ATLANTIC CITY — Close to 300 people showed up Sunday afternoon in front of the Atlantic City Public Safety Building to protest the killing of George Floyd specifically and police brutality in general.
But the peaceful afternoon protest gave way to the looting of stores, confrontations with police and crowds of people roaming the city streets Sunday evening. In response to the chaos, the city enacted an 8 p.m. curfew. Much of the destructive behavior was centered on Tanger Outlets The Walk, a midtown section of the city lined with outlet stores.
Several of the stores, including Brooks Brothers, The Vans Store, and Polo Ralph Lauren, had their storefront windows broken and items stolen. Another store, Tommy Hilfiger, suffered the same fate, a broken window, but double-paned glass kept the crowd from gaining entry.
Scores of people ran through the streets in different directions. On Michigan Avenue, one man, his hands behind his back appeared to be under arrest. Another man was seen being put inside a police vehicle.
"Unfortunately, the peaceful protest that took place earlier by many has transitioned to criminal activity now taking place by a few," Atlantic City police tweeted from their official account after 6 p.m. "If you can, avoid Atlantic City at this time."
Officers were sent to the resort from the New Jersey State Police, Atlantic County Sheriff's Office and every department in the county, according to Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler's Facebook page.
The situation was so bad that Mayor Marty Small Sr. took to his Facebook page for a livestreamed news conference after 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
"I'm shamed, embarrassed, hurt. Media from all around the world (are) calling me because of what happened in Atlantic City tonight," Small said. Y'all set us back today. ... Y'all let it happen."
Small said some of the people who looting and vandalizing were not city residents, but not all of them. He was very emotional as he spoke and had to pause at least once. He said he was not concerned with being politically correct and that if his words cost him his election chances, so be it.
The mayor announced a local emergency declaration: From June 1 through June 8, the citywide curfew will be 7 p.m.
"It will be enforced by time," Small said. "Atlantic City has had a lot of embarrassments. This one today is at the very top."
Small said the looting and the vandalism was a disaster. He said he saw 50 people running away from the Timberland store on The Walk after it was broken into and looted.
"All of the stores have cameras. Be smart," Small said.
The mayor said he was on the phone with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for 17 minutes Sunday. There already are 60 New Jersey state troopers in the resort, and another 50 were en route. More troopers would be coming to the city, but Small said Trenton also was in an uproar.
Small said he would hold another news conference at 11 a.m. Monday at the corner of Michigan and Arctic avenues. Second Baptist Church has organized some young people to come with brooms to start cleaning up the broken glass. The mayor called on city residents to be there and to help with the cleanup.
"I apologize for the ignorance today," said Small, who added the people who vandalized and looted should be punished to the full extent of the law. "We are better than that Atlantic City. ... I love the city. Tonight was Atlantic City at its worst."
The AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Division, at 1925 Pacific Ave., which is near The Walk, was secured in a manner that the hospital believed provided the best level of security, said Jennifer Tornetta, AtlantiCare spokeswoman.
"We worked in collaboration with law enforcement to ensure the safety of our patients, guests and staff," Tornetta said.
A peaceful start
Earlier in the day, the protest occurred with few incidents. People marched peacefully and chanted sloganssuch as "No justice, no peace!" and "Black lives matter!" as they marched to block part of the Atlantic City Expressway. The group then stopped in front of Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall to make and listen to speeches.
The march was led by Steve Young, president of the National Action Network, which is based in the resort.
"All those who died, they died in the street, so justice was handled in the street: judge, jury and prosecutor. So, if we are going to get justice, it's going to have to come from the streets. We understand that," said Young at the beginning of the rally.
Young asked those who were able to move to the ground with their stomachs on the street to put their hands behind their back, as if they were handcuffed, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd's neck.
As people were on the ground, they repeated some of Floyd's last words, includng, "I can't breathe," "Get off my neck," and "Momma."
Young recited the names of the numerous black people who were killed by police violence in recent years.
They included Eric Garner of New York, Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri, and Tamar Rice of Cleveland.
An early warning
Early in the rally, before the protesters started marching away from the public safety building, Young, of the National Action Network, warned any agitators in the crowd to behave because there were people in the crowd who would remove them if they caused trouble.
The crowd moved from the front of the public safety building at about 1:30 p.m. and started walking north on Atlantic Avenue. Many people documented the event with their phones. People wore wearing face coverings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but social distancing was not taking place.
For a brief period of time, the protesters blocked the exit off the Atlantic City Expressway at Christopher Columbus Boulevard and Fairmount Avenue. Police vehicles held back the traffic as other protesters sat in the street on the road.
After the marchers left the expressway area, they walked east on Michigan Avenue through The Walk and headed for the Boardwalk, where they stopped at the outdoor stage at Kennedy Plaza.
Troy Oglesby, 57, also of the National Action Network, said the resort is full of hurt and that the work is just getting ready to start.
"Chicken Bone Beach is done. We want our share," said Oglesby, alluding to the exclusively black beach on Missouri Avenue during the first half of the last century. "We have to form a citizen's council. ... Dr. Martin Luther King said that if you stand by and do nothing, then you have encouraged what happened. Don't stand by."
One of the names mentioned at the start of the rally was Derreck Mack, 18, who lived in the city.
Mack was shot and killed by police Dec. 17, 2012, near the Stanley Holmes Village apartment. Police said Mack began to pull a gun. His mother, Ruby Conde, who spoke during the rally, filed an unsuccessful civil lawsuit that said her son was unarmed and was shot in the back as he attempted to surrender to police.
"Not everybody is a criminal. I buried my son, my baby," said Conde through a bullhorn in front of Boardwalk Hall.