Editor's note: Injuries were reported by several protesters, Ismail Smith-Wade-El, Lancaster city Council President, said the evening of June 3, 2020.
An SUV drove into a crowd of protesters and city officials Monday night after a day of peaceful protests, city officials said.
According to Lancaster city Council President Ismail Smith-Wade-El, a silver SUV turned onto Chestnut Street and into the path of the protesters late in the evening, and, after a confrontation with protesters, zipped through the street, almost hitting Smith-Wade-El, Lancaster city Treasurer James Reichenbach. Some protesters were injured by the vehicle, the council president said.
Lancaster city police have interviewed the driver of the SUV, police Chief Jarrad P. Berkihiser said. Witnesses are still being interviewed and videos of the incident are under review. The Lancaster County District Attorney's Office will likely review the case, Berkihiser said, and determine appropriate charges.
Isaac Etter, who is a racial bias consultant, has been working to help keep the protests safe, and said that he recognized the driver of the SUV to be someone who had been causing problems at the protest earlier in the day.
Etter said that as the SUV drove into the street, several people ran towards the vehicle. Smith-Wade-El placed himself in between the remaining protesters and the vehicle in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the council president said. Vulgarities were thrown between the vehicle driver and protesters, he added.
That's when the vehicle sped down Chestnut and almost hit several people, Smith-Wade-El said.
"We thought, OK, he's gone," Smith-Wade-El said. But then the SUV reversed into North Market Street, he said, which is an alley between the police department and House of Pizza. Protesters again ran at the vehicle, and again, Smith-Wade-El and Reichenbach worked to prevent further conflict.
Smith-Wade-El called police, who arrived and took the SUV driver into custody. Then, several officers formed a line.
The presence of police officers "provoked" the protesters, Smith-Wade-El said. The council president and Reichenbach placed themselves between the protesters and police, he said, but were threatened with pepper spray if they got too close.
"An officer pointed the pepper spray straight ahead and said 'Anybody else gets any closer, I'm going to pepper spray,'" Smith-Wade-El said. The officer then pointed the pepper spray directly at Smith-Wade-El. After 45 minutes or so, the police retreated to the police station.
Smith-Wade-El and other city officials have been working to de-escalate conflict during the protests.
"It's not explicitly in the job description (of council president)," to intervene, he said. "But I do that think that's what's asked of me."
Word of protest attendees with ill intentions has caused several protesters to be in a "little bit of a heightened state." Earlier Monday night, an incendiary device — possibly an M80, police said — was detonated in the 100 block of Prince Street, shaking up many people present. That, in addition to the police presence on Sunday, has set protesters on edge, he said.
"Where our sworn officers are willing to show restraint, take a step back, give a little berth, situations are much easier to de-escalate," he said.
Etter and several others have taken it upon themselves to monitor the protest and ensure that those protesting are safe.
"If there are two people out in the street, we have eyes there," Etter said. "...We have all dedicated to be here until the end."