CANTON, Ohio — Several hundred people upset about George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, police brutality and racial injustice marched through city streets Friday evening.
They carried signs protesting police brutality in what began as a peaceful protest. As the night went on, however, protesters and officers clashed.
Police would not release details late Friday, but eyewitness and social media accounts reported the use of a chemical agent to disperse the crowd and at least two arrests.
The group chanted “no justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe” as they moved through downtown earlier, stopping occasionally to speak with a megaphone or kneel with fists raised.
Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei and Walter Moss, director of the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence, spoke to the crowd eary in the evening. They said there would be a meeting next week between pastors and police to address community concerns.
Bernabei and Deputy Mayor Fonda Williams followed the march throughout much of the evening.
Bernabei was called to the megaphone a few times. He repeatedly stated his support for the right to protest but often was drowned out by shouts from the crowd.
“I share all of your concerns,” he told the crowd early.
A woman who identified herself as one of the original organizers offered free bracelets and water in Central Plaza opposite a makeshift memorial “for our brothers and sisters murdered in cold blood.”
The woman, who did not want to be identified by her full name, said she expected a small gathering. It grew as the evening went on, and it was unclear to many who was leading the march.
Esha North said she was wary of coming because of that and clashes with police at other protests around the nation.
“I didn’t want to come out for safety reasons,” she said.
North had seen videos on Facebook and thought Canton’s protest could be different. She credited Elec Simon, a percussionist and motivational speaker, for setting a positive tone early on.
North, who is black, joined the march about 7:30 p.m. as people traveled along Market Avenue North and then west along 12th Street NW. She has three sons, a nephew and two grandsons.
“I’m walking for them,” she said.
As the crowd moved south on McKinley Avenue NW, they passed Rev. John Beaty on a corner with a “Black Lives Matter” sign. He also wore a button that read, “I can help you register to vote,” and passed out voter registration forms.
Beaty, who is white, has three black children by adoption. He said his adult son was wrongfully accused and beaten by police in another city.
“It’s personal for me,” he said.
Pastor Jamar Fleming, with Agape Ministries, also followed the march. He works with at-risk youth and said he came to ensure people’s voices were heard without violence.
“We just came out here basically to support, make sure it’s going peacefully,” he said.