Nebraska State Patrol Maj. Mike Jahnke knelt with protesters on the steps of the state Capitol for 9 minutes late Monday night, a solemn moment marking the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck before the black man’s death, as Lincoln’s fourth night of protests remained peaceful.
After celebrating with chants of “We are one Lincoln,” the marchers cheered and dispersed peacefully at about 10:35 p.m., promising to be back on the streets Tuesday.
With the city under curfew for the second night in a row, no conflicts materialized Monday between marchers and law enforcement officers and National Guard soldiers, contrary to what had happened Saturday and Sunday nights.
Earlier Monday, Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird spoke to the protesters from the east steps of the County-City Building at about 7:45 p.m. She was met with mixed reactions, some protesters heckled her, while others begged the crowd to let her speak.
She thanked the crowd for what they stand for, and encouraged them to protest without vandalizing or breaking the 9 p.m. curfew.
“Your message is powerful,” Gaylor Baird said. “It is important, and I hear you. … Black lives matter.”
She said racism exists in this country and in Lincoln.
“It’s despicable,” she said. “I’m outraged. You’re outraged, and more people should be outraged.”
Speakers encouraged people to seek change by voting and running for office and discouraged protesters from breaking windows, starting fires and committing other acts of vandalism, as happened over the weekend.
Janet Banks of Lincoln told the crowd that running for political office is a major way to create change.
“Go home tonight, and think about what office you are going to run for,” Banks said.
The speakers finished shortly before the curfew began, but protesters remained, chanting “No justice, no peace, “Hands up; don’t shoot,” “George Floyd” and “James Scurlock,” an Omahan who was shot and killed by a bar owner Saturday night during protests. The Douglas County Attorney’s Office said there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute him.
Law enforcement officers were present, blocking 10th Street traffic and visible inside the County-City Building, but they didn’t act to disperse the crowd. By 9:30 p.m., marchers headed for the Capitol four blocks away.
Monday’s march stood in stark contrast to those that from the weekend, where peaceful protests descended into chaos late, with rioters destroying windows and vandalizing buildings and prompting the use of force by law enforcement.
“I took no pleasure in imposing a curfew,” Gaylor Baird said Monday at an afternoon news conference. “It was done with the awareness there are many threats to the safety and property in our community, some of which are public and some of which are intelligence I cannot speak to.”
A second night of curfews imposed by Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert also played a part in Lincoln’s decision, Gaylor Baird said, as both cities hoped to prevent people traveling from the other to “cause unrest.”
She said she believes the curfew worked and achieved its goal, but lamented the need to impose it.
“People did go home earlier as a result of the curfew, and, in that sense, I would say it was successful,” she said. “There was less destruction of property, and, in that sense, I would say it’s successful.
“But I’m not happy about the curfew, and I hope we can put an end to the curfews,” the mayor added.
The night before, more than 50 people continued to stage a protest on the sidewalk in front of the County-City Building, while hundreds of others watched well after the curfew went into place.
Using a megaphone, an officer for more than a half-hour repeatedly asked the protesters to leave the area and return home.
Protesters said they had worked out an agreement with law enforcement to continue their demonstration peacefully in front of City Hall, but a little more than a half-hour before the curfew began, were forced from the area by tear gas.
Using tear gas, flash bang grenades, rubber bullets and bean bags, law enforcement moved the protesters east down Lincoln Mall toward the Capitol, where members of the Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska State Patrol were also waiting in riot gear and fired a volley of tear gas toward those who remained.
The protesters scattered into the surrounding neighborhood, but joined together again in a westward march of hundreds down H Street toward the County-City Building, where they were once again met by law enforcement and a military-style vehicle. Law enforcement again pushed the protesters back east toward the Capitol using tear gas and rubber bullets. Some protesters hurled items toward the officers dressed in riot gear, including water bottles and fireworks.
© 2020 Lincoln Journal Star
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.