Overall, organizer pleased with Lawrence march against police brutality; incident involving vehicle in crowd under investigation

photo by: August Rudisell/Contributed Photo

Protesters file into South Park during a march against police brutality on May 31, 2020.

An organizer of the march against police brutality held in Lawrence Sunday evening said Monday that more people showed up than anticipated, and overall, it went well.

“I definitely do think that we were able to accomplish the goal of letting other people, other cities know that Lawrence is in solidarity with them, as well as be able to keep that many people, as many as we had, safe and peaceful most of the time,” said Azja Butler, a University of Kansas student.

However, Lawrence police are investigating an incident involving a vehicle that drove into a group of protesters near the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets.

Protests have sprouted up across the country since May 25, when George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died after pleading for air while being pinned under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin and three officers who stood by during the incident have been fired, and Chauvin was charged last week with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

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June 1, 2020: Protesters rally in Lawrence for largely peaceful march against police brutality

The Lawrence march against police brutality began around 8 p.m. Sunday at City Hall, and what appeared to be thousands of people stretched down blocks of Massachusetts Street as they made their way to South Park. Protesters — most of whom wore masks or face coverings — carried signs and chanted Floyd’s name, along with messages such as “No justice, no peace, no racist police,” “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe.”

Some had been concerned about the potential for violence or altercations with police ahead of the rally. Many other protests across the country, including some in the Kansas City area, have resulted in property damage and police use of nonlethal force.

photo by: Nick Gerik

Demonstrators kneel for a moment of silence during a march against police brutality in downtown Lawrence, Sunday, May 31, 2020.

Butler confirmed Monday that there had been no violence between police and protesters, and she was glad about that. However, a lot of people didn’t feel heard, or felt that they were being brushed off — the point wasn’t to start a confrontation, she said, but she wished Lawrence police had been “more present in how they interacted with the movement.”

Area law enforcement had been present to hand out water bottles to marchers as they passed by the downtown Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, but otherwise, officers largely kept their distance from the protesters.

Butler also said that even though organizers had received messages prior to the event telling them to “watch out for the KKK” and other groups, she said there were no physical altercations with counterprotesters or counter groups amid the march. She said some people just like to incite fear and may say such things as bad jokes.

“Thankfully, we didn’t have to encounter any of those things,” she said.

photo by: August Rudisell/Contributed Photo

Protesters make their way down Massachusetts Street during a march against police brutality on May 31, 2020.

However, one person was injured near 11th and Massachusetts streets when a car quickly accelerated through a group of marchers that was attempting to redirect it. The person did not appear to suffer significant injuries and was able to leave on their own, according to Nate Morsches, a registered nurse at the scene who helped treat the person’s injuries after hearing fellow marchers call for medical help.

Butler said there had been another incident of a car running through a crowd, and that she’d been in that crowd. No one was severely injured because that car was going slow, she said.

Lawrence Police Sgt. Amy Rhoads told the Journal-World via email Monday that police were aware that a vehicle attempted to drive through the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets and was stopped by protesters before proceeding south. Rhoads said police were also aware that a person suffered minor injuries, but that person declined assistance from police or medics. Police are actively investigating the incident, she said, but the victim did not want to speak with law enforcement when it occurred.

“Should the victim feel comfortable speaking with law enforcement, we would (ask) he contact the police department,” she said.

Butler said there was a lot of anger and frustration after the other incident with a vehicle that she had witnessed.

“But there still is a lot of antagonism toward Lawrence police, and so for a lot of black people, calling the police isn’t really the first thing that people thought of,” said Butler, who is black.

Instead, the people in that crowd opted to protect each other and seek more allies in vehicles to follow the marchers as they moved down the street, Butler said — that way the people who were walking would be protected if the car came back. She said that unfortunately, she doesn’t think those drivers will be found and charged with anything.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

A crowd gathers around the gazebo in South Park after walking south from City Hall during a march against police brutality on May 31, 2020.

But Butler said she was happy with the physical presence of demonstrators who gathered around the gazebo in South Park, and she was proud that Sunday’s protest was able to remain peaceful.

“Everyone was able to stay on the same page and kind of remember why we were out there in the first place,” Butler said. “We were able to hear from so many black people, and their stories.”

It was not clear Monday afternoon whether further demonstrations would be held soon in Lawrence, but Butler said some who had been in attendance Sunday wanted to go support protesters at Topeka and Kansas City events.

photo by: Nick Gerik

Demonstrators gather in South Park during a march against police brutality in downtown Lawrence, Sunday, May 31, 2020.

— Journal-World digital editor Nick Gerik contributed to this report.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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