‘How dare you?’ — Vandalism, looting, cop cars on fire in Trenton
TRENTON — After two days of peaceful protests, the city's downtown saw looting and vandalism late Sunday, in a night of escalation in which at least two police cars were set ablaze.
After a march in honor of George Floyd wrapped up Sunday evening, bystanders captured some of the violence, largely along State Street. Floyd's death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer — since charged with his murder — set off protests nationwide, outraged at the more than eight minutes the unarmed black man remained pinned down despite being handcuffed and saying he couldn't breathe. In several major cities, including nearby Philadelphia, protests have turned violent and been accompanied by widespread looting and vandalism.
Note: Videos included in this post from social media may include profanity and violent material.
At a news conference late Sunday night, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said that there were no reported injuries, but attempted looting involved a Snipes store, Tony's Liquor store and a Dollar Store. A bank's window had been broken.
After extending condolences to Floyd's family, Trenton Police Chief Sheilah Coley apologized for the "shameful, the disrespectful way that the city where I am employed has decided to honor Floyd's memory."
As dusk gave way to night, vandalism began, with windows being smashed at a Bank of America on East State Street, seen in Facebook footage shared by Crystal Feliciano.
Another witness, Maurice Lennon, a Trenton resident, also captured the activity in his own Facebook live stream. Lennon's footage appeared to show a crowd breaking into a nearby Snipes sneaker store, which was robbed of merchandise by multiple people.
Separate video posted by NorthJersey.com appeared to show a crowd attacking two parked Trenton Police SUVs, breaking the vehicles' windows and then setting fire to both. The same video showed members of the state Department of Corrections Special Operations Group, which was sent to assist with the response in Trenton, according to State Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 105 Executive Vice President William Sullivan.
"That was a disaster waiting to happen," Lennon said at one point in his live stream, saying that after the protest had ended there was still a crowd of people milling around downtown.
By 9 p.m., NJ Transit bus service for downtown Trenton was suspended through Monday at 6 a.m., due to police activity, while the mayor's office enacted an overnight curfew until 8 a.m.
"We cannot have our city destroyed. We cannot function under burning buildings and looting," Trenton Council President Kathy McBride said at the same press conference where Gusciora and other officials spoke.
McBride urged residents to make sure their children remained at home safe, while also adding "for all of you outsiders that have come into Trenton - we will not tolerate the nonsense from any of you."
"Tonight I see people setting things on fire, looting businesses — when there's already so few businesses left in this city," Coley said.
She continued: "How dare you break in and loot and burn and steal?"
"So those new Nikes are going to make you feel better? You breaking into the pharmacy is going to make you feel better?" Coley said.
She said that the violence did not have to happen, as it broke out after "five solid hours" of a peaceful protest. NJ.com noted Sunday night police had joined protestors in taking a knee in solidarity.
"People have the right to protest. They have the right. We acknowledge that. We embrace that," Coley said.
She continued, "But then the cowards of it all, under the cloak of darkness decided that this was what they were going to do."
"This has nothing to do with the conversation about police and justice. By creating more damage to our downtown business only hurts our city moving forward," Gusciora said.
Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri also condemned the violence as detracting from the weight of the day's earlier, peaceful activity as a way of honoring Floyd's memory. All New Jersey county prosecutors offices released a collective statement this weekend, condemning Floyd's killing.
"Trenton was the birthplace of a revolution, and here we can make that change again," Onofri said, "but it doesn't start by rooting a family dollar and burning buildings. "
As a private citizen, Lennon agreed.
"I'm not gonna lie, I get the anger, I understand the anger," Lennon said in an interview with New Jersey 101.5 News. He continued: "You have to practice self discipline and know when things start to lose sight of what the real agenda is."
Lennon was hoping to help lead community cleanup efforts, once the overnight curfew was lifted Monday morning.
Until Sunday night, most protests in New Jersey this weekend remained peaceful, with Newark's mayor and Camden's police chief joining marchers in solidarity. But Sunday also saw unrest in Atlantic City, police there said.
"Unfortunately, the peaceful protest that took place earlier by many has transitioned to criminal activity now taking place by a few. If you can, avoid Atlantic City at this time," Atlantic City Police shared on Twitter around 6:30 p.m.
A curfew was put in place and a state-of-emergency order issued.
In Philadelphia, extensive vandalism and looting continued into a second night, and the National Guard was called in to help protect city landmarks.
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