BISMARCK — Despite occasionally high tensions, a third protest of police brutality in Bismarck has come and gone without any violence or clashes with officers.
More than 200 North Dakotans gathered Tuesday, June 2, to march in protest of George Floyd’s death, the third such demonstration in the capital city this week.
Floyd, a black man, died in the custody of Minneapolis police last week. Derek Chauvin, the white man videos showed kneeling on Floyd's neck during the arrest, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Chauvin and the three other officers involved in the arrest were fired by the department but have not yet been charged in relation with the incident.
Bismarck police officer Lynn Wanner confirmed there were no arrests or looting incidents related to Tuesday night's demonstration.
On Saturday, unrest boiled over in Fargo as demonstrators clashed with the police, who deployed tear gas. Twelve people had been arrested in connection to the rioting as of Tuesday evening. Other protests around the region, including those in East Grand Forks, Minot and Williston, passed without any violent incidents.
“You don’t have to be violent, and you don’t have to riot in order to get your point across,” said Michelle LaPoint, one of the Bismarck protest organizers.
The Bismarck protest was not affiliated with the local Black Lives Matter group, though many marched in the name of the movement.
Several moments of turbulence arose as the demonstrators passed by groups of bikers from nearby motorcycle clubs, including Hells Angels North Dakota.
Some protesters took issue with the bikers, who revved their engines and completely drowned out protesters' chants. A few bikers and counterprotesters waved Confederate flags, which upset many demonstrators, one of whom referred to it as "a symbol of racism and slavery."
Two men who stood with a group of bikers visibly wore guns.
Shouting matches nearly became physical confrontations between protesters and bikers, but cooler heads prevailed. A group of protesters and police officers sectioned off the groups, and the rally continued down Main Avenue, which was partially closed due to the activity.
Initially, protesters marched from the Bismarck Motor Hotel to the state Capitol, about a three-mile trek. Many chanted “no justice, no peace” and Floyd’s name on the way to the Capitol building.
There was little police presence until later in the night, when a second group of protesters started off down the middle of Main Avenue. At that point, officers on foot and in squad cars served as an escort to protesters.
“We support their right to peacefully protest,” Wanner said prior to the event. “We deal with different types of situations everyday, so we’re always prepared for whatever will come up.”
The second iteration of the protest involved more than just marching and chanting. On two occasions, protesters laid face down on the ground in reference to the position in which Floyd was restrained by police. Demonstrators also yelled demands at officers to "take a knee" with them in solidarity — the officers remained stone-faced throughout the interaction.
Many protesters said they were marching not only for Floyd, but for equality and justice for all people of color.
One man, who requested to remain anonymous in fear that he would lose his job or face retaliation, wore a white mask with the words “I can’t breath[e],” which were among Floyd’s last words before he died in police custody.
The man, who is black, said that he had experienced multiple racial profiling incidents with the Bismarck police and that he, along with others in the city, were there to protest racism and violence.
“I’m sick of injustice and murder,” said protester Martha Willand.
Willand grew up in Minneapolis, and she called Floyd's death “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
The protests organizers were adamant they would not tolerate violence from participants. LaPoint said she was prepared to call the police if any of the protesters exhibited violence.
She said she thinks protests in Bismarck have remained nonviolent because when people yell at them in anguish of their protesting, they reply with phrases like “God bless you,” or “have a nice day.”
“A lot of people shouted out to us that ‘All lives matter,’ but all lives cannot matter until black lives matter,” LaPoint said.