After night of ‘chaos’ last weekend, Wilmington regroups amid concern of more unrest

Windows were broken and stores looted after what started as a peaceful protest. City officials say they used restraint but won’t tolerate violence tonight.

Splintered windows, plywood and shuttered doors mark the 100 block of W. Ninth Street in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Splintered windows, plywood and shuttered doors mark the 100 block of W. Ninth Street in Wilmington. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Michael Flood watched helplessly on a remote camera last Saturday night as looters smashed the windows of his downtown shoe repair shop and ransacked the place.

“Just total chaos,’’ Flood told WHYY this week. “They stole anything that wasn’t bolted down.”

The coronavirus pandemic crushed Flood’s business and now he and other merchants as well as residents must recover from the property and psychological damage from the violence, Flood said while commiserating with a fellow business owner on deserted Market Street, the heart of downtown.

“We had 10 weeks of nothing, only to come back to at least another week of nothing,’’ Flood said.

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Mayor Mike Purzycki says police exercised appropriate restraint on Friday night as what began as a peaceful afternoon protest and march over George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis morphed in the evening to widespread looting in the central business district.

It was yet another blow to a downtown that has made positive strides in recent years after decades of decay, with hundreds of apartment units filled with younger residents and new restaurants and other shops sprouting.

Car windows were also damaged in residential/commercial Trolley Square, an affluent area west of town.

Police kept a close eye on Market Street all week. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Market Street was mostly deserted all week except for scant pedestrian traffic, with police vehicles stationed on some intersections and yellow caution tape blocking vehicular access from Fourth to 10th streets.

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Mayor: ‘We will keep our city and its residents safe’

On Friday, trash receptacles were removed as the Purzycki administration geared up for another protest planned for the city’s riverfront area a few blocks south of downtown. (Rumors circulated Friday that the protest had been moved downtown but WHYY could not confirm that speculation.)

Wilmington police gather ahead of Friday evening protest. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Purzycki said Thursday he tried to persuade the organizers of tonight’s planned protest to cancel the event, but they would not do and promised it would be peaceful.

The mayor added that he’s concerned that some will attend to disrupt the event but in a statement issued by his office he and police chief Robert J. Tracy stressed that violence won’t be tolerated and they are prepared to keep the peace with the assistance of state and New Castle County police officers.

“We will keep our City and its residents safe,” Purzycki said. “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,” he added. “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.”

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A 40-year-old woman who would not give her name told WHYY this week while checking out the aftermath on Market street that she was part of the protest. She fled when someone broke a storefront window, she said.

Seeing boards on windows and shards of broken glass unsettled her. “We need to buy things from’’ these stores, she said. “Pampers, hair, sneakers whatever they may be. Can’t even do that now. So now I have to go elsewhere.”

Ravi Jeswani has his windows boarded up and says merchants shouldn’t suffer because of discontent with police. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Ravi Jeswani sells phones, accessories and gift items from Shivam’s Paradise on the 700 block of Market St. He’s still open but plywood covers the windows.

“Why are we supposed to be involved in this? It’s not our fault,’’ Jeswani said. “Whatever happened is between the protesters and the police.”

Javar Rochester, a downtown barber, says disenchanted people of all races “want to get their voices heard.” (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Downtown barber Javar Rochester offered his perspective this week while surveying Market Street.

“Ultimately it was unfortunate what happened. We have a group of people who want to get their voices heard, collectively, not just blacks or whites but human beings all together,’’ Rochester said.

“Everyone communicates differently in regards to the message,’’ he said of discontent over racial injustice.

As for the destruction and threats to his and others’ livelihoods in downtown Wilmington, Rochester observed: “Actions have happened that affects everybody’s lives whether you are passing through or you are a mainstay here.”

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