By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD – Peaceful, yet boisterous protests became destructive Saturday as more than a thousand demonstrators converged on Rockford Police District 1 headquarters.
The events began just before 4 p.m., at Haskell Park, where a crowd of a few dozen quickly became several hundred within the hour. Some held signs honoring George Floyd that bore phrases like “I can’t breathe” and “Say his name,” while the Black Lives Matter slogan was even better represented.
Several speakers addressed the crowd, some tearfully, touching on institutional racism and recent officer-involved deaths of black men and women including Breonna Taylor, of Louisville, and Floyd, who died after white ex-Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes May 25. Chauvin has since been charged with murder.
The protest continued peacefully as the racially diverse crowd marched to City Hall then back across the river to the Winnebago County Justice Center. But tensions rose the closer the crowd came to deputies and the squad cars parked near the front doors. Profanities grew louder, and the police line widened, pushing demonstrators farther from the complex.
They eventually moved west, reaching District 1 at the corner West State and Avon streets amid increasingly spirited chants of “No justice, no peace,” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
A lot of the original Haskell Park marchers had dispersed before the procession reached District 1. Those who remained were met with what appeared to be a different group of protesters who destroyed signs and chucked rocks, wood and water bottles, breaking three large windows. A squad car window was also smashed.
And while the situation remained volatile, not every protester was there to break things. Several people from the Haskell Park gathering attempted to deescalate the situation as debris pelted the building, SWAT arrived, and officers in tactical gear began to emerge, ready to take people into custody.
“This isn’t what we came here for,” one man said. “Don’t give them a reason.”
It didn’t matter. Emotions were high. Property was damaged.
Over a loud speaker, just after 10 p.m., officers threatened to jail anyone who didn’t disperse. Some heeded the warning while about 200 decided to stay. At around 11 o’clock, police hit them with tear gas. The scene dissipated after that.
The destruction continued though. Looters stormed their way into Soto’s Jewelry, 3504 E. State St., and made off with several items. At least one store in an Auburn Street strip mall was hit while North Towne Mall storefront windows were broken.
Several people were arrested. No injuries were reported.
The Rock River Times will have more on this story as it develops.