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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Police took a behind-the-scenes approach on Sunday, and Spokane didn’t experience another riot

June 8, 2020 Updated Mon., June 8, 2020 at 10:58 p.m.

De’Onte’ Collins and his girlfriend, Cierra Sirmans, cheer as they are blocked by a passing Black Lives Matter march on Sunday, June 7, 2020, in downtown Spokane. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked nationwide protests for police reform. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
De’Onte’ Collins and his girlfriend, Cierra Sirmans, cheer as they are blocked by a passing Black Lives Matter march on Sunday, June 7, 2020, in downtown Spokane. The police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has sparked nationwide protests for police reform. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

The protests against police brutality in Spokane on Sunday charted a similar course as the protests one week earlier: Thousands of people gathered peacefully in Riverfront Park. Many marched across the Monroe Street Bridge. At some point, a smaller group occupied the streets of the downtown core.

And while the crowd on Sunday afternoon was at least as big as the crowd that assembled on May 31, the evening passed without any of the violence, looting and vandalism that occurred during the first event. Police fired no rubber bullets. There were no stinging clouds of tear gas.

There could be many reasons for the quieter outcome.

Downtown businesses, many with smashed windows from the rioting a week earlier, were boarded up to prevent further damage. Leaders of the evening march – which followed a meandering, unplanned route from the park through downtown, north to the county courthouse and west into the Peaceful Valley neighborhood – urged peace and commanded a few agitators to fall in line with the group. And police were much less visible.

“We learned a lot from that first week,” said Sgt. Terry Preuninger, a spokesman for the Spokane Police Department. “The department provided way more resources. We still had the National Guard. We had agencies from other areas that were willing to support us. The difference is you probably didn’t see them. We had them staged in different places so that we could use them quickly if we needed.”

On May 31, police were visible from the start of the demonstrations, which were prompted by the recent police killings of unarmed Black people including George Floyd in Minnesota and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.

Dozens of officers from the Spokane Police Department’s civil disturbance unit, wearing standard patrol uniforms, lined up in a parking lot across from the Red Wagon in Riverfront Park, watching as protesters took part in prayers and chants. Those officers put on riot gear, and an armored vehicle rolled into the lot, when some protesters crossed Spokane Falls Boulevard to confront them.

Later on May 31, police returned to the streets in force after the looting of the Nike store on Main Avenue. Most of the other downtown property damage occurred afterward, as small groups of vandals hid from police among throngs of mostly peaceful protesters.

On Sunday, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers and National Guardsmen, armed with tear gas and “less lethal” munitions such as rubber bullets and beanbags, surrounded the courthouse, the jail and the Public Safety Building. But elsewhere, uniformed officers were nowhere to be seen.

Preuninger said authorities deliberately kept their distance on Sunday to avoid provoking troublemakers in the crowd. “The tiny element of people that want to commit crime” might be spurred to action by the sight of a police officer, he said.

“There’s always a balance between ‘I want a show of force, but I don’t want to push for confrontation,’ ” he said.

Authorities on Sunday also made no attempt to stop demonstrators from blocking the streets.

“We decided that we were going to let that happen, and we weren’t going to get in between it at all,” Preuninger said.

A sheriff’s office helicopter circled overhead to monitor the movement of the crowd, and a team of officers on bicycles followed marchers from blocks away, mostly out of view. A single unmarked police SUV popped into intersections ahead of marchers to look out for traffic hazards.

“At almost every turn, we’d be out in front of them and make sure we knew where they were going,” Preuninger said. “We never let them get within a half a block of us, and we would simply pull off and go to the next corner.”

Protesters on May 31 threw spent tear gas canisters and other crude explosive devices – including water bottles filled with rock salt and a reactive liquid – at police, Preuninger said. He said police on Sunday had teams of officers ready to enter crowds and collect evidence if more such crimes occurred.

The mayor could have ordered another curfew. Police could have used force to disperse the crowd.

“If one person out of that group had thrown a rock at a window,” Preuninger said, “we were going to intervene.”

Although they were barely seen, authorities were monitoring the whole downtown area on Sunday, using many sources of intelligence, he said.

“There’s a lot of stuff that people will never know that we’re doing, and that’s intentional,” he said. “And that’s not to be creepy, sneaky. That’s just our job. We’ve got to protect people.”

Sunday’s march wound to a close around 10 p.m. as Renee White, a young organizer who spent hours rallying the crowd with a megaphone, told protesters to go home and regroup on Monday.

“We are leaving,” White said. “The police out here tonight did not hear us. But they will. We have to stick together.”

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