Black Unity — a local anti-racist group — held protests in Springfield over the weekend, where they encountered counter-protesters and the Springfield Police Department on multiple occasions. Clea Ibrahim, a Black Unity organizer, said at the Friday protest that all of the group’s future protests will be held in Springfield because “obviously they fucking need it.”
Friday, June 26
Black Unity held a peaceful protest through the Thurston neighborhood of Springfield on Friday that ended in a confrontation with armed counter-protesters on motorcycles and the Springfield Police Department.
Anticipating opposition, or a counter-protest, as they planned to march through neighborhoods, organizers requested that children be left at home.
Protesters gathered in the parking lot of Splash! at Lively Park. At 7:30 p.m. the crowd, numbering a few hundred, set off to march.
A number of people came out onto their sidewalks as the group passed by and expressed discontent. However, the majority of those spectating offered their support — some joined the march, which grew to approximately 500 people at its peak.
The protesters first encountered SPD half an hour after they began to march, as multiple police officers in riot gear blocked their route.
“I don’t see no riot here, take off your riot gear,” the crowd chanted towards SPD for about 10 minutes until redirecting the march away from the officers.
Not long after, SPD blocked the protesters’ route for the second time. Organizers redirected back to the Splash! parking lot, where it was eventually decided that everyone would regather a few miles away, at the Springfield Library.
Once there, a crowd of approximately 150 to 200 gathered and occupied the intersection of Fifth and A streets. in front of the library. After SPD began circling the crowd with their lights on, an unknown catalyst caused the protesters to run through the parking garage where the police cut them off on Sixth Street.
During this time the crowd chanted “let us through” and pleaded for their First Amendment rights over the deafening sound of an SPD Long Range Acoustic Device that the police had deployed.
Again, the crowd ran in another direction to go around the officers.
SPD cut off the group before they could take over Main Street, but not without controversy. SPD pushed a woman to the ground, knocking her sunglasses off in the process, according to KEZI.
Organizers reported that SPD had reached into the protest's lead truck and took the keys before SPD deemed the crowd an “unlawful assembly” and threatened arrest. Officers eventually gave the keys back after a thirty-minute standoff.
After SPD receded across the street, the crowd returned to the library. Black Unity leadership was giving a teach-in when a group of four or five motorcyclists brandishing firearms revved their engines loudly to incite a reaction from the group.
SPD did not intervene when the motorcyclists rode past the crowd, revving their engines and stopping to get in people’s faces. A protester sprayed water on one of them.
Officers immediately moved in, where they shoved protesters and members of the press and dragged protesters to the sidewalk.
The night ended around 11:20 p.m. after a final half-hour standoff with SPD until police retreated across the street, and then back towards the police station.
"Black Unity does their research,” organizer Clea Ibrahim said at the end of the night. “Black Unity knows their rights!"
Saturday, July 27
Protesters met outside of the Springfield Public Library the following evening. The group, around 250 people at its peak, practiced drills, in the event of confrontation from SPD or counter-protesters. As the group chanted “Black lives matter,” counter protesters from across the street shouted back. Drivers revved their engines and sped off in front of the group.
Protesters occupied the intersection of A and Fifth streets. by laying on their stomachs with their hands behind their back. As counter protesters shouted at the group, the protesters chanted, “I can’t breathe.”
The group moved towards Main Street by way of Fifth Street, with music playing from the bed of the protest’s lead truck. They intended to make it all the way to 21st Street, but SPD, with officers standing outside of their vehicles, blocked their way. The group chanted “take it to the street, ‘cuz fuck the police — no justice, no peace” as they continued towards SPD.
A stand-off ensued, as SPD announced that the protest was an unlawful assembly and told the group to stay off the grass. “We can’t hear you!” The group responded, and played music that drowned out the police’s warning.
One organizer said over the group’s speaker that SPD was giving the group two options: “march back or they’re going to shoot us.”
As the stand-off persisted, organizers and police discussed what to do next. SPD said that they were willing to give the group eight-and-a-half minutes to disperse, but the group said that they were not willing to negotiate about getting to 21st Street.
The protesters sang “We Shall Overcome” and SPD officers removed their helmets in solidarity with the group. The crowd, including SPD, was silent for one minute. The officers put their helmets back on after the minute was over.
Organizers said that the group should rest, calling an end to the night at around 11 p.m., and the group began leaving. A motorcyclist attempted to ride through the crowd and followed the group as they marched. SPD surrounded the motorcyclist and told the rider to turn off the motorcycle.
The group marched to SPD headquarters. Police stood outside in riot gear as the crowd chanted things like “ACAB” and “no justice, no peace.” A stand-off ensued for several hours, ending at around 12:45 a.m. A group of counter-protesters holding American flags formed near the Black Unity protesters. Some SPD officers moved to stand in between the groups with their backs to the counter-protesters.
Protesters picked lavender flowers from SPD headquarters as they left.
Jack Forrest and Duncan Baumgarten contributed reporting to this story.