A crowd of about 100 protesters, many carrying signs, gathered Wednesday along Burhans Boulevard across from the Hagerstown Police Department after a video was posted on social media showing what appears to be a handcuffed girl being pepper sprayed in the back of a police cruiser.
Police closed down a southbound lane of Burhans Boulevard for the group, which set up between West Franklin and West Washington streets.
Some had signs with messages such as “We Want Justice” and “Am I Next?” Encouraged by the protesters, many motorists honked their horns as they passed by.
At one point, members of the group chanted “All lives matter, but black lives are threatened” — the same phrase that appeared on one of the signs being waved at motorists.
Among those in the crowd was 34-year-old Sallay Bangura of Hagerstown, who said what she saw on the video was “totally different than what they put out,” referring to a police statement released Wednesday.
“It was too aggressive, and it was too much,” Bangura said of the police actions shown on the video. “What fear did they have of a (child)? It was too much. … Something has to be done.”
Shortly after the three-hour mark of the peaceful demonstration, a brief skirmish broke out in the middle of Burhans Boulevard, and a vehicle driving by backfired loudly several times, causing people to duck thinking it was a gunshot.
As dark fell, police closed the street between Franklin and Washington streets and units with the Washington County Special Response Team were called in just before 7:30 p.m. as a precaution.
The crowd began to disperse shortly thereafter.
Earlier in the demonstration, about a dozen police officers stood on the other side of the street outside of the police station, keeping an eye on the situation.
From time to time a few of the protesters crossed the street to talk with them, but the officers said little in response.
City resident Steve Dillinger was among those who crossed the boulevard to ask: “Who’s going to let us know this will be dealt with?”
“I respect police officers. They put their lives on the line all the time,” he said.
But in this instance, Dillinger said: “There was no threat. … To see something like this just breaks my heart. It really does. There was nothing positive about the whole situation.”
For a time, Hagerstown Police Chief Victor Brito stood outside the station and watched what was taking place. He declined to be interviewed, referring to information police previously released.
A smaller group gathered on the side of the police station, with a few people with signs of support for the police officers.
Asked by a protester to say something to the crowd to quell their anger caused by what they saw in the Facebook video, police Capt. Paul Kifer and a few more officers crossed the street to talk with the group.
Kifer said the investigation is ongoing, and the department looks into any incident involving the use of force, but all the officers involved are still on active duty.
Many people gathered around Kifer weren’t satisfied with his statements.
“That could have been my kids,” yelled one woman.
Others questioned him about the circumstances that led up to the situation, and if anything would be done to reprimand the officers involved.
Antoine Malone of Hagerstown, one of the protesters who was trying to keep the demonstration peaceful, told Kifer that officers need to work on fostering better relationships with city communities, particularly with its youth.
He suggested the use of a community liaison “because this is not working.”
Kifer said police heard about the protest plans via Facebook and tried to create a “safe, convenient place for protesters to come out and air their grievances and their concerns to the public.”
“It’s a matter of just allowing them their constitutional rights to protest peacefully, which they’ve been doing, and I’m very pleased and very proud that they’ve been doing,” he said.
“For me, it’s a proud moment to see this. I understand what their concerns are, and we’re addressing those in terms of the investigation part of things. But as for the actual protest, I’m proud to see that they’re doing a stand-up job and making Hagerstown proud,” Kifer said.
Read in full on Herald Mail Media: Protesters rally against Hagerstown police pepper spraying teen girls