SAN ANTONIO – Several officials are weighing in after a group that was protesting Tuesday night faced off with San Antonio police officers near Alamo Plaza.
Crowds marched peacefully through the downtown area to protest racial inequality and the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis for the fourth day.
But a few hours after the curfew kicked in at the Alamo Plaza at 8:30 p.m., an incident occurred that ended with officers opening fire on a crowd with wooden and rubber projectiles. At least two journalists covering the protest were hit and suffered minor injuries.
Videos posted to social media and reporters at the scene showed an organizer instructing the group to put their hands up with his back to the officers. Officers were seen opening fire into the crowd as the organizer instructed the group. (Watch video of the incident at the bottom of this article.)
San Antonio police officials tweeted that they were attempting to disperse “unruly crowds causing damage.” They said officers were “attacked with glass bottles,” and they responded with pepper balls, smoke, wooden and rubber balls.
When questioned early Wednesday morning about the incident by a local reporter, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said that he would seek more information about the projectiles.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nirenberg elaborated by saying that “our goal is to protect peaceful demonstrators’ rights to voice their demands for equal treatment of all Americans and their desire for criminal justice reform. Their goals are laudable. We also want the media to be able to safely report on demonstrations," in a statement.
Nirenberg said he met with police and city leaders to “discuss crowd dispersal policies and safe crowd management.”
“I have been hearing concerns about the use of tear gas as well as rubber and wood projectiles,” Nirenberg said. “I do not want to see anyone injured.”
Nirenberg said he asked San Antonio Police Department Chief William McManus to “communicate the rules of engagement being used by the San Antonio Police Department so demonstrators will clearly understand what actions will lead officers to disperse a crowd.”
He added that police “are providing safe zones for the media when possible during demonstrations.”
Shortly after, McManus issued a statement outlining the events that took place Tuesday night and the reasoning behind the use of projectiles.
“The situation became volatile when bottles were thrown at police and laser pointers were directed at the eyes of the officers,” McManus wrote. “... At that point, officers deployed non-lethal crowd dispersal tactics and were successful in breaking up the crowd. There were no injuries reported and eight individuals were arrested. SAPD’s primary objectives – to allow peaceful demonstration, maintain order, and to prevent anyone from getting hurt – were achieved.”
McManus said that when a “demonstration escalates to a point where the safety and well-being of our community are threatened, then SAPD will respond in measure to protect and maintain safety and civil order. As soon as projectiles are thrown, we begin measures to disperse crowds.”
“Typically, police will issue several warnings, but very fluid situations do not always allow for that. Police will use tear gas, pepper balls and rubber and wood projectiles,” he said. “The projectiles are necessary because instigators will often wear gas masks to protect themselves from the tear gas.”
McManus addressed the local journalists who were struck by projectiles.
“Although this was unfortunate, this was certainly not the police department’s intent. During crowd dispersal action officers cannot readily distinguish between peaceful protestors, media and agitators once the situation has reached the boiling point.”
See the full statement in the embedded press release below.
San Antonio Police Officers Association President Mike Helle said he believes the mayor hadn’t received the full story and that "officers acted appropriately with the circumstances they were facing.”
Several San Antonio journalists have suffered minor injuries during the first four days of protests, including some from KSAT.
According to booking records, at least eight people were arrested on Tuesday -- six teenagers and one man in his 20 -- all from San Antonio.
Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales issued the following statement about the arrests.
“Like any other criminal matter, once law enforcement files their case with our office we will review it and decide how to proceed on each individual circumstance. Charges of curfew violations and pedestrian in a roadway are city violations and are not prosecuted by the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.”