As a weekend of protests calling for police reform kicks off today in Wilmington, Mayor Mike Purzycki says his office will work to prevent events in the city from turning violent.
Throughout the week, city and state police have stepped up their presence.
Police could be seen parked at the intersection of major roads in New Castle County, mounted police and city police vehicles were seen throughout the Riverfront, and law enforcement vehicles are now parked at either end of Wilmington’s Market Street and along most side streets – blocking vehicular traffic to the area that was vandalized on Saturday during a night of mass lootings.
Purzycki said in a statement to the media that State and New Castle County police officers will augment the strength of the Wilmington Police Department. He also said that he asked protest leaders to postpone the Friday event.
Delaware National Guard not expected at protests unless called to serve
Bernie Kale, spokesperson for the Delaware National Guard, says the guard is in “standby mode” and is aware that there is the potential they could be called to serve tonight.
“If the City needs our help, we will be there. But we are not planning to be there on the frontlines unless we are absolutely needed. We have 300 guardsmen on hand who are able to support this type of mission if it gets to that point. We are hoping that they will not get to the point and we fully expect that everything should go smoothly,” he said.
Nearly 2,000 people have now indicated on Facebook that they plan to attend tonight’s “We Still Can’t Breathe (March for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor)” protest at Wilmington’s Tubman-Garrett Park. After the rally, organizers say attendees will walk to the Carvel State Office Building on French Street.
Protests are also taking place elsewhere across the state. A 4 pm vigil that was scheduled in Rehoboth this afternoon has apparently been “officially canceled” by its organizers. However, reports are that many will still turn out for the event. Two other protests are due to take place in Dover on Saturday and another in Middletown on Sunday.
Garrison Davis, one of the lead protest organizers of the “We Still Can’t Breathe” protest, said he did not know whether the walk would include Market Street. Garrison and others met with Purzycki, Governor Carney and Attorney General Kathy Jennings this week.
Purzycki said Wilmington is prepared from a public safety and security standpoint for tonight’s protest at Tubman Garrett Park.
“We will keep our City and its residents safe,” said Mayor Purzycki. “We have no problem with peaceful protest. In fact, we will protect peaceful protest. However, we will not stand by while our city and neighborhoods are vandalized. There is no reason for it. I am sorry that I have to even address the subject of possible vandalism and looting, but we are acutely aware of what happened last weekend and will do everything to prevent anything like this from occurring again.”
The Mayor confirmed that he met this week “on a few occasions” with members of the rally’s organizing coalition and asked its leaders to postpone the Friday event.
The Mayor said he is concerned that people from outside Wilmington or Delaware will attempt to disrupt the event. Organizers have pledged that they will place coalition representatives throughout the park to try to maintain order.
“We came to the conclusion that the event is bigger than us – so many people know about it that we can’t control who shows up. Because we organized it, we believe it’s best to be there to help guide it to a safe beginning and conclusion,” said protest organizer Garrison Davis.
According to a statement from the Mayor’s office, any violence that occurs at tonight’s demonstration “will not be tolerated. State and New Castle County police officers will augment the strength of the Wilmington Police Department.”