COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Protesters angry over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody turned out for a demonstration in Columbus that began peacefully but turned violent early Friday, with windows smashed at the Ohio Statehouse and on storefronts along surrounding downtown streets.
The growing strife in his home state and nationally over Floyd’s death led Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to issue a call to unity against racism and police violence and to urge protesters to remain peaceful.
“His death impacts all of us,” he said. “We have a responsibility to each other. We have a responsibility, all of us regardless of race, to stand up and say we won’t tolerate conduct like this.”
A coalition of big-city police chiefs from across the U.S. and Canada lamented that Floyd’s death has undermined its tireless efforts to build trust between police forces and the communities they serve.
“Law enforcement must do better and hold ourselves to a higher standard,” the Major Cities Chiefs Association said in a written statement.
The Columbus crowd of around 400 people entered into a standoff with Columbus police Thursday night, blocking the intersection of key streets in the Ohio capital for hours, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
The demonstration began as a peaceful protest, but news outlets reported protesters began throwing objects like water bottles at officers, who responded by using tear gas on the crowd. A scuffle between a protester and an officer broke out about 9:45 p.m., WCMH-TV reported.
Videos obtained by The Associated Press show people smashing the building’s windows. One person briefly entered an office through a broken window but retreated before troopers within the building could catch him, said Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Craig Cvetan.
Protesters smashed 28 Statehouse windows, damaged doors, light poles and flags and dumped several garbage cans, according to the Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board.
Broken Statehouse windows were boarded up early Friday and workers were placing plywood over undamaged first floor windows out of precaution.
DeWine said he did not agree with the portion of a President Donald Trump tweet indicating “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — commending the Columbus Police Department for handling Thursday’s protest with minimal injuries.
“I think it’s very important that leaders such as myself be a source of peace, stability and work to heal the divisions that we have in this country,” he said.
Protesters smashed windows at Winan’s Chocolates + Coffees + Wine a couple blocks south of the Statehouse. Franchise owners Monica and Miles Thomas estimated half the store’s chocolates were taken and three-quarters of its wine smashed or stolen.
Monica Thomas called the damage frustrating and disconnected with the reason people were protesting.
“Stealing wine has nothing to do with what’s going on,” she said.
Friday morning, Mayor Andrew Ginther said looting and property destruction won’t be tolerated and that protests should remain peaceful. But people have to acknowledge that racism exists and address it, he said.
“I’m as frustrated as folks in the streets are,” Ginther said. “We are sick and tired of the racism that we’ve seen play out across the country.”
Earlier Thursday, video showed the crowd marching down Broad Street and blocking High Street, two downtown arteries near the statehouse. As they marched, protesters engaged in a call-and-response chant: “Say his name,” followed by “George Floyd.”
Demonstrators also chanted, “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe.”
Addressing Ohio’s black citizens directly, DeWine said he wanted to assure them they are valued members of the community and that he hears and acknowledges their pain, anger and grief.
“I receive those words and emotions with empathy and a commitment to seek solutions and justice, to seek justice when it is denied,” he said.
Protesters broke windows for several blocks along South High Street and East Broad Street—the main arteries through downtown—including at the county courthouse and municipal court building. A DGX store, a subsidiary of Dollar General, was broken into, along with windows at offices, other restaurants and a gym. Protesters smashed a storefront at the Einstein Bros. Bagels shop across the street from the statehouse.
WBNS-TV reported that protesters said dramatic action was necessary to gain authorities’ attention. Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin told the station that protesters’ anger at Floyd’s death is being heard.
“The people that hate bad cops more than anybody else are good cops,” the sheriff said.
Floyd, a black man, was handcuffed and pleading for air as a white police officer kneeled on his neck Monday. His death has touched off protests across the country this week, including in Minneapolis itself, where protesters torched a police precinct Thursday night.
DeWine called Floyd’s death “horrific” and said the image of it would be “seared on every American’s mind until the day they die.”
Associated Press Writers Mallika Sen in New York City and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report.