Chief U. Renee Hall on Tuesday morning defended the police department's handling of a protest that ended in a mass detainment Monday night on the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge.
During the demonstration, police allowed hundreds of protesters to march into the westbound lanes of the bridge at about 8:30 p.m. A group of law enforcement officers, including Dallas police, Texas Highway Patrol troopers and members of the Texas National Guard, were waiting at the west end of the bridge, blocking demonstrators from entering Trinity Groves.
As protesters marched toward the west end of the bridge chanting "Hands up, don't shoot," officers at the west end of the bridge fired smoke canisters, causing some protesters to turn and run. Meanwhile, police blocked the east end, bottling the protesters up on the bridge. As officers advanced from both ends of the bridge, a police helicopter hovering overhead shone its spotlight on the crowd.
Officers ordered protesters to lie on their stomachs and put their hands behind their backs. Some refused to lie down. Others tried to jump into the eastbound lanes of the bridge. Dominique Alexander, founder of the activist group Next Generation Action Network, repeatedly yelled that the protesters were there to peacefully assemble.
For the next hour, police zip-tied protesters' hands, took down their information. Ultimately, the protesters were released without being taken to jail. Hall said police made the decision to not book every protester into jail because it would have created jail capacity issues. Instead, officers identified each of the protesters, and the department will file at-large charges, she said. One protester who had an illegal handgun was arrested, she said.
Hall said officers warned protesters before they entered the bridge that they'd be breaking the law by doing so. Although the bridge is outside the area covered by the city's curfew order, Hall said protesters aren't allowed to walk in a roadway on an overpass. Still, she characterized the protest as peaceful.
"Some would categorize it as chaos," Hall said. "I would say that is not true. It is absolutely not so."
The demonstration was one of many happening in cities nationwide in response to police killings of black people, including George Floyd, who died last week after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Both an independent autopsy and an autopsy conducted by the Hennepin County medical examiner determined Floyd's death was a homicide.
Dallas City Council member Adam Bazaldua was among the protesters on the bridge Monday night. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Bazaldua said police asked protest organizers to keep demonstrators out of lanes of traffic and out of the curfew zone. But it was clear that many protesters didn't know they'd been asked to stay out of roadways, including the bridge, Bazaldua said.
"The whole situation sucks, and I can't tell you how heartbroken I am to be up on this bridge and see what's happening in our city, because it's not necessary," he said.
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