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Omaha police use tear gas, make arrests as protesters in Old Market defy curfew

Omaha police use tear gas, make arrests as protesters in Old Market defy curfew

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For the third night in a row, protesters and police squared off in Omaha.

Two significant demonstrations occurred Sunday in the city.

The first was a peaceful but often emotional rally in the early evening in North Omaha, in which the presence of police was barely noticeable. It ended well before Omaha’s curfew started. More than 1,000 people, young and old, came together in the heart of Omaha’s black community to call for change.

The second, in the Old Market, involved a much younger crowd and seemed to be focused on defying the 8 p.m. curfew. An overwhelming show of force by local law enforcement, the Nebraska State Patrol and the Nebraska National Guard largely brought it to an end after a couple of hours of pushing people back, using tear gas and other tactics.

The two demonstrations were focused on the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody, and James Scurlock, a young Omaha man who was shot and killed during Saturday night’s protest.

Law enforcement gave multiple warnings to the downtown crowd Sunday night to disperse before slowly advancing on them in a line and eventually deploying tear gas and flash canisters. The curfew went into effect at 8 p.m., and the Old Market crowd had largely scattered by 10:30 p.m.

A number of demonstrators left earlier, after police began firing the tear gas and pepper balls, but small pockets remained.

Just before 9:30 p.m., one group of protesters began to use barricades and road signs as shields against the tear gas canisters that police shot toward 13th and Howard Streets. Some set the contents of a dumpster on fire, but police doused it.

Earlier in the night, law enforcement officers in riot gear, joined by the National Guard, blocked off access to the Hive, the bar where the 22-year-old Scurlock was shot and killed. The corner of 12th and Harney Streets near the Hive was eerily silent as the protest continued farther away.

Some officers and protesters bumped elbows and exchanged positive words.

An unknown number of protesters were arrested downtown, and two buses were staged at 14th and Jackson Streets to transport those detained.

As the crowd retreated, chants, car horns and the boom of tear gas canisters continued to ring out. Fireworks were also being thrown.

Jesus Arredondo Jr. said the protest was peaceful until police started moving in on protesters, shooting tear gas and what he said were flash-bang grenades.

He held a sign: “Justice for James. Justice for All.”

Erica Maurer of Omaha echoed the comments of others and said she was there in violation of the curfew because “you can’t put a time on this. We’ve followed the rules.

“I appreciate that police are trying to keep us safe,” she said, “but the majority of us are here to prove a point: Police accountability. You can’t leave when things get hard. We’ve tried that.”

State snowplows, traffic cones and police cruisers blocked Interstate exits into the downtown area.

At the Omaha Police Department’s northeast precinct near 30th and Taylor Streets, police turned on their sirens to mark the start of the curfew. People drove by honking their horns, yelling obscenities and flipping off the police. The police officers did not react.

Sunday night’s rallies followed two nights of protests that turned violent.

At the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Visitors Center on Sunday, attendees handed out water, masks and pizza.

Kevin Williams of the ZAC Riders motorcycle club said members of his group attended to be sure that none of the problems that happened downtown on Saturday happened in North Omaha.

Carson Androwski of Omaha handed out pizza. “I just want to make sure they are all taken care of because there is a lot more work to do,” Androwski said.

Two others, Travis Bennett and Elijah Smith, were among those giving out water.

Bennett said he decided to attend the rally for his community. “I want to see us grow as one,” he said.

World-Herald staff writers Z Long, Mike Sautter and Jessica Wade contributed to this report.


Photos: Third night of protest in Omaha amid a new curfew

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Nancy Gaarder helps cover public safety and weather events as an editor on The World-Herald's breaking news desk. Follow her on Twitter @gaarder. Email: nancy.gaarder@owh.com

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Omaha’s state of emergency will last 72 hours, and the curfew will go from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights. Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert could extend it with Omaha City Council approval. The curfew doesn’t apply to people going to and from work, medical personnel, the press, the homeless and some others.

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