More than a dozen police, sheriff, and state trooper squad cars as well as a fire engine blocked off the 25th Avenue entrance to the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville Sunday night into the early hours of Monday morning as a group of about 50 people protesting police brutality against black people gathered in the drive leading up to the mall parking lot.
At about midnight, police used a close-up chemical irritant and flashbangs to disperse the group of protesters.
Protests, vigils, and demonstrations have swept the country in the last week since George Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer pinned Floyd to the ground by his neck for several minutes.
In Coralville Sunday night, protesters stood at the base of the driveway with officers staggered on the grassy hill between the Dillard’s parking lot and the incline driveway.
Thomas Gonquoi, 22, who arrived protest at about 9 p.m., said he asked officers to kneel with them peacefully.
“We were asking for an hour for officers to peacefully kneel and the cop just shook his head,” Gonquoi said.
A Facebook post circled social media earlier in the day with the message “Coral Ridge mall hit loot.” Gonquoi said he attended the protest after hearing about it from friends to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement — not to loot. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the protest was organized separately from the Facebook post.
“We’re all the same,” Gonquoi said.” It sounds cliché but I don’t understand how people can be treated different based on the color of our skin… If I’m in the car and I get pulled over, I don’t even know what’s going to happen next.”
After midnight, the group moved up the driveway closer to the mall, and began chants including “No justice, no peace.” Police cars circled around to the parking lot to block the entrance. Officers restrained at least two people, pulling their arms behind their backs and taking them away from the crowd. Officers later said they returned them home.
In what seemed to span a fraction of a second, a protester rushed toward one of the police officers, and officers sprayed a chemical irritant at the front row of protesters. Yells pierced the air as protesters quickly turned and backed away, some clutching their eyes. One officer told the group to move back down the driveway, warning that he was going to use a flashbang.
A bang and a flash scattered the couple dozen protesters and officers told people to continue moving. An officer set off another flashbang, and some tumbled down the grassy hill on the south side of the inclined driveway in an effort to get away while others walked purposefully down the pavement with officers armed with riot shields at their backs.
Pausing a few times, an officer shown a flashlight over a woman’s head as another woman poured water on her eyes to ease the pain of the chemical irritant.
At least one storefront on the 25th Avenue strip, Milady Nails & Spa, had its windows broken.
By 1 a.m., most protesters left, but a small core group stayed and talked with an officer to express their grievances.
“I have been peacefully protesting for years and it has gotten me nowhere,” one protester told an officer. “…I don’t get to take off this black skin, I carry it with me everywhere — everywhere.”
The Coralville Police, the Coralville Fire Department, North Liberty Police, Iowa City Police, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Iowa State Patrol all were at the scene.
According to the June 1 Johnson County law enforcement call report, two people were arrested on 25th Avenue, where the protest happened, in the early hours of the morning. An incident of vandalism was also reported at Tires Plus on 10th Street. One incident of assault that occurred on Coral Ridge Avenue is being investigated by the Coralville Police Department. The May 31 log shows an arrest was made at 1431 Coral Ridge Ave. at about 11 p.m.
A dozen calls came in concerning the Coralville Walmart, at 2801 Commerce Dr., throughout the afternoon and evening Sunday, though no arrests were made according to the call log. Crates were stacked in front of the entrances Sunday night and squad cars sat outside.
The Coralville Police did not immediately return The Daily Iowan’s request for comment.
A 8 p.m. curfew has since been imposed for Coralville following looting and looting attempts, according to a release by the Coralville Police on Monday. The curfew will last from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. each night until further notice, according to the release.
Other protests and demonstrations have sprung up across Iowa. Des Moines ended its third night of protests which have been both tumultuous and peaceful, and Davenport police asked residents to stay in their homes after two people were killed during a night of unrest.
On May 29, hundreds of people turned out to the Pentacrest in Iowa City for a planned, peaceful afternoon protest which included speakers such as Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague and Johnson County Supervisor Royceann Porter, two prominent black leaders in Iowa City.
This is a developing story; check back for updates.