With arms stretching skyward, a man walked toward Lancaster city’s police station Tuesday evening carrying a brick in one hand.
He moved away from a crowd of hundreds of people who gathered on Chestnut Street for a fourth night of protest, advocating for criminal justice reform and an end to police violence — a protest that remained peaceful as it went on late into the night.
The man carrying the brick was advocating for peace, too. In fact, he was one among a group of young people who spent the evening finding dozens of bricks and pieces of concrete, which they turned over to police. They wanted to remove the option that the bricks could be used to incite violence.
On Wednesday, City Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El said the bricks likely were intentionally placed, though he wouldn’t speculate by whom.
“It becomes very easy to point fingers and be wrong,” he said.
Protesting in Lancaster comes at a time of similar demonstrations across the nation since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis — one of a string of similar police killings across the country.
Occasionally, those demonstrations have led to violent clashes between protesters and police, with some reports blaming outside agitators, including white supremacists.
Lancaster city police Chief Jarrad Berkihiser previously pointed to agitators for local violence, too.
“We also saw definite evidence that we believe white nationalist groups were here,” Berkihiser told reporters Monday. “Any time my officers were pelted with rocks or water bottles filled with cayenne pepper, it was coming from Caucasian individuals in the crowd.”
And officers are remaining watchful for those outsiders, according to police Lt. Bill Hickey.
“Our officers and detectives are working to identify any outside agitators of any ideology/affiliation. ... I have no specific information about any attendees last night,” he wrote in a Wednesday email.
No violence took place Tuesday night, when protesters chanted, marched and danced atop city streets while calling for change.
There, councilwoman Amanda Bakay spoke about disruptions she’s seen at past city protests.
“We have had folks come in from outside of the city that have tried to agitate the situation, possibly linked to white nationalist groups,” she said. “We just want to make sure that everybody is down here with purpose and they are not bringing things like bricks.”
That was only a little before councilman Xavier Garcia-Molina took to a PA system in the back of a pickup truck — the focal point of the protest — and announced that “more and more” bricks had been found.
A man named Ryan, who would not give his last name, said he was among the group turning bricks over to police. In all, there were more than a dozen, he said, adding that they were found in piles, inside plastic bags, under piles of rubbish and hidden in bushes.
But to city leaders like Smith-Wade-El the focus shouldn’t be on agitators; it should be on the local protesters who chose peace to get their message across instead of lobbing bricks.
“That should go a long way,” he said.