HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Out-of-town anarchists escalated tensions during a demonstration that led to police using tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd, an Alabama police chief said at a news conference Thursday.
Some people in the crowd were prepared to fight officers at the Wednesday night demonstration in downtown Huntsville, Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray said.
The crowds were given 90 minutes after the event to leave, and most did, Madison County Sheriff Kevin Turner said. Two dozen people were arrested.
Two officers had minor injuries — one from a thrown object and another who was hit in the head multiple times, McMurray said.
Video of the chaotic scene streamed by WAFF and other media outlets showed law enforcement agents wearing gas masks and riot gear advancing on the crowd after protesters refused an order to leave the area.
People began running away, and the video showed some demonstrators crying and using water to wash out their eyes. At some point, a police officer was seen carrying away a child who happened to be near the gassed area, AL.com reported.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall supported law enforcement efforts to protect the public from the violence, noting the office has “zero tolerance for aggressive acts against law enforcement.”
“After talking with the Huntsville Police Department and the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, I am well-satisfied that the actions taken by police were reasonable under the circumstances,” Marshall said in a statement Thursday. “After an hour and a half of warnings and with daylight dwindling, law enforcement dispersed the crowd with the least amount of force possible and using no lethal weapons. This, despite the fact that the crowd was found to have backpacks full of weapons and spray paint, and which attacked officers with rocks and bottles full of frozen water.”
A wave of protests have erupted across the country after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd pleaded that he couldn’t breathe.
In Huntsville, the day began with a NAACP rally against police violence at a nearby park. After that rally ended, some demonstrators marched to the courthouse square chanting “no justice, no peace,” news outlets reported. Many held
“Black Lives Matter”signs and knelt as they stood across the square from police.
Meanwhile, WBRC-TV reported a man accused of threatening Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has been arrested. Brian Vest, 49, is facing a charge of making a terrorist threat, Birmingham police said. Authorities did not give details about the alleged threat and it was unclear whether Vest has an attorney who could comment.
In a Wednesday interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Woodfin confirmed that he had been threatened over the removal of the Confederate monument in the city’s Linn Park.
“Unfortunately, in the state of Alabama, there’s a lot of people who like to participate in revisionist history,” Woodfin said.
“They believe it’s American to support the Civil War in relation to these Confederate monuments, but they’re mad because we took the statue down, and yes, there have been several threats, but our security team is not only taking it serious as it relates to me and my protection, but City Hall as well as the citizens of Birmingham protection as well.”
He also noted that Birmingham was not even a city during the Civil War. “We don’t have time to worry about something that’s not working for our city, and relegates black people to property and slavery, and so it’s important that we take this down and move forward, and we accomplished that.”