Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings on June 24 issued a statement confirming her decision not to prosecute or further pursue legal cases that resulted from the June 9 racial justice protests in the Dover area.
“On June 9 in Camden, in the midst of two straight weeks of protests, 22 people were arrested. My staff has reviewed all available evidence, including several videos, scene photos, 911 recordings, dispatch records and police reports. DOJ is publicizing all of the videos that we reviewed,” she noted in the statement, which began with a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. … There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
The AG’s Office’s review revealed several facts, Jennings said:
• The two weeks of protests were mostly peaceful displays of civil disobedience. Law enforcement had fielded numerous 911 calls over several days from residents concerned about particular protest tactics (e.g. being surrounded in a parking lot with children in the car). Dover Police and the protesters had met on multiple occasions.
• On June 9, approximately 50 protesters were permitted to walk on Route 13 and in the median. The protesters marched in the northbound and southbound lanes for about 25 minutes, with police officers escorting some of the protesters. Traffic was blocked for the most part during this time, as an act of civil disobedience, to commemorate the time George Floyd was pinned to the ground with an officer’s knee on his neck as he lay dying.
• In the hour or so before the arrests, the only tense moments between police and protesters were when police were attempting to allow some cars on Route 13 to move around the protesters. Otherwise, the protest to that point was similar to peaceful demonstrations that we’ve seen all over our state.
• No protesters were arrested for protesting in the roadway. That is consistent with DOJ’s advice to the agencies: that no one should be arrested for civil disobedience, and police should step in only when public safety is endangered.
• While protesters were proceeding down Route 13, a Dover officer entered his patrol vehicle with the intent of closing down a nearby intersection so that the protesters could continue on the highway. One of the protesters stood in front of the patrol car and refused to allow him to proceed (DOJ is not aware of any video of this particular interaction, so the facts come from interviews and police reports). When the officer exited his vehicle and began talking with the protester, a second protester approached him and, according to police witnesses, “began to use profanity towards [him]” prompting an order for both protesters to move so that the officer could move his vehicle.
• After they would not move, officers began to place the second protester under arrest. At this point, according to police, several protesters “began running in our direction. Protesters approached officers and [were] attempting to prevent the arrest” of other protesters. The police report continues, “Due to the overwhelming possibility of injury and violence to everyone,” the officer used his radio to call a 10-40 (officer in trouble). Police officers are trained, when they hear another officer call a “10-40” on the radio, to respond immediately to the scene and render assistance to the officer in trouble. At that point, officers and protesters were rushing to the area of the original arrest, and several protesters were arrested. The latter portion of these events, showing protesters running towards the officers, is shown on video.
• After the 10-40 call, officers began detaining protesters in the immediate vicinity, attempting to keep others away, and moved several across Route 13 into the median.
• Officers also arrested a Dover Post employee who had been with the protesters for several protests (sometimes in his personal capacity, other times as a reporter). When my office learned that someone with press credentials was arrested, we requested that Delaware State Police release him immediately, Jennings said.
“In the two weeks since those arrests, our state has plowed forward in ways that make me proud,” she continued. “Peaceful protests have continued, all over the state, showcasing civil disobedience. Many protesters are turning passion into advocacy for reform in the halls of government. Police have accommodated the protests while keeping the public safe — I am unaware of any arrests or physical harm since June 9. The notable exception was when two law enforcement memorials to fallen officers were defaced. As I have said, these acts are reprehensible, and the perpetrators will be prosecuted.
“Police departments up and down our state — including Dover Police — have taken unprecedented action to increase transparency. Our governor used his executive powers to bring important reforms to the Delaware State Police. And the General Assembly is moving reform bills as we speak.
“My leadership team and I spent several hours in meetings with Dover/Camden protesters, the police, and community advocates. We discussed the disparate role of race that pervades America — no more or less with prosecutors and police than in all corners of our society. We heard compassion and empathy for the community. But what struck me was their overlapping message: everyone — protesters and police — wants the same things. Equal treatment under the law. A decent life for their families. A fair chance at the American Dream.
“Our review of the evidence, as well as what we learned in our meetings, made clear that neither a prosecution of these protesters, nor an investigation into the police — both of which have been demanded, with equal volume — would serve a good purpose. I may be demonized equally by those who push criminal convictions against protesters who were aggressive but non-violent, or against police who made arrests. Perhaps this is as good a sign as any that we must put June 9 behind us and find common ground.
“In communicating my decision to the protesters and Dover Police, all parties committed to continued dialogue with each other. That is how we make progress. As Dr. King observed, ‘Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.’
“We, as a state, are now engaging in these difficult exercises. I’m hopeful about where we are heading, and I remain committed to effectuating that progress.”