired Minneapolis police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.
The protesters remained peaceful as they marched through the city, down the Walk, briefly blocking the entrance from the Atlantic City Expressway. “These are your streets,” said Steve Young, who led the protest. "And we're doing it peacefully." While it was Floyd’s death that brought them together, many said it was years of bad relations between the community and their own police that led to the frustration. That frustration started to boil over after a march nearly three hour march through town that led back to the police building. “Take a knee,” the crowd chanted to officers lined up in front of the building. Eventually, Lt. Mark Benjamin addressed the crowd, saying he would take a knee if they would agree to meet with him twice a month for the next 10 months. When not all agreed, he said that showed you can’t force people to agree with you. He then took a knee anyway.
While the different views in the crowd brought some to screaming at one another, there was no violence. Eventually, a group of officers followed the protesters as they took to the streets again.
Then issues began. The full damage not immediately known.
Police were in the area keeping things under control following the outbreak. Several city leaders were in the crowd for the original protest, including Mayor Marty Small, Council President George Tibbitt and Councilmen Kaleem Shabazz and Jeffree Fauntleroy. Mayoral candidate Pam Thomas-Fields was also in the crowd. Police blocked off streets following the crowd as they moved from the Walk onto the Boardwalk. They then held a brief rally at Kennedy Plaza. There, they brought up names like Derreck Mack, Shawn Brown and Timothy Deal, all men fatally shot by Atlantic City police. Mack’s mother, Ruby Conde, said she still doesn’t know the officer who shot her son. “We shouldn’t have to be in these huge rallies,” said Tristan Qawi, who graduated Charter-Tech in 2020, and is now the first from his family to go to college. Growing up in Atlantic City, he said he didn’t have problems with police, but he saw friends and family who did. “Yes, black lives matter, and all lives matter,” said Levar Davis, 21. “But I believe doing what is right is what matters.” Some who had been at an earlier protest in front of Boardwalk Hall were there with signs acknowledging those who have made national news for legal acts that were targeted due to color. More events are planned, Young said. But he was not yet ready to announce when or where.
A peaceful protest is set for 1 p.m. Monday at Atlantic and S. South Carolina avenues, near the 7-Eleven. "No Drama, No Violence," the flier says. Before Sunday's protest, Councilman Shabazz said he does not believe this is the time to have a protest, considering the pandemic and limits on gatherings set by the governor. "All of us are heartbroken about the death of George Floyd at the hands of an out of control police officer," he told WIBG radio. "We support peaceful protests... but we are definitely not encouraging mass gatherings today or for the foreseeable future." Instead, "we are encouraging our members to do things that will have a greater affect on the system." He pointed to the GoFundMe set up by Floyd's family and suggested becoming active in the NAACP to make changes that will improve police and community relations.