Over 7,000 protesters marched through Eugene on Sunday in support of the Black Lives Matter movement almost a week after Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, killed George Floyd by kneeling on his neck.
“We as a city and a police department basically yielded the city to that rally for hours, trusting that they were going to do what they came to do and be heard and do it lawfully, and you know what, they did a great job,” Eugene Police Chief Chris Skinner said at a press conference on Monday.
But the peaceful relationship between EPD and protesters changed after a small group of protesters remained downtown after a 9 p.m. curfew was put in place from 13th Street to 4th Streets and from High Street to Monroe Street until 6 a.m. Monday.
Organizers of Sunday’s peaceful march repeated they don’t condone the looting or rioting seen in Eugene and around the country. “We just hope that everything stays peaceful and we can make more progression from here,” organizer Madeliene Smith told the Emerald on Sunday.
“We were left with about 200 to 250 in and around the city that really wanted to take this into the evening, and it started to become counterproductive,” Skinner said.
Skinner said a group of 40 to 50 individuals, some allegedly armed with hammers, were heard hitting light poles in the curfew area and left dents in a police vehicle.
But one protester there on Sunday night, Marek Belka, said that he only heard about one person carrying a hammer downtown but said that the protest was otherwise peaceful. He said that his group was walking around singing songs and chanting and that he saw no violence or property destruction. Police shot pellets and hit Belka’s group on their legs until they dispersed. Officers continued to shoot at them as they ran from the area.
“You show up to protests with gas masks and helmets and hammers, we have to pay attention to those things,” Skinner said. He added that the police had “significant intelligence” that protesters planned to “take” Ferry Street bridge as well as parts of campus.
Police used tear gas and what Skinner referred to as “paintball guns” that shoot pellets filled with oleoresin capsicum, the active ingredient in traditional pepper spray, to disperse these crowds. Skinner said at times throughout the night, these groups were intentionally targeted by police because he said there are “certain parts of this city that we were not going to let them go into.”
But the canisters of tear gas and capsicum pellets weren’t always aimed at individuals armed with weapons.
At around 11 p.m., police officers hit Eugene Weekly reporter Henry Houston with both tear gas and pellets. He said police laughed after he identified himself as a journalist. In a video taken by Register-Guard reporters during the incident, Houston can be heard trying to tell officers that he is a reporter. Register-Guard reporter Adam Duvernay can be heard identifying himself and the other reporters as members of the media when asked to clear the area. The officer responded, “it doesn’t matter.”
This column of about 40 just crossed the cerfew line in downtown Eugene ... pic.twitter.com/VxoR0KFfcn— adam duvernay (@DuvernayOR) June 1, 2020
Sunday’s curfew order explicitly exempted credentialed members of the press.
Skinner said he was saddened by the incident and that they had good intentions when allowing for the press to be out during curfew. He said EPD is working on a safer way for the media to be out during this time, including a possible sign-in area or more clear credentials.
In another incident downtown, Dylan Martin, a bystander downtown, said he saw two people walking on 14th Street. When the individuals were stopped by a police vehicle and officers pointed their weapon at them, Martin said the two people put their hands up.
The police “didn’t give them much time at all,” Martin said, and then the officers shot the two pedestrians with pellets.
EPD imposed a curfew Monday evening that began at midnight. Skinner said that EPD has no plan yet to impose curfew for the rest of the week but that curfews are “game-time decisions informed by public safety metrics.” On Sunday night, the curfew was extended to include all of Eugene with just minutes before it was to be enforced at 11 p.m., leaving little to no time for people to get inside.
Michael Tobin contributed reporting to this story.