Evening of Protests In Greater Lafayette Ends With Release Of Tear Gas
A downtown Lafayette march planned as a peaceful demonstration Sunday night ended when law enforcement began releasing tear gas into the crowd. The first canister was dropped from the balcony of the Tippecanoe County Courthouse.
Lafayette resident Kaja Leshae originally organized an event scheduled from 8 p.m to 9:30 pm, one she promoted on Facebook “for all the lives affected by police brutality” -- including George Floyd, whose death while in police custody in Minnesota has spurred a wave of nationwide protests.
“I want to be sure here in Lafayette, in my hometown, where my child is being raised, these children know that this is a place of unity -- they are safe,” Leshae said outside the courthouse, several hours before the protest began. “People will work together to keep them safe. Black lives matter, and these children need to know that they have an entire community backing them.”
Leshae also said she was “a little leery”, and considered calling the event off in the wake of protests around the country. But she decided to continue.
“It dawned on me, if we don’t unite all of us everywhere -- if somebody doesn’t set the example, it will never be set,” Leshae said.
A diverse crowd started gathering around the courthouse and spilling into the street before the event’s official start time, and began marching around the building, chanting “Black lives matter”, “George Floyd”, and “No justice, no peace.”
“We’re basically out here to show support, you know -- show the world how to really do this peacefully, because of the injustice of what happened to George Floyd,” said Clinton Shotwell, as the group began walking towards the police department.
Shotwell said the rally was a way to show unity.
“You know, you always have those few bad apples in the bunch -- you know what I’m saying,” Shotwell said. “I mean, I guarantee there’s probably a few bad apples in this bunch. But just looking at everything that’s going on, and how peaceful everything’s been going so far, I think we should have a pretty good protest.”
At City Hall, Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski, West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis, and County Commissioner Tracy Brown stood before a throng of protestors.
“What we would ask tonight is that you go -- when you eventually do go -- go in peace and show the rest of the world that Lafayette and West Lafayette and Tippecanoe County are different,” said Brown.
Dennis addressed the crowd as a former police officer.
“And I can tell you one thing for sure: I never went anywhere as a police officer where people were immediately afraid of me,” said Dennis. “Our reputation as law enforcement has changed. We need to get back to that. Our badge has been tarnished.”
As night fell and the end point of the official event came and went, marchers poured over the John T. Myers Pedestrian Bridge into West Lafayette, and towards Purdue’s campus before circling back to re-gather at the county courthouse, walking down the middle of State Street. Many drivers in cars stopped along the way honked their horns and waved in solidarity.
Protestors turning back towards Lafayette—walking down State Street pic.twitter.com/KK94t4ZckM— WBAA news staff (@wbaanews) June 1, 2020
Back at the courthouse, chanting continued, and people lined the steps of the courthouse. It was about one hour after the conclusion of the evening’s official event. Protestors reportedly began kicking and pushing at the doors of the courthouse before tear gas was released, the glass of which was later broken; the building was also spray-painted with an anti-police slogan. More rounds of tear gas followed as people began to run and scatter.
Tear gas canisters thrown dispersing crowd at courthouse pic.twitter.com/zojj2RauXN— WBAA news staff (@wbaanews) June 1, 2020
Police blocked off downtown streets that were mostly quiet as midnight approached.
*For the follow-up story, go here: Scenes From A Night Of Protest In Greater Lafayette
*The story’s headline has been changed to more accurately reflect that the originally organized protest, as scheduled, had ended by the time tear gas was used last night.