Some state and local leaders are questioning how law-enforcement, specifically Virginia State Police, handled what began as a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in the Manassas area Saturday evening.
A Facebook video shows state Del. Lee Carter, D-50th, confronting troopers at the scene of the gathering at Sudley Road and Sudley Manor Drive Saturday night, and eventually being sprayed with what appeared to be pepper spray.
“Please know that while those protests were taking place, myself, along with several of my colleagues made it clear to county police that we are against the use of tear gas,” Prince William County Supervisor Margaret Angela Franklin, D-Woodbridge, said in a statement Sunday. “However, state police did in fact use tear gas and pepper spray. Several members of both the state and congressional delegations have made several calls to state police and the Northam administration to figure out what happened and why the use of tear gas.”
Prince William County police said five arrests were made and seven law-enforcement officers injured during the protest, which began about 5 p.m. with peaceful demonstrators holding signs and chanting along Sudley Road near Bull Run Plaza to protest the death of George Floyd, who died as Minneapolis police officers kneeled on his neck during an arrest May 25.
The Manassas protest was one of dozens that turned violent Saturday night across the nation, including in Washington, where demonstrators turned to vandalism, looting and setting fires around Georgetown and CityCenter late Saturday into early Sunday.
In Manassas, police say the initial crowds “increased significantly and became violent” as some of the protesters proceeded into Sudley Road, stopping traffic, and throwing objects at passing motorists and officers.
“Some of the protesters were also observed standing on top of motorist’s vehicles that were stopped as a result of the obstruction and atop businesses in the area,” Prince William County police 1st Sgt. Jonathan Perok said.
At that point, police declared an unlawful assembly and attempted to clear the demonstrators, who numbered about 250 at the highest point.
State troopers used “non-lethal tactics, such as OC 'pepper' spray and powder" in attempts to control the crowd, state police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
A few miles from where I live, clearly these protests are no longer limited to cities but seeing violent protests in the suburbs shows how deeply rooted the anger and betray truly is this time around! #BlackLivesMatter #Manassas #BLM https://t.co/AFc5M0MMYe— Nabeel Chohan (@Nabeel_Chohan) May 31, 2020
As the protest moved through the Sudley Manor Drive area, windows were broken at BB&T bank, the AT&T store, Best Buy, Taco Bell and KFC, among others. Two small fires were reported in bushes and a trash receptacle and “numerous police vehicles” were damaged, Perok said.
In all, four Prince William County police officers and two state troopers were injured. A Prince William officer suffered a serious head injury and a state trooper was hurt when a brick was thrown at her head.
Police made five arrests, including the driver of a vehicle charged with DUI and other offenses for driving through a police perimeter, nearly striking officers posted at the location, Perok said. The other charges placed as a result of the disturbance included unlawful assembly and obstruction of justice.
Many protestors said the gathering had been peaceful until a few people showed up and began throwing rocks and bottles. They also said the arrival of police en masse wearing riot gear seemed to rile the crowd.
“The use of pepper-spray and projectiles by police tonight against protesters in Manassas demanding justice after murder, violence and racism toward the Black community was wrong,” said state Del. Danica Roem, D-13th. “The people have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights and be heard without being harmed.”