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A curfew for the downtown area is set to take effect Wednesday following another night of escalation between demonstrators and police officers.
The curfew, which Mayor Ron Nirenberg planned to sign Wednesday afternoon, was to start at 9 p.m. and end at 6 a.m. Thursday. Only the downtown business district is affected by the curfew, which will be in effect every night until Sunday.
Nirenberg also met Wednesday with City Manager Erik Walsh and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus to discuss “crowd dispersal policies and safe crowd management.”
“I have been hearing concerns about the use of tear gas as well as rubber and wood projectiles,” Nirenberg said. “… I do not want to see anyone injured.”
Late Tuesday night, police officers and protesters who marched the downtown streets in honor of George Floyd, a black man who died May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer knelt on his neck, met on the corner of Crockett Street and Alamo Plaza after hours of protesting. Some protesters shouted at law enforcement, while a few stood in front of them urging them to remain calm.
“Don’t start that,” one person called out, with his hands up before the crowd.
Despite protesters’ efforts to keep tensions from boiling over, law enforcement shot projectiles and tear gas into the crowd around 11 p.m., and the crowd scattered.
Nirenberg said he asked McManus to communicate what policies the San Antonio Police Department follow so that demonstrators understand what actions lead to police officers using crowd-dispersal techniques.
“Our goal is to protect peaceful demonstrators’ rights to voice their demands for equal treatment of all Americans and their desire for criminal justice reform,” Nirenberg said. “Their goals are laudable. We also want the media to be able to safely report on demonstrations.”
McManus said Wednesday that police officers typically issue “several warnings” before using crowd dispersal methods, “but very fluid situations do not always allow for that.”
“Police will use tear gas, pepper balls, and rubber and wood projectiles,” McManus said in a prepared statement. “These are less-than-lethal options that are designed to help disperse a crowd. The projectiles are necessary because instigators will often wear gas masks to protect themselves from the tear gas.”
He also said police did not intend to target local journalists Tuesday night, as officers have difficulty determining who works with the press, who is there to protest, and who is there to agitate. McManus asked the public to help police identify “instigators” who throw objects at officers or break windows during a protest.
“In a situation like what occurred Saturday night and last night, SAPD is committed to
protect the constitutional rights of people and groups to conduct peaceful and lawful
demonstrations,” he said in a statement. “We are also committed to maintain the safety of our community. If the demonstration escalates to a point where the safety and well-being of our community are threatened, then SAPD will respond in measure to protect and maintain safety and civil order.”
The Alamo also added additional fencing to its borders on Wednesday. The fencing will stay there “as long as events indicate it is needed,” according to a Wednesday news release from the Alamo. The Alamo Plaza remains closed at night to the public from 7 p.m. through 6 a.m.
A 4-foot-tall chain-link fence on top of water-filled plastic barriers runs along the western edge of the Alamo from Crockett Street to the intersection of Houston Street. Fencing also lines the northern edge of the plaza from Houston Street to the Long Barrack. There are still 15-foot openings for pedestrians on Alamo and Houston streets.
At least six people were arrested after Tuesday’s events for charges such as evading arrest, criminal trespassing, and “pedestrian in roadway.”
Eric Rios, 24, said he and his neighbor Brian Sunblade, 24, and their friend Priscilla Iree Gonzales, 27, had visited Travis Park to observe the demonstrations. As they passed a Whataburger on Commerce Street with a broken window from earlier in the night, Sunblade and Gonzales decided to cross the street to get a burger before heading home.
After they crossed the street, police surrounded both of them, searched them, put them in handcuffs, and took them away in police vehicles, Rios said.
“I told him it wasn’t a good idea,” Rios said. “[He’s] black and wearing all black.”
Police charged Sunblade with resisting arrest and failing to identify himself. Police also charged Sunblade and Gonzales with pedestrian violations.
Another protest was scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Wednesday in front of the San Antonio Public Safety headquarters.