Greenville’s interim police Chief Howie Thompson said officers “bent over backwards” to disperse protesters who blocked city streets hours after a peaceful demonstration ended Sunday night before resorting to flash grenades, pepper balls and other tactics.
“The way last night ended — that’s not the way we wanted it to end,” Thompson said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
As many as 1,000 people gathered in downtown Greenville over the weekend to march in protest against the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Officials have since ruled Floyd’s death a homicide, and a Minnesota police officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder.
The protest was a city-permitted event from 4 to 6 p.m.
By 10 p.m., most of the protesters had peeled off, but some remained downtown, leading to a tense standoff between unruly protesters largely made up of “outside agitators” and riot police with masks and shields, according to law enforcement officials.
Multiple people were arrested.
“This group that we ended up with last night, they weren’t there for their First Amendment right to speak. They were there for other things,” Thompson said.
But unlike the protests in Columbia and Charleston, no property was damaged in Greenville, and no one was injured.
Earlier Monday, Greenville County Councilmen Ennis Fant and Lynn Ballard said they were proud of Greenville for the peaceful protests and said the ongoing demonstrations had motivated them to start a “real dialogue” to alleviate the “tinderbox of inequities” that have been building, especially within Greenville’s black community.
“This is not one isolated incident,” Fant said. “It just builds and builds and builds.”
Rev. Stacey Mills, board chairman of Urban League of the Upstate, and Rev. J.M. Flemming, president of the Greenville branch of the NAACP, called for change at Monday’s news conference.
“Action must come immediately in the form of public safety, police review and change done in concert with the community,” Mills said.
Asked about the protesters who faced off with police Sunday night, Mills said, “I think that unity is the call of the day, and there is no need to look for trouble.”
“If these protests and movements are truly to shed light on [George Floyd’s] life … then they should mirror the peaceful kind of life that he lived,” Mills said.
Evan Peter Smith contributed to this story.