VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Tensions flared at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront on Sunday night during a mostly peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd, who died last Monday at the hands of Minneapolis police after an officer put his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes.
It was one of several protests this past weekend in Hampton Roads, but the only one in which things really escalated.
The protest remained peaceful for the majority of the night, with chants of “no justice, no peace” and “black lives matter.” Organizers Black Lives Matter 757 started at 7:57 p.m. at Rudee Loop and 1st Street. People of all shades united and marched for more than two dozen blocks.
But around 10 p.m. things started to heat up. In a press conference on Monday afternoon, Acting Police Chief Tony Zucaro says some members of the crowd starting throwing projectiles at officers and breaking windows of storefronts.
Protesters at one point surrounded a police car around 10 p.m., a video that Zucaro focused on for about 3 minutes during the briefing. The crowd surrounds the vehicle, but doesn’t appear cause any damage. Five police vehicles however did sustain damage, including broken windshields.
Zucaro says a cinder block was also thrown at one officer’s head, one of two officers that received injuries, Zucaro said. Both had “minor” injuries, and the officer hit in the head returned to the police operations center after going to the emergency room.
In Monday’s press conference, Zucaro claimed that the “surging” crowd of protesters deployed tear gas of their own before police deployed gas, but didn’t show visual evidence. Video did show police using tear gas multiple times, but not protesters.
Zucaro also acknowledged video that shows the driver of a red truck with American flags speeding down the street toward the crowd. The driver narrowly missed one protester, and eventually stopped in front of another who was in the road, but kept going as other protesters hit the truck.
The person who was in the road briefly got out of the way, but jumped back in front of the truck, which continued to roll forward. The truck eventually sped off.
Zucaro called the video of the truck “troubling” and said his detectives are still looking for the truck, but so far haven’t been able to track it down. He’s asking for the public’s help in identifying the driver.
Meanwhile several business were also damaged and broken into, but none sustained significant damage Zucaro said. WAVY’s Tamara Scott took the video below before 10:30 p.m. 48 businesses in total ended up being vandalized, Erin Sutton, Virginia Beach’s director of emergency management said.
Police eventually declared the protest an “unlawful assembly” around 10:30 p.m., gathering in riot gear around 16th Street and Atlantic, where protesters who had remained were assembling. After that, tear gas was launched at least once at protesters, WAVY’s Brett Hall reported.
Things then boiled over around 11:20 p.m., about 30 minutes after several Virginia Beach police officers in riot gear knelt in unison with the protesters. Police launched multiple canisters of tear gas while a large police vehicle made its way down Atlantic Avenue.
Zucaro says the gas was “effective and to a degree helped dissipate those numbers [of protesters] in that immediate vicinity.”
Some protesters remained past midnight, with police eventually reporting “no further acts of disturbance” at 3 a.m.
Zucaro says 19 people in total were arrested on 28 charges, two on felony charges that included assault on a law enforcement officer, 16 on misdemeanors and 1 for a traffic violation.
He says four of those arrested were from Virginia Beach, with nine from other parts of Hampton Roads. Four were from Virginia, but outside Hampton Roads, and two were from out of state. He said just over 50% were African American and 40% were white.
On Monday afternoon, several Oceanfront businesses were still cleaning up from the damage, which totaled $317,000, Sutton said. That figure doesn’t include merchandise that may have been taken. Several businesses had just recently reopened after being closed due to the coronavirus.
“My heart goes out to all the business owners that suffered the damage, we’re already in tough economic tough with the financial stress from the pandemic, but let me just say people have the right to protest,” Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said Monday morning. “We hear you,” Dyer said to protesters, “peaceful protest is a tremendous message and a right for every American, but when we start resorting to violence, and other peoples’ property destruction, that’s where we’ve got to draw the line.”
Zucaro says all municipal parking lots in the resort area will close at 6 p.m. Monday, and there will be restricted access throughout the resort area, with barricades in place. All on-street parking on Atlantic Avenue will be closed.
Around 4:30 p.m. Virginia Beach Police said they have received information that National Guard troops will be in the city starting Monday evening.
Dyer said earlier in the day he was impressed by the “restraint” and “professionalism” displayed by police on Sunday night. Zucaro said his force handled the situation “admirably.”
WAVY will have much more coverage on Sunday night’s protests in Virginia Beach coming up tonight starting at 4 on WAVY TV 10, including interviews with Black Lives Matter 757 and with the red driver of the truck with the American flag.